In New Book, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Emerges as a Modern Alyosha

Paul E. Peterson
June 21, 2022
Education Next

With much the same characters and plot lines as The Brothers Karamazov, though absent its gripping prose, Hostages No More evokes memories of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s masterwork on good and evil. Former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos admits she does not have “a way with words,” but larger-than-life forces and personalities propel themselves straight through the vanilla writing and overwhelm Horatio Alger-style vignettes about families who chose their schools.

The author plays the part of Alexei, known in the diminutive as Alyosha, the innocent, 20-year-old novice preparing for the monastery. Betsy DeVos, née Elisabeth Prince, the daughter of a prosperous but workaholic entrepreneur, was born into a Dutch Calvinist family in Holland, Michigan, the City of Churches, and, it is said, the social capital of the world. Imbibing family and community traditions, she and her husband, Richard, seem to live by the same principles John Wesley, the English evangelist, expounded: “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” The DeVoses’ philanthropic endeavors concentrate on expanding school choice for those who cannot afford the cost of private schooling themselves. For them, the one sentence that counted in Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the 2016 Republican convention was the one that committed him to rescuing “kids from failing schools by helping their parents send them to a safe school of their choice.”

After accepting the call to serve in Trump’s cabinet, DeVos found herself working for a modern-day Dmitri, the frenzied, lascivious, self-absorbed oldest Karamazov brother, the one prepared to leap into hell, “heels up,” to recover what he thought was his rightful patrimony. Her connection to the narcissistic president was distant at best. She and Richard had backed Governor Jeb Bush for the Republican nomination, and it was Bush who first approached DeVos with the idea of serving as education secretary. Very likely, Vice President Mike Pence arranged the appointment.

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