© Josh Sager – February 2015
An educated population is a vital resource to any developed nation (if not a requirement for a nation to become developed).
On the individual level, there are numerous benefits that come from educational achievement. More educated individuals tend to make more money, live longer, and have greater career achievements than those who have less education. These individual benefits translate to societal benefits, as more educated societies tend to be healthier, more productive, less violent, and more likely to produce technological progress.
Unfortunately, the modern American right wing has become stuck in a mindset where education is derided and, where possible, defunded or privatized. The meme of the “ivory tower liberal elite” competing with the “common sense conservative” has created a justification for large portions of our nation to see education as something that is not only unnecessary, but a threat to their established ways of life and “traditional” morality.
The political justifications for these attacks are three-fold.
First, statistically speaking, the more education a person receives, the more likely it is that they will vote Democratic (Case in Point: only 6% of scientists are Republicans, while 55% are Democrats) thus there is a political incentive for the right wing to reduce the number of people who have access to higher education.
Second, education is expensive and cutting education is a convenient way to cut budgets so that taxes can be reduced (or budget gaps can be filled).
Finally, the right wing is heavily reliant upon interests that promote a rejection of factual reality (ex. polluters force them to reject climate science, religious zealots require them to reject history, and libertarians require them to reject economic reality) in favor of a world that conforms to predetermined ideological conclusions—this rejection is far easier when large portions of the population are unable to recognize that they are being lied to.
Here are a few examples of these attacks on education:
In his 2015 budget, Scott Walker cut $300 million from the University of Wisconsin’s funding while demanding that they keep providing the same services and quality. When asked to explain how this is possible, Walker replied by saying: “Maybe it’s time for faculty and staff to start thinking about teaching more classes and doing more work and this authority frees up the [University of Wisconsin] administration to make those sorts of requests.” In short, he wants them to work more, for less money, and demands this of them while suggesting that they have just been lazy in the past.
Currently, the Oklahoma legislature is in the process of eliminating all advanced placement classes on US history because they think that those classes are teaching “anti-American rhetoric,” including the realities of slavery, the Native American genocide, the separation of church and state and the injustice of the Jim Crow era. In short, they are trying to eliminate the history curriculum for failing to be jingoistic and “pro-American” to the exclusion of our country’s real history.
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has proposed approximately $100 million in public education cuts in order to help fill a massive budget deficit created by the income tax cuts he has championed for the past few years.
Several years ago, the Texas Republican Party changed its platform in order to officially declare its opposition to teaching students “higher order thinking skills” and critical thinking skills. They justified this by saying that teaching thinking skills would undermine parental authority and challenge the beliefs of the children (almost certainly referring to their religious beliefs).
In his inaugural 2015 budget, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey announced a $75 million dollar cut to the state education system, part of which was to pay for a new private prison that state law-enforcement officials are opposing as unnecessary.
Put simply, these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. The Republicans have launched attacks on the American education system on virtually every level of government—from local school boards and state governments all the way up to the federal legislature. While no single attack is likely to cause critical damage, the totality of these attacks will subject our education system to a death by a thousand cuts.
If the American public doesn’t start to push back against this anti-education campaign, we will continue to fall behind the rest of the developed world in terms of education and will eventually lose our competitive advantage in high-skilled markets. Americans will gradually become little more than cheap laborers, living in a consumptionalist nation and swimming in debt.