In the current wave of conservative-backed “reform” of higher eduction a long-standing streak of anti-intellectualism in the Republican Party is clearly evident. (I had to put quotes around re-form because it means just that: “to formulate something different from what it once was,” and “different” does not necessarily mean “better,” even though it has that connotation) The Republican Party used to have quite an array of intellectuals on display. But that was then and this is now and by and large they have been purged or pushed off of the stage. What passes for a Republican intellectual today is Paul Ryan (really!).
I can still remember the sneer in Spiro T. Agnew’s voice when he used the phrase “pointy-headed intellectuals” to describe President Nixon’s Eastern establishment critics. Coming from just any old Republican wouldn’t have been news, but Mr. Agnew was Vice-president at the time. The Eastern establishment Republicans are nowhere in sight and the anti-intellectuals are everywhere (Gimme that old time religion, gimme . . . )
The “public schools are failing” trope is propaganda, pure and simple.
A New York Times editorial recently implied that some of the reasons students in places like Finland, Canada, and Shanghai do much better in science and math than American students were cultural, and concluded that those places care more about preparing teachers and elevating the cultural position of education, while ensuring that more resources go to the neediest schools. While ignoring that here, teachers are poorly paid, poorly prepared and generally disdained, while the richest schools and students get the most money. They also seemed to ignore, while mentioning, that Finland, for example, provides free lunches for all school children, free medical care, pyschological services, and myriad other supports directly to students to ensure that everyone of them gets a good education.
Interestingly, the schools in the U.S. with kids of well-off parents get test scores as good or better than those countries touted as being iconic. In fact, many of the Asian “countries” listed in these international test score lists aren’t countries: Shanghai for example is a city, a city that has a major part of its students excluded from its schools. (Can you guess which ones? The poor ones, you say? Got it it one, you did.)
The propagandists are not only anti-intellectual but also anti-union. And which of the unions have been the most politically effective for Democrats over the last thirty years or so? Answer: the teacher’s unions.
The fact that the richest kids get those high test scores tells one immediately, well it does if you aren’t anti-intellectual, that the problem is not with the schools. In fact, if you look at the in-house test scores, public schools perform as well or better than private schools in the country. Public schools perform as well or better than charter schools in this country. So, why are the public schools being described as being failing? The answer is simple: they are not. The “public schools are failing” trope is propaganda, pure and simple. The propagandists are not only anti-intellectual but also anti-union. And which of the unions have been the most politically effective over the last thirty years or so? Answer: the teacher’s unions. So, you take a wide streak of anti-intelelctualism and an wider streak of anti-unionism and, gosh, the current “school reform” efforts fall neatly into pace. Charter schools are created in which unions are banned. Charter schools suck money out of the public school system with their union-loving teachers and are then allowed to cherry-pick the students that are entered, selecting those with good academic records and rejecting those without and those with special needs and, in many cases, those with the wrong skin color. Data now show that with these “reforms” schools are becoming more racially segregated over time. Now where is the base of the New Republican Party? Uh, the South? Oh.
So, we have had roughly 30 years of the New Republican Policies (Down with Egalitarianism, Up with Individualism!). The Social Safety Net is being shredded and is currently under attack, social mobility is declining rapidly, the rich are getting way richer and the poor are getting way poorer, the environment is being ravaged, and we are being told to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, even though we no longer own boots.
How’s that “every man for himself” working for yuh?