Skip to main content

On May 24th, Secretary of Education Betsy deVos was questioned by a House committee. She was asked whether schools that discriminate should be given taxpayer dollars to help them succeed with discriminating.

betsy devos segregation

She said yes. She said that she believes that parents who don’t want their children going to school with undesirable, less human children, should be allowed to make that decision, and to have taxpayers pay for it.

One Congressmember asked about Lighthouse “christian” Academy in Bloomington, Indiana. The school receives almost a million dollars a year of tax money. Its website says that it teaches that the book of Genesis and Creationism are absolute truths. So science, like evolution or biology, or physics, are both irrelevant and simply wrong.

They also tell parents that they don’t have any programs for students with learning disabilities.

The Lighthouse “christian” Academy is a big, national business. We have several of them around Southern California. All of them teaching both that the Bible is inerrant, and that Jesus was fundamentally wrong on various points. (Logical consistency is not the hobgoblin of “christian” minds.) All of them look forward to Betsy deVos increasing their funding and profits. (Some of them actually claim to be “non-profit businesses”.)

What Betsy deVos said in answer to the Congressmember’s repeated questions (repeated, because deVos really tried to avoid answering) was that parents should have the right to choose schools that they like, and the government shouldn’t interfere with that.

But that wasn’t the question. The question was whether the government should provide tax dollars to help parents who want to send their children to schools that segregate. And finally it became clear that, yes, Betsy deVos not only wants parents to be able to send their children to segregated schools, she also want the taxpayers to underwrite the discrimination.

This isn’t a new idea. Some people will remember that in 1954, a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, outlawed segregation in public schools. Many “christian” pastors immediately opened up what they called “segregation academies,” and state governments defunded public schools to fund the “segregation academies.”

One pastor was named Jerry Falwell, and he went on to make a fortune promising parents two things:

  • That students attending his “segregation academies” would not be forced to share classrooms, or even campuses, with the terrifying black students for whom the government was trying to provide education; and,
  • That the students in the “segregation academies” would not be taught anything, particularly science, that contradicted, or even challenged the received wisdom from church teachings.

After a decade of litigation, in 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that using public money to fund segregated schools was unconstitutional. Public schools reopened and black families had a chance to get their children educated. And ever since, minority parents have been trying to get local school systems to actually desegregate schools. And people like Betsy deVos have been fighting to find ways to resegregate schools.

As violent and incomplete as school desegregation was, and remains today, one fundamental result is clear. When students are schooled with students of other races, genders, religions, abilities, etc., they learn that what their parents fear is not real.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

Betsy deVos has spent a lifetime trying to ‘save’ white children from integration. Now she has control of vast stores of Federal tax dollars earmarked for education, and she is publicly proclaiming her intention to use it to support modern “segregation academies.”

Betsy deVos has spent a lifetime trying to ‘save’ white children from integration. Now she has control of vast stores of Federal tax dollars earmarked for education, and she is publicly proclaiming her intention to use it to support modern “segregation academies.”

In fairness to deVos, she did not speak of racial segregation during her recent testimony. She focused her attention on her desire to help students avoid contact with classmates who do not fit deVos’ definitions of “proper” gender identities. She not only wants to allow schools to deny admission to gay or lesbian or transgender students. The Lighthouse “christian” Academy business model is to exclude even the “straight” siblings of LBGTQ students from enrolling.

It is hard to understand how Christianity has any role in this. The Lighthouse “christian” Academy doctrine is that god created each person. There is no evolution, no genetics, and certainly no genetic determination of gender consciousness. Gender is not communicable, and changeable. So there can’t be any risk that a “straight” student will get “gay cooties” by sitting at a desk adjacent to a gay or lesbian classmate. There is even less risk that a straight student with a gay sibling would be able to carry “gay cooties” to school and spread them around.

But again, logical consistency is not the hobgoblin of “christian” minds.

Rather, the doctrine is really about traditional desires to set up class distinctions and hierarchies of privilege. Understanding this makes it clear that this is not about LBGTQ or any other specific discrimination. This is about wanting to exclude all the groups that have been traditional targets of legalized discrimination in the U.S.: Gays, Moslems, Catholics, Jews, the disabled, Chinese, Latinx, women, and yes, blacks.

The Betsy deVos decision logic applies to any one of these groups, and to all of them. It applies because it is not about these groups. Rather, as deVos said, repeatedly during the hearing, it is about the parents, and allowing the parents to decide that they want to discriminate and want taxpayers to pay for their children to attend “segregation academies.”

In 2013, the US Supreme Court, under the leadership of John Roberts, ruled that the Voting Rights Act, which had been reapproved by 98% of even Republican Party Congressmen, was unconstitutional. Before the even more radically right, white, “christian” Neil Gorsuch arrived on the Court, there were five ‘justices’ convinced that making it possible for black people to vote just wasn’t necessary in our society.

Betsy deVos’ testimony was simply the latest in an ongoing effort to deprive black citizens of the right to vote. “Parental choice” has long been a ‘polite’ phrase for putting children in schools where black students won’t be found.

And our new president embraces that. Donald Trump embraces the alt-white at every possible opportunity. No longer do bigots need to use ‘polite language.’ His recent refusal to condemn the murder of two men in Portland, Oregon, by a man screaming racist drivel followed his silence as a young Army lieutenant was murdered in South Carolina, for the ‘crime’ of being black.

And The Donald chose for Attorney General a man who has spent a lifetime fighting against voting rights for black people, including unsuccessful legal battles in Alabama, funded by taxpayers, to criminalize minority voter registration, and imprisoning black defendants for crimes for which white defendants are not imprisoned, thereby ending their voting rights.

The deVos Congressional testimony was limited to discrimination against LBGTQ students. This should put us in mind of the problems we’ve had with tensions between the LBGTQ community and the black community. Too many people see the communities’ struggles as separate, different issues.

But they are not. The people and businesses who want to profit from discrimination don’t care whether they are discriminating against black, Chinese, Latinx, LBGTQ, women, or men. Our history records discrimination against the Irish, the Hungarians, the Catholics, the Italians, all Asians, the Moslems, and on and on.

Discrimination is profitable to businesses and costly to victims, whomever they are. Betsy deVos, J. Beauregard Sessions, and The Donald want to allow school segregation against LBGTQ students merely as a way to open the door to a larger, long term attack on Brown v. Board of Education, and reestablishing segregation against many groups.

Tom Hall

Tom Hall