President Trump listens as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a meeting with parents and teachers on Feb. 14. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Those who don’t learn history are doomed to become head of the Education Department, I guess.

Here is Betsy DeVos’s actual news release about meeting with presidents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, in which she praised them as “pioneers when it comes to school choice.”

“Wait, school choice?” you may well be asking yourself. “Does she mean choice in the sense that, if these institutions had not been pioneers during the era of racial segregation, black students would have had the choice to go to school or go nowhereDoes she not know what the word ‘choice’ means?”

Well, unclear. Let’s see what the statement has to say!

A key priority for this administration is to help develop opportunities for communities that are often the most underserved. Rather than focus solely on funding, we must be willing to make the tangible, structural reforms that will allow students to reach their full potential.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have done this since their founding. They started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education. They saw that the system wasn’t working, that there was an absence of opportunity, so they took it upon themselves to provide the solution.

HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.

Their counsel and guidance will be crucial in addressing the current inequities we face in education. I look forward to working with the White House to elevate the role of HBCUs in this administration and to solve the problems we face in education today.


“HBCUs were created for African-Americans because they had no choice and were unable to attend schools due to segregation laws,” said Texas Southern University’s “puzzled” President Austin Lane, according to Politico.

There is no choice like, er, no choice!

If this is the kind of school choice that DeVos is hoping to bring nationwide, we are up a worse creek than previously thought. By this broad definition, “tangible, structural reforms that will allow students to reach their full potential” sound like they could include “restoring segregation to the land.” After all, it was segregation that created this wonderful pioneering set of school choices in the first place.

But maybe I have been too narrow in my definition of what “options” are. Once you remedy that, history becomes a lot better.

Internment was just a lovely way of providing more housing options to people. Before, U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent did not have the option of moving to a cool gated community with a watchtower and barbed wire fences, but, afterwards, they did. Similarly, with the Indian Removal Act, President Andrew Jackson created a whole range of options for many communities. Instead of the option of staying in the place where they lived, they had the option of — moving! With help from the U.S. Cavalry.

This was clearly the essence of Jim Crow laws: giving people a greater range of options. Without Jim Crow laws, there would only have been one set of water fountains for everyone.

Being denied the right to vote for years was a way of increasing women’s options. Everyone else had to go to the polls — but women were given the option to do literally anything else during that time. Except own land and property. But, again, those so-called restrictions were just ways of increasing their ability to do other things.

In a way, there are no limitations. Limitations are just in your mind. If you do not have enough money to afford private school, that is not a limitation. With Betsy DeVos in charge, soon you may have the wonderful option of not sending your child to any school at all.