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Will Biden’s Education Secretary Avoid Ideological Battles?

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Will Biden’s Education Secretary Avoid Ideological Battles?
By James Baresel

No sooner had United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos issued new Title IX regulations for the handling of sexual assault and harassment allegations by colleges and universities this past May than Joe Biden pledged a reversal of policy—claiming that restoring the presumption of innocence and mandating opportunities for cross examination of accusers would “shame and silence survivors.” Whether or not due process will come under renewed assault now largely depends on the man Biden has chosen as DeVos’s replacement, Miguel Cardona.

A former public school teacher and administrator who became Connecticut’s Educational Commissioner in 2019, Cardona has yet to take public stances on most contentious issues, Title IX included. His record, however, suggests a man who, though disconcerting enough, is about as tolerable as any Biden might have appointed. The bad news is that he seems to embrace the usual leftist laundry list of policies and “causes.” The good news? Strong indications that they are not his real priorities. One cause for concern is Cardona’s promotion of the narrative claiming certain segments of the population constitute “victim groups” that are habitually mistreated by “privileged” ones. Though the context in which he did so concerned racial issues rather than women or sexual assault, a certain mindset approaches these various matters in the same way. “Victim groups” (women or racial minorities) are given the strong benefit of the doubt. The “privileged” (men or white people) are treated as guilty until proven innocent.

That Cardona shares such presuppositions is suggested by his reference to “several tragic, high profile and disturbing acts of violence against people of color at the hands of police.”

Aside from George Floyd’s death, fuller investigation into such cases has generally shown narratives based in anti-police prejudice to be false. Even those officers not fully exonerated by the evidence have tended to be guilty of no more than poor reactions to tense situations created by their alleged victims. In other cases the final evidence has been inconclusive. For a man who promotes a “guilty until proven innocent” narrative to an entire state’s public school system to be charged with the administration of justice under Title IX can only be cause for concern.

Concern is also raised by Cardona’s promotion of the theory of “microaggressions.” The question is not so much what Cardona believes to constitute harassment as the potential consequences of broader attitudes he has attempted to inculcate. If students come to believe that making a “fake-smile” while “our body language says we’d rather be somewhere else” can be a “microaggression” they can be depended upon to allege sexual harassment when others’ behavior can be (artificially) construed as “insufficiently” avoiding the slightest hints of unwanted romantic or sexual attention.

As already mentioned, however, Cardona does seem to be primarily concerned with educating children rather than pushing ideological agendas. Continuing the policy he pursued in Connecticut, the first task he has assigned himself in his new role is reopening schools that have continued using online learning to control the spread of Covid. This does not just indicate his real priorities. It also suggests a man willing to buck party lines for the good of children and a realist willing to accept dangers, risks and imperfections.

Further evidence that Cardona’s ideological orientation might not be central to his new work comes from the Center for Education Reform. A conservative organization devoted to reducing federal influence on schools, the Center praised him for expressing “understanding about the importance of options and of communities making decisions for their own unique circumstances.”

Such dispositions could take the edge off implementation of Biden’s agenda. A man focused on getting students back into classrooms probably won’t be in a rush to alter Title IX regulations, a process that could take years to complete. And he could bring moderation to the latter issue rather than see it become a partisan quagmire that, each new administration revising regulations at the cost of time and effort that could be focused on education efforts.

Taken as a whole, Cardona has the potential to follow somewhat moderate courses. Finding areas of agreement that allow for bipartisan cooperation could help him to develop respect for and goodwill towards more conservative individuals and interest groups. Work on time consuming common projects might leave him putting more contentious matters on the back burner. Reopening of schools provides an issue on which conservatives and libertarians can ally with Cardona. Left-wing Covid alarmists might alienate him.

Fighting the new education secretary might become necessary. But since some ideologues will be doing their best to drag him into their combative camp, it would be best to find ways of enticing him towards moderation rather than pushing him into their arms.