by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
January 10, 2014
ATTACKING HIGHER ED: GOOD POLITICS, BAD PUBLIC POLICY
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- "Among the many visionary goals of our nation's right wing - impoverish older people, starve the poor, deny climate change, outlaw abortion and contraception, eliminate healthcare for millions - few are more foundational than defunding education in general and higher education in particular."
Susan J. Douglas, a communications professor and author of many books on American media, wrote those words in a recent edition of In These Times magazine, and they are absolutely on target.
After all, as she put it, doing so will "keep the fat cats in your corner, and constrain the opportunity for young people to learn a host of things that might, well, make them interrogate right-wing policies."
As the Pew Research Center and other pollsters have found, lower income and less-educated whites are more likely to vote Republican. In the 2012 election, 54 percent without a college degree -self-identified as Republican in 2012, compared to 37 percent identifying as Democrats.
The assault on education is a perennial winner for conservatives, but like their other misguided ideas, it ultimately weakens our nation as a whole.
Yes, the cost of going to college is high, and as governments cut aid to higher education, more of the cost of running these institutions is coming out of hides of their students.
Student loan debt in the United States is now in excess of $1 trillion. exceeding credit card debt. And unlike credit cards or mortgages, bankruptcy doesn't wipe out student loan debt.
However, even after you subtract the cost of going to college, the average college graduate will earn $365,000 more over their lifetimes than their counterparts with just a high school diploma.
But getting a college degree is more than a chance to make more money. It's about gaining knowledge. While the favorite whipping boy of conservatives - the liberal arts major - gets singled out for extra abuse, Douglas holds that it is precisely the kind of education that's needed in the 21st Century.
"It trains students to probe and ask questions; to look at more than one side of an argument; to open their hearts and minds to other world-views; to do research to try to figure out the best solutions to problems; to develop analytical thinking, which never goes out of style; to write and speak clearly and forcefully; to accept failure as part of the process of success; and to be flexible in adapting to new work routines and challenges. This habit of mind - adaptive, open to new ideas and challenges, accepting of difference, understanding of history - is exactly what young people need to succeed now more than ever, and precisely what the defunders of higher education do not want young people to ever acquire."
For the conservatives that love to thump their chests and brag about American exceptionalism, it's hard to puff out your chest in a nation that is hollowed out - with a crumbling infrastructure, failing schools, a debased civic culture, and a deeply corrupt militarized, privatized government concerned more with the welfare of giant corporations and the military-industrial complex than the welfare of its citizens.
But they seem to want to keep our nation's politics totally polarized, to keep our nation locked in a permanent downward trajectory when it comes to ethics and integrity, to keep our nation on the path of mediocrity and stupidity. If that's what they really want, their attacks upon the whole concept of education will ensure that the United States will circle the drain while other countries that are willing to invest in education surpass ours.
Given the depth of the crises our nation faces - global warming, out-of-control militarism, economic inequality and a political system that afflicts the afflicted and comforts the comfortable - we need more Americans with nimble minds and a creative spirit, women and men who can who can think critically, communicate clearly, and are unafraid to take on difficult, seemingly impossible problems.
That's why keeping our college and universities strong is essential to our nation's survival.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and has been an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.