Here’s the quick version of what happened: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in an interview that she believes many young people support socialism because they don’t get sufficient government and civics education and are not permitted to “discuss and debate those ideas freely” on college campuses. Schools, then, are to blame.
Here’s the detailed version about the back-and-forth that related to an August Gallup poll, which reported the following:
Americans aged 18 to 29 are as positive about socialism (51%) as they are about capitalism (45%). This represents a 12-point decline in young adults' positive views of capitalism in just the past two years and a marked shift since 2010, when 68% viewed it positively. Meanwhile, young people’s views of socialism have fluctuated somewhat from year to year, but the 51% with a positive view today is the same as in 2010.
Despite the wording in the poll, more Americans of that age group are positive about socialism than capitalism.
In any case, DeVos was asked about this idea by Robert Bluey, vice president of publishing for the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing nonprofit think tank based in Washington, and editor in chief of the Daily Signal, Heritage’s news organization, during an interview for the Daily Signal Podcast. (You can listen to the podcast here).
Here’s what Bluey said:
Well, one of the reasons that parents like that flexibility is sometimes the concern about what their students, their children, are learning in schools. And we’ve seen recently some polling to indicate that socialism is on the rise in terms of a belief system that many young people seem to be clamoring for. And you even see it in some of the Democratic politicians in our country. Do you believe this is a cause of the education system and some of the beliefs that are being taught to students? Or is there another factor why they are gravitating toward such a destructive force like socialism?
And this is what DeVos said in response:
Well, I think it’s really a combination of things. I think number one, students aren’t getting the kind of foundation in civics and government that I recall getting as a student in K-12 education. And they’re coming then into higher education without the background to even know and understand competing ideas, and then without the ability to discuss and debate them. I recall visiting a classroom not to long ago where one of teachers was wearing a shirt that said “Find Your Truth,” suggesting that, of course, truth is a very fungible and mutable thing instead of focusing on the fact that there is objective truth and part of learning is actually pursuing that truth. So, roll it back, there is a very important need for students to know the foundations of our country and the ideas around which our country was formed. And to then have the ability to discuss and debate those ideas freely on their K-12 campuses and on their higher-ed campuses.
We will pass over DeVos’s comment about the “Find Your Truth” shirt, which she is assuming means that the teacher is against “objective truth,” which is a rather large mental leap.
DeVos is saying that America’s schools are failing to provide sufficient civics and government education, and then allow free debate, and that’s why 51 percent of Americans ages 18-29 think as positively about socialism as capitalism.
Well, it certainly is true that many schools don’t provide enough civics and government education. But isn’t it possible that there are students who have learned about these issues and don’t view capitalism in the same way as DeVos, a Michigan billionaire?
It is also worth nothing that the Trump administration and her department have proposed cutting federal funding for civics education programs.