February 14, 2017

“I” before “E” except after a really dumb tweet


William Edward Burghardt Du Bois — or, as the US Department of Education may start calling him any day, “Webster J.K.L. Letourneau

Just about everyone has experienced that scary feeling of being the new kid on the block — especially midway into the school year. It’s the worst!

Which is why we should all feel really, really, really sympathetic toward Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education. Look, guys, she was only trying to show the United States that she can make education great again… by misspelling the name of a black civil rights activist and author. During Black History Month. A week after being confirmed as Secretary of Education. Whatever, it’s fine. At least she apologizOH GOD THEY CAN’T SPELL “APOLOGIES.”

So, yeah. Early Sunday morning, the world was gifted with a tweet from the Department of Education celebrating W. E. B. Du Bois, or, as he’s (apparently) known to his closest friends, “DeBois.”  Many picked up on this error right away — including Chelsea Clinton, who not only lamented the DOE’s spelling, but also correctly included the necessary spaces between Du Bois’s “Du” and “Bois,” quietly highlighting the fact that the DOE can literally do nothing right. (She also won the hearts of typography nerds all over the planet, by spelling out “W. E. B.” with spaces between the letters, in perfect Chicago style.)

If that sounds like hyperbole, consider the fact that, while the DOE eventually issued an apology, they were apparently unable to make it error-free. Yes, our education department sent along their deepest apologizes [sic] for the education-fail that was their original tweet. And while I’d personally like to laud them for not deleting that original “De Bois” tweet (jokes aside, I think it’s good that they owned up to their mistake and didn’t try to conceal it), I sure wish they had kept the pattern going with their follow-up apologecizing tweet.

This whole thing would be slightly easier to digest if DeVos’s confirmation hadn’t been historic for all the wrong reasons; if she had ever worked in a school setting, and could let us believe these types of errors will be rare; and if her appointing president hadn’t opened Black History Month with a really weird bit of Frederick Douglass praise that totally made it sound like our current commander-in-chief thinks the nineteenth-century abolitionist is still alive.

Of course, the joke could be on us; maybe these tweets were the first in a series of pop quizzes the DOE will be conducting via Twitter? And if that’s the case, bring it on. Does the NAACP get extra credit for using emoji in their answer?



Susan Rella is the Director of Production at Melville House, and a former bookseller.