We were as surprised as anyone with Betsy DeVos’s announcement that renowned tidy-guru Marie Kondo will join the U.S. Department of Education as a senior advisor. As for whether this move “sparked joy” for us—well, yes and no.
There’s no doubt that the department could use some decluttering. Its closets overflow, and not just with skeletons. Even with the historically-high personnel attrition rate these past two years, and a revamp that eliminated offices and streamlined services, Jimmy Carter’s favorite agency remains a sprawling monstrosity. Doing some spring cleaning is clearly at the top of Kondo’s agenda. In particular, she intends to tidy “by category, not location,” as her best-selling book recommends. First, she’s going after the lawyers, “which are spread throughout the department, not just the Office of the General Counsel,” she told the press last week.
That’s well and good, but her first rule of tidying is going to be hard to follow: “Finish discarding first. Don’t just move your junk around. Throw out the stuff that adds no value.” For the Department of Education, that means not only wasteful and ineffective programs, but small ones too—like the Special Olympics. Yet Congress is in charge of discarding programs and has shown little interest of late, especially in the face of rabid, confused Twitter mobs.
More intriguing will be her role in the larger world of education reform. As DeVos said the other day, “Lots of bad ideas belong in the dustbin of history—and I’ve asked Marie to put them there.” But how that mandate will be interpreted and applied is anyone’s guess. Will Kondo clean up the online charter schools industry, for example? If she doesn’t want to get sideways with the secretary, she will need to make sure that Betsy really is committed to tidying up. The fact that DeVos still owns all ten of her yachts—and that one of them is reportedly now captained by Jeanne Allen—doesn’t make us terribly optimistic. On the other hand, Betsy really does seem to hate public schools, to which she and Marie may soon say, “Thank you, and goodbye!”