Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday made her first public appearance since being sidelined in a cycling crash, turning up at an event about youth entrepreneurship in a wheelchair and criticizing parents of the millennial generation who have obsessed on “safety and security” rather than allowing children to take “calculated” and “interesting” risks.
She also said school experiences for children have not changed much from decades ago. “It’s only more protected and more safe,” she said.
DeVos underwent surgery earlier this month for what the Education Department said at the time was a broken bone. On Thursday, DeVos said at the event that she had broken her pelvis and hip socket and that it was “very painful,” Politico reported. She also said: "But it will heal. I just have to stay off of it for quite a few weeks, so I’m getting around with other means.”
DeVos appeared onstage for a question-and-answer session at the headquarters of Gallup, the management consulting firm, at the second annual briefing on “Business Startup Challenges and Youth Entrepreneurship,” which was co-hosted by Gallup and the Lemonade Day national youth entrepreneurship nonprofit organization. The education secretary sat in a wheelchair, and at the end of DeVos’s appearance, a woman walked up to help maneuver the chair off the stage, a video of the event shows.
DeVos has frequently criticized public schools for failing to change over time, and she is a champion of alternatives to traditional public schools.
Taking questions from Joe Daly, a partner at Gallup and a member of Lemonade Day’s board of directors, DeVos offered her opinion about why entrepreneurship among young people has declined. Daly reported polling data that said young people have become less entrepreneurial since 1977 but mostly in the last decade. And the millennial generation is “on track to be even less entrepreneurial” than Generation X and baby boomers.
“Well,” she said, "you certainly are the ones with data, but I have some sort of instinctual ideas about it. I think they are quite broad and varied. For one thing, generally speaking, younger people have grown up in a more protected environment. We’ve heard lots about helicoptering parenting and making sure nobody gets hurt doing something, and we don’t take too many risks so we don’t fail.
“It’s a general aura of safety and security over taking calculated and taking interesting risks around things,” she said. "I think that in, that general aura has lent itself in many ways to that reality. I think that we’ve had sort of an ossified approach and system to track everybody through the same sorts of experiences and, you know, there’s not a lot of real difference in the way we do school today versus decades ago. It’s only more protected and more safe.
“And so I think generally speaking we have to become more okay with taking calculated risks and encouraging young people to try new things and to not protect them from everything.”
DeVos said she has eight grandchildren and it is “really fun” to see her children parent their own, noting that as a grandmother she has to “sit back and not comment too much on things.” However, she said, she is “really encouraged” that her grandchildren are being “encouraged to do the kinds of things I did as a child and to explore some unsafe things.”
Returning to the issue of why young people are not as entrepreneurial as in the past, she said, “Another factor is just a lack of practicing persistence, and bouncing back from things when they don’t quite turn out the way you intended them to or hoped they would.”
She told Daly that entrepreneurship is not introduced to students in school early enough and often enough.
“There is very little discussion of what, you know, a business is and what do businesses do,” she said.
“The schools I have visited that have been most exciting, I think, for students are the ones that really are intentional about introducing a lot of different career pathways at a very young age and giving kids exposure to some of those possibilities, starting as young as early middle school, and then developing opportunities out of that for kids to really explore what they are really wired up to do,” she said.
“There are a lot of ways to change that, but you have to be willing to change. We know change is hard.”