Former Secretary of Education and Philanthropist Betsy DeVos Celebrates School Choice in New Book

Philanthropy Roundtable believes every American should have the freedom to reach his or her full, unique potential and achieve economic security. The Roundtable supports organizations and initiatives that eliminate barriers to upward mobility, expand opportunity and reward hard work and perseverance.

Last month, former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos published a new book entitled “Hostages No More: The Fight for Education Freedom and the Future of the American Child.” Part personal memoir and part education manifesto, the book narrates DeVos’s long leadership journey in the education reform movement as a policymaker, advocate, philanthropist, mother and grandmother. 

As she explains in the introduction, the title of the book is derived from a quote by the 19th century architect of the American public education system, Horace Mann. Mann once wrote, “We who are engaged in the sacred cause of education are entitled to look upon all parents as having given hostages to our cause.” DeVos explains the system Mann constructed was predicated on the idea that trained educators and bureaucrats, “the education establishment,” knew what was best for the children they taught.

In Mann’s time, the goal of the public school system was to standardize education, preparing young people to populate America’s factories. Conformity was critical, a one-size-fits-all approach necessary. Mann argued then that parents and families needed to take a back seat to professional teachers in the instruction of students.  

Now, DeVos argues, it is time to personalize education. She meticulously lays out the idea of education freedom, which she defines as liberating American students from the union-controlled, zip-code determined, government-run school monopoly. Quite simply, it means “empowering families to choose how and where the education dollars already designated for their children are spent.” This idea that all parents and families deserve options when it comes to their children’s K-12 education is deeply rooted in DeVos’s personal values. She writes, 

My faith teaches me that every man and woman is uniquely created and worthy of love and respect. I’ve always believed that in a free, multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic country like the United States, the best way to live together is to deal with each other as fellow human beings with inherent worth. If we respect and honor each other, we can live together without one-size-fits-all requirements from Washington. Family by family, community by community and school by school, we can find the right solutions for the people involved.” (p.106)

In her book, DeVos also provides some welcome optimism about the current and future state of education in America in the post-COVID-19 era, citing a panoply of options for parents today. She highlights some exceptional schools that are rethinking the way children learn and unlocking their true potential. These schools include:

  • Acton Academies, a unique school model with outposts across the globe, founded by educator and entrepreneur Jeff Sandefer and his wife, Laura Sandefer
  • Design39Campus, a California-based public school that cultivates creativity and innovation
  • Thales Academy, a classical education model in North Carolina that is both rigorous and affordable
  • Cold Spring School, a magnet school in Indiana focused on the sciences and the environment

DeVos also spends chapters detailing her work as secretary of education, her views on how to reform and improve higher education in the country, and revealing many previously unknown details about her upbringing.

DeVos’s book not only offers optimism, but also a tangible way forward on educational freedom for families that is rooted in basic dignity and respect for the people involved in the education system. For the curious mind, it is worth the read. 

For more information about the Roundtable’s school choice work, please contact Erica Haines.