An Interview with Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos is an American businesswoman, philanthropist, politician, and activist who is the 11th and current United States Secretary of Education.

Michael Richardson-Borne: In today’s system, there is an obvious blurring of the lines when it comes to “school choice,” charter schools, and vouchers. At least two decades have been spent pushing taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools to the center of the Republican Party’s education agenda. These vouchers are siphoning money from traditional public schools towards a diverse array of unregulated for-profit and private providers.

As this is done, school quality takes a back seat to marketing, because the only measure of success has become a school’s ability to attract students who bring public dollars with them. Schools now rely on ridiculous marketing ploys, advertising “themes” and practices designed to draw students. This analysis comes as Congress continues to promote the expansion of school choice at the national level. The administration has proposed a $1.4 billion investment toward school choice programs for the coming fiscal year, including $168 million in spending for charter schools and $250 million in school vouchers for families.

How do you describe the current state of education in America?

Betsy DeVos: The same as I’d describe all American institutions – lost in the separate self.

If I take a step forward and look at experience from the assumption of separation, I’d say that the current state of education in America is one that prepares students for a world that either no longer exists, or that will cease to exist by the time they reach high school or college graduation.

Understand that as I say this, I am talking about how the rate of perceived change in the ego-driven world impacts students who are trained to think of themselves as separate autonomous entities in a culture that makes the separate self its most relied upon national treasure. Belief in the separate self is the Unseen American Dogma, a religion for both conservatives and liberals, republicans and democrats, the religious and the secular. This invisible dogma has the shape-shifting ability to take on an infinite number of contextual faces – and, in our day and age, as the time between these shifting faces shortens and accelerates, change in basic education ultimately can’t keep up with the pace of movement of content or context. This leaves the United States needing a new kind of education that is prepared for this rapid rate of perceived change (even though it’s really changeless change, which I’ll get to momentarily). But as the speed of separation continues to rush ahead, what few are seeing is that the answer to these separative needs does not live in the experience of a separative world. The crucial shift needed in education is one that creates sacred spaces where recognition of a pre-existing unity with what is living this newfound speed is encouraged to occur. When this unity with speed is discovered, life slows down to a virtual halt, even as the world of content and context continues to rush by as surface aspects of consciousness.

By completely ignoring our real being and buying in to the illusion of the Unseen American Dogma, the experience of separation I am pointing to links education almost exclusively with the external decoration of a separate self – facts, skills, careers, and spending power coupled with a small amount of lip service to the value of socialization win the day. The world the separate self is sprinting towards is a future where AI automation, universal basic income, new iterations or disruption of the internet, faster travel, and even the singularity is quickly redefining the meaning of life for the self-authoring individual. Whether the average American realizes what is going on or not, they definitely feel the inherent stress of it – and are straining to keep up as the system of separation is being stretched like a bridge about to buckle. And while all of this stretching goes on, we collectively continue to ignore what is aware of and living the separate self – we continue to look out at what we think of as forward progress without seeing our common anchor, the true face of non-separation. The result of this ignorance is a waning national education system, clueless of our pre-existing unity, that is basically a place where adult children train our children on how to remain children for the rest of their lives.

From the perspective of non-separation, the current state of our education system is even more backward, especially if the intention is to offer a context that will right the separative cultural and systemic design of America. From separation, as you are still playing the dark world-game of the separate self, education can be seen as a train that is on the rails, just driving in the wrong direction. From non-separation, it’s a completely different story. Education is a train that is totally off the rails, and not only that, it’s attempting to fly without wings. So today’s education system, again, is preparing students for a world that does not exist – and is going about this by preparing “educated” individuals that do not exist. Until we put the realization of Non-separation at the forefront of education or at least begin to place a priority on internal development, a backwater vision of separation will rule America’s schools, and hence our future, indefinitely.

So what we have educationally is a state-sponsored, year by year, indoctrination into the dogma of the separate self – which remains consistent from kindergarten all the way up to the highest levels of graduate education. Americans are poster children for the propaganda of separation – blinded by an education and culture that teaches us how to create and maintain separative lives of suffering as consumer-egos.

The charades you mention that our government acts out in regards to “school selection,” charter schools, and vouchers, as they siphon tax dollars out of public schools and into private, for-profit, ventures, have absolutely nothing to do with solving any problem, much less the root problem of the American education system – the assumption of a separate self. Until we make the realization of non-separation an earnest, nationwide priority, our country will continue on exactly as it has since its inception – as a tribal ideology that seduces people away from looking into their true nature.

MR-B: Your husband, Dick DeVos, has been quoted as saying: “As we look at many communities in our country, the church has been displaced by the public school as the center for activity…[I]t is certainly our hope that more and more churches will get more and more active and engaged in education.”

In your view, what role does religion, specifically Christianity, need to play in American education today?

BD: Both secular and sacred institutions falsify themselves by assuming a separate self – so, Christianity’s role is the same as every other concept the mind attaches to and uses to limit the truth of consciousness. It’s not the religious or the secular that is the problem – all objects, mental or physical, are pointers to the same realization. The real challenge is locating the separate self and how it is situated within the space that shows up as consciousness of a world. When the separate self is the reference point for all locations, falsification is an inevitable condition of life. When the separate self is an arising without location, then the conditions for truth have arisen and one is ripe to remember the life of non-separation. Another way of saying this is that falsification is the view that has forgotten it is an aspect of the infinite, instead having confidence that the separate self is a totality within the throes of the finite. Non-separation, on the other hand, recognizes how the finite is a mere reflection being lived by the infinite. Our education system would do well to begin from this simple recognition.

But when it comes specifically to Christianity, if I was to give an answer, I would say that it somewhat depends on what you mean by the term. If you are talking about a fixed set of commandments that has the world figured out for you, or Jesus as a God, or even Jesus as an iconic human, then I would say those interpretations have very little role to play in an emerging education system. If, however, you are talking about the search for the “Christ within,” then I think there is much more room for this kind of exploration in regards to its usefulness to a new kind of education – as this is a path that can lead beyond the separate self to the realization of non-separation, which I consider the goal of contemporary education.

Like Krishnamurti pointed out, being well-adjusted to a sick society that assumes the truth of a separate self is no measure of health. And, unfortunately, the way Christian education exists in today’s world has more to do with dogma and the fortification of separation than with taking to heart the importance of Christ’s realization of non-separation and how we can become a nation with the same realization as Christ as our root assumption. Placing and maintaining non-separation as the crown jewel of our education system is the only outcome I see as worthy of our time and attention. I don’t believe a traditional Christian education can be an environment for the development of a healthy ego, much less the transcendence of it.

MR-B: Can you see that there is a difference between a culture focused on developing a healthy ego in order to transcend it versus a culture whose very fabric is the realization of non-separation?

BD: Sure. It’s really the crux of my work right now. It’s something that I ponder a lot because it seems that the two cultures would require very different versions of what I call non-separation education (NSE). The first version is a “pointing to” method that is still working itself free from the separate self, the latter version is a “pointing from” method that models true non-separation.

The “pointing to” method is one where the separate self is believed to be on an arc of development – where contextual weigh stations can be delineated that mark one’s progress towards the conversation of non-separation. In this kind of step-wise model, there is a specific kind of telos of the separate self that unfolds in stages as it grows towards the impersonal. The teachers in this system are all trained to arrive at a pre-determined minimal level of development on the arc of separation – but are still very much engaged in their own personal journeys towards the realization of Non-separation. The best they can do as teachers is to point to a possibility and to teach a philosophical approach that could, one day, lead to a living culture of non-separation.

Non-separation education at this level focuses on personal growth – it’s a preparation of the separate self for a healthy future re-situating, a preparatory school before one reaches the advanced stages and teachers of non-separation. But this “pointing to” method still describes an egoic culture based on the assumption of a separate self, a culture that doesn’t get us very far down the road from our current tribal existence. In this kind of culture, non-separation is just a goal, a potential gradual occurrence – not the lived experience of the culture at large and the soil from which all institutions arise.

The “pointing from” method is one where the separate self has already been re-situated into its proper place, and the arc of its development is viewed as an intellectual phenomenon that was always part of its own illusion. In an educational system founded on this knowledge, the assumption of a separate self has been outgrown and non-separation is a demonstrated experience for all graduates and especially by those graduates who go on to become teachers. From non-separation, early education is about getting to the root of human existence. Since educators are able to teach from the lived experience of non-separation, there is no need for a philosophical approach. That said, as students advance in age, content can be easily added as the natural outgrowth of interests unfold. Even though non-separation education is not about the accumulation of facts or even about learning how to “do” in human society – it is understood that human beings will be lived into the world as a revelation of their root identity.

But, I’ll stop here. To get into too many details would be a mistake of my imagination as non-separation education is an alive process that will be lived in the moment when the moment presents itself. The main thing to remember here is that rudimentary NSE has non-separation as a goal – whereas true NSE is non-separation as a lived experience.

MR-B: Can you go into just a little more detail about what you mean by non-separation education (NSE)?

BD: Non-separation education is a form of mentorship by which students align with the process of pure receptivity.

After a student is aligned with pure receptivity, education happens as a natural movement of life itself. Student success is defined as having an understanding of the thrust of human existence (which I call non-separation) before allowing a “career” to become a tributary that flows from this realization.

MR-B: Thanks for the time.

BD: You’re welcome.

*This is a fictional interview written by Michael Richardson-Borne as a teaching of Non-separation.