Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
In July of 2017 the Pew Research Center published a detailed study of the current views of Americans regarding various institutions. One of those was higher education. The results showed that since 2015, Republicans, particularly Conservative Republicans place much less value on higher education and even that higher education has a negative effect on the country.
This should not be too surprising to anyone who studies American History. Our history is filled with anti-intellectual movements which are quite often tied in with conspiratorial world views, isolationism, and anti-immigrant or foreigner movements such as the Know Nothings, the Ku Klux Klan, and the original “America First” crowd. This has been a consistent drumbeat in American History, and yhe late historian Richard Hofstadter wrote:
But simple native prejudice and religious fundamentalism are only part of the problem. Throughout much of our history Americans have as Susan Jacoby has noted “only in terms of its practical results.” He notes that this phenomenon has:
The prevailing opinion, especially among conservatives is that education is only valuable if it produces jobs. In other words it’s training, not education and if you don’t know the difference between the two you are probably not really educated. In a number of states, important liberal arts colleges are slashing their core liberal arts programs in favor of STEM, business, or sports programs. Major universities whose programs are funded and legislated by now conservative State legislatures are doing the same thing.
Yet the fact is that educators, especially those who teach formal higher education should pursue truth more while students are in school, and encourage their students to study and seek truth, long after their formal schooling ends. I can thank my teachers and professors at every level for inspiring me to do that.
Yet, today we see, politicians, legislatures, university boards of governors, hacking away at the programs and courses of study most likely to lead their students to the truth. Sadly, more many, if not most Americans have been deluded to share the view that education at any level is simply a way to punch a ticket to get a job, but I digress…
In 2015 Pew noted that 54% of Republicans held a positive view of higher education, while 37% viewed universities, colleges and higher education negatively. That shifted in 2016 to a plurality of 45% positive and 45% negative. Their 2017 survey showed a much more pronounced shift, 58% negative and only 39% positive. Of the Republicans those who considered themselves “conservative” views were even more pronounced with 65% saying that higher education had a negative impact.
A change of such magnitude regarding what Americans have almost always universally valued as a societal good does not happen in a vacuum, the ground has to be prepared for it. Since a large portion of the GOP conservatives are Evangelical Christians one has to look at what has been going on in Evangelical Church and its politics for the past 50 years. whole denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention experienced splits as moderates were drive from the denomination and its educational institutions during the Fundamentalist takeover of it and its institutions.
The growth of Evangelical power centers that any type of education that comes from secular institutions have created their own educational centers to propagate their fundamentalist and radically right wing political views. Institutions like the American Family Association, the Eagle Institute, and others mimic traditional think tanks but are nothing more than propaganda outlets covered with an academic veneer in order to fool people into thinking thaxacceptance of fake history by faux “historians” like David Barton has led to a devastating decline in the willingness of Evangelicals, and hence Republicans to care about the truth and to rail at institutions which they despise out of the fundamentalist lworldview.
Non-intellectual virtues such as patriotism, loyalty, faith, prosperity, and power have supplanted the intellectual quest for truth. Expertise of any kind is disregarded but particularly that of academics. Even on college and university campuses academics and the pursuit of academic and intellectual questions is being subsumed by bloated bureaucracies which treat instructors and professors as chattel while seeking profits which usually come at drdfrfld cost of academics, but again I digress…
The fact is that American society as a whole is hostile towards intellectuals and academics. As Hofstadter wrote:
The American President has shown that he is exactly that kind of leader, and he is supported by followers who lap up everything that he says. Fed by the lies of pundits and radio talk show hosts who a re college dropouts that despise anything that might be considered intellectual the President has added his voice to the cacophony of anti-intellectual thought that characterizes current what proportion to be called American conservatism, in which men like William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater would be hard pressed to find a home. For that matter there are quite a few American conservatives who not only oppose President Trump, but who have left the Republican Party because of its blind obedience to him?
To his loyal supporters, the policies don’t matter, so long as the right people are punished or suffer. That has been the case during the current government shutdown, which is hurting many people, including what may be a disproportionate number of Trump supporters. Those people include one that I mentioned a couple of days ago who said that he “wasn’t hurting the right people.”
There is a cost to such beliefs and attitudes. The United States is not unique and such cultural trends do have consequences that many people do not think could happen here. But the non-intellectualism of our time, espe cially that of the militant and often fundamentalist Christian Right that predominates American conservatism is dangerous. Milton Mayer wrote of his experience with or dinary Germans in the years after the Second World War in his book They Thought They Were Free:
The Nazis loved educated men who were able to subordinate themselves to the Party and the State to get the job done. There were quite a few academics, particularly lawyers and doctors who were willing to put their education to use in service of the regime. Real intellectuals, men who thought and fought for truth and freedom were removed from academia or their positions in government. They were replaced with men willing to sacrifice their integrity and honor to further their own interests or to serve Nazi ideology and the Party.
It is my view that regardless of what happens with the Trump Presidency that the assault on intellectuals, knowledge, education, and ultimately truth will continue unabated. Irving Howe wrote in his essay The Age of Conformity: