Hatred of Education
That’s what the far right wing seems to have. Every aspect of education, it seems, has been under attack from the right. Most conservatives want to abolish the Department of Education and consistently assert that funding of education is unimportant. Teachers are reviled for being overpaid and underworked—the precise opposite of reality—and teacher’s unions are a particular target of hateful invective. Despite inattention from parents, overcrowded classes and high workloads, funding shortfalls so bad that some teachers have to buy supplies out of their own pocket, and mandated testing which has little or no pedagogical value but does succeed in distorting curriculums and making teaching harder, it’s the teachers who get all the blame when students perform poorly.
Colleges, however, are under increasing fire from conservatives. Long seen as hotbeds of liberalism (funny how learning things makes you liberal), that impression is only getting worse—to the point where right-wingers are now openly hostile to the idea of a college education. We’ve seen the New Hampshire Republican who wanted to increase the voting age purely because students vote “foolishly”—solely because they vote disproportionately Democratic. Republican vote-suppression tactics are heavily aimed at the college demographic. But some go beyond that, actually believing that colleges nationwide are part of some overarching conspiracy to convert young people into godless liberals.
And now, we have a Republican presidential candidate who is buying into that particular conspiracy theory:
“President Obama wants everybody in America to go to college,” Santorum said. “What a snob!”
Yeah! That egotistical snob wants every kid to have a kaw-ledge eh-joo-KAY-shun! What an ass! Hey, and you know what else? Those people who want their kids to graduate from high school are pretty stuck-up too, aren’t they? And how about those politicians who want the people to have better-paying jobs? What kind of smug, conceited pinheads are they? The American people should stop being tricked by this arrogant elitism, and be satisfied picking crops, washing dishes, and flipping burgers! Anyone who isn’t is an big-headed, self-important, snotty know-it-all!!
Santorum started by saying some people don’t need to go to college: “Not all folks are gifted the same way. Some people have incredible gifts with their hands.” He then suggested there was an sinister motive behind Obama’s push to get more Americans in college classrooms.
“There are good, decent men and women who work hard every day and put their skills to the test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor… That’s why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image,” Santorum said. “I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.”
First of all, you don’t have to be “gifted” to go to college. The idea is to let everyone have a shot at learning more than just the bare minimum; many colleges (my own included) actually aim to enable kids who might otherwise have a hard time getting into college.
Second, Obama is not really suggesting that we make college mandatory—rather, anyone who wants to can go, anyone who doesn’t, doesn’t have to. For most of American history, it was something people aspired to; entire families had great pride in the first of their clan to get a college education. It has always been considered a landmark, a stepping-up. Not elitism—just a better chance at making something of yourself and giving your family a better shot at having a decent life.
Third, nobody should be trying to remake children in their own image. That’s not what educators do, nor is it what any education should be about. This kind of thinking is just the kind of arrogant, controlling egotism that makes many children miserable. Santorum does some common right-wing projection here; public and higher education, on the other hand, strive to enable the child, teaching them basic skills, and allowing them to make of themselves what they will. That’s what you’re supposed to do.
However, what’s most disturbing is the animosity towards knowledge—“facts have a well-known liberal bias!” More to the point, his rhetoric is all too reminiscent of minority or handicapped kids being told that they should learn to “work with their hands.” Even if not, then Santorum is still wrong—Obama called for young Americans to commit to “higher education or career training.”
Santorum’s crowd, however, loved his rant:
“I thought that was brilliant,” said Angie Clement of Commerce, Mich. “Not everybody has to go to college. We need garbagemen, we need welders, carpenters.”
“Everybody can’t be equal,” agreed Paul Murrow of Milford, MI seated nearby. “Somebody needs to do the manual labor.”
Umm, I don’t think that we have any particular shortages in the fields of garbagemen or welders. Nor am I comfortable with the idea that manual laborers are somehow “unequal” to those who have a college education, a sentiment which seems to be what Santorum was attacking—but which it would seem these people feel is true more than liberals themselves.
Not to mention that a college education does not disqualify you for any of these jobs. Obama’s proposal for universal college education is not intended to turn everyone into a professor, lawyer, scientist, or researcher. The idea is that there is value in every person having the sort of training in critical thinking, exposure to history and culture, skills in reading and writing, and development in specific fields of their choice. Is it a bad thing for everyone to know more math, history, sociology, and so forth?
Apparently so—especially when that knowledge and training runs counter to the interests of conservative goals. Critical thinking is a particular focus of college curriculums which is also often absent from pre-college education. Imagine everyone having the training and ability to spot logical fallacies—the Republican Party could collapse! Or at least they’d have to work that much harder at peddling their bullshit. Conservatives, and their corporate patrons, much prefer a gullible, pliable majority they can herd as they desire.
Which transitions into Santorum’s personal focus: higher education as liberal indoctrination:
On the president’s efforts to boost college attendance, Santorum said, “I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely … The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country.”
Yep, can’t deny the man when he’s right. As an American college professor, I myself received training at the secret Communist Re-education Assessment Program (CRAP) which gave me the tools to brainwash students into liberal-minded simpletons. It’s all a conspiracy, I admit it.
Short of that kind of conspiracy theory, what remains is that the more knowledge you are given, the more liberal you are apt to become. He’s not saying that intentionally, of course, but it is effectively the same thing. Teach a kid to spot bullshit, and sometimes the young whippersnapper will actually start doing it.
However, Santorum’s greater worry is that college doesn’t have enough religion built into it:
He claimed that “62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it,” but declined to cite a source for the figure. And he floated the idea of requiring that universities that receive public funds have “intellectual diversity” on campus.
So, according to him, kids go into these colleges but many come out less religious than before—so his presumption is that they’re being brainwashed.
It’s all about perspective, of course; Santorum comes from a fundamentalist strain which, in the light of day, makes some pretty ridiculous assumptions about reality based on ancient interpretations of texts not written to be employed in that manner.
So, perhaps, if you teach your kid that the entire universe is 6,000 years old, and then your kid goes to college and learns math, astronomy, and history—and then the kid comes home with the crazy idea that maybe the universe is older than he was originally taught… I suppose you might think your kid has been brainwashed, indoctrinated into some alien belief system.
Of course, from another perspective, one could possibly come away with the conclusion that kids taught about Jesus riding dinosaurs and that a child dying of diabetes is better served by prayers than insulin—that they might be kind of brainwashed to start with, and a college education might be a cure, not an indoctrination.
But that would be disrespectful of religious belief, and we cannot do that—no matter how bizarre, harmful, or clearly ridiculous that belief may be. We cannot allow children to be exposed to any ideas contrary to religious doctrine, because that would encourage intellectual diversity, which would—um, wait a minute. Did I just read above that Santorum wants “intellectual diversity”? Doesn’t that mean that you would welcome your kids being exposed to different ideas?
Of course, “intellectual diversity” is not meant to be taken literally; it’s a new code word, meaning “religious instruction,” just as Intelligent Design proponents started using the term “academic freedom” as a means of injecting Creationism into science classes.
So, Santorum is saying there is a deliberate “liberal indoctrination”—which is mostly just imagined or fabricated—and so he wants to create religious indoctrination to tip the scales. Just like conservatives fabricated the view that voter fraud is rampant and so, to protect us from this imagined threat, they instituted legislation which, quite coincidentally just happened to suppress the liberal vote.
Long story short: they don’t want your kids to be educated, they want them to be uninformed, gullible, churchgoing manual laborers. Non-union, of course.