In Protesting Betsy DeVos, Harvard Students Ignore the Popularity of Education Freedom Among Minorities

In September, USA Today reported on new data from University of Chicago researchers finding that, among millennials, 65 percent of African Americans and 58 percent of Latinos surveyed support school choice.

This didn’t stop Harvard University students from protesting Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s speech on educational freedom.

DeVos was the keynote speaker at a Harvard Kennedy School conference on the future of school choice. TheHarvard Crimson and other outlets reported that students held up signs and bedsheets reading, “Educational Justice Is Racial Justice” and “Our Students Are Not 4 Sale.”

Chanters interrupted the secretary’s speech with snapping fingers and shouts of “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white.” When DeVos finished her talk and left the room, protesters pointed at her and shouted, “What does white supremacy look like? That’s what white supremacy looks like.”

Ironically, the Kennedy School’s academic dean introduced the speech by talking about the need for considering both sides of complex issues. He closed the Q&A by remarking that conversations about these issues are “very, very difficult.”

It shouldn’t be so difficult to have constructive conversations about complex issues affecting young adults. Yet the Harvard incident illustrates how broken our public discourse has become. It also ignores the popularity of education freedom options among minorities.

Education Freedom Benefits Minority Students

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes’ latest report shows that in some states, charter schools have helped minority students close racial achievement gaps. Stanford University’s Center for Education Reform and Outcomes found that urban charter schools generated learning growth equivalent to roughly 22 extra days of math and six days of reading for their Hispanic students. Those numbers increased for Hispanic students living in poverty, to 48 extra days in math and 25 extra days in reading.

As a result, charter schools are also incredibly popular among blacks and Latinos.

  • USA Today also reported that 79 percent of blacks and 77 percent of Latinos surveyed support publicly-funded vouchers that help cover low-income students’ tuition at private schools.


  • In the course of conducting research for the American Federation for Children, Beck Research discovered 75 percent of Latinos and 72 percent of blacks surveyed support the concept of school choice.


  • According to the U.S. Department of Education, black and Latino students comprised more than half of charter school enrollees during the 2014-15 school year.


  • The Florida Department of Education reports that 38 percent of the 98,936 students participating in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program – the largest in the country by participation – are Hispanic.

Given these numbers, tackling an issue as multi-faceted and difficult as education policy requires more thoughtful and nuanced reactions than the ones given by the Harvard protesters.

Name-Calling Never Solved Anything

Students have every right to protest. Healthy debate is driven forward by everyone being free to express their thoughts and beliefs, even when people disagree.

But healthy, constructive debate is not what took place at Harvard. You can’t have a rational conversation about educational freedom when you’re demonizing and dehumanizing your opponent by hurling baseless insults at them. Name-calling won’t get us anywhere.

Education is instrumental in helping young adults achieve future success. People may disagree on which education reforms will best help students, but the issue is too important to let it devolve into senseless shouting and absurd smears.

Author Generation Opportunity

More posts by Generation Opportunity