1676800209 The American right is opposed to education

The American right is opposed to education

The American right is opposed to education

Ron DeSantis, current Florida governor and presidential candidate, has long sought to position himself as America’s foremost crusader against political consciousness of racial and class injustices. In recent times, higher education has become your most visible enemy. He took on the College Board over its new African-American college-level degree program for high school students, and in recent days has broadened his attack by suggesting that Florida drop those courses, known as Advanced Placement, by all means could.

What’s going on here? It’s easy to get caught up in the exchange of accusations about particular programs or institutions, but that means losing sight of the basic context, which is the extraordinary rise in right-wing hostility towards higher education in general.

Are all allegations that left-wing professors are trying to indoctrinate their students false? Probably not. America is a big country and that’s probably going to happen somewhere, although the specific claims made by right-wing critics are often ridiculous. At a meeting with the college board, Florida officials asked if the new advanced course was “trying to promote Black Panther ideology.” Guys, the Black Panthers went broke when Ron DeSantis was a kid. When you say that name today, most people will think you’re talking about the Wakanda from the Marvel movie.

It is true that university teachers are much more likely to identify as liberal and vote democratically than the general public, but this need not be evidence of anti-conservative bias. It is likely that this largely reflects self-selection, since those who choose to enter science are a particular class of people. For comparison, the police force has a Republican bias, but I think everyone agrees that it’s mostly to do with who wants to be a cop.

So what is behind the attacks on education? Not long ago, most Americans in both parties believed that universities had a positive impact on the country. However, since the rise of Trumpism, Republicans have become very negative. Several recent polls show that an overwhelming majority agree that both college professors and high schools are trying to “teach liberal propaganda.”

But what actually happened? Have America’s universities, which just a few years ago, in 2015, were considered to have a positive influence by a large majority of Republicans, have suddenly become centers of left-wing indoctrination? Has the same happened to institutes across the country run by local bodies?

Of course not. What happened is that MAGA (Make America Great Again) politicians started selling horror stories about education, and in particular denounced high schools for teaching critical race theory when they don’t. In addition, the right has greatly expanded its definition of what constitutes “liberal propaganda”.

So when someone points out that critical race theory isn’t actually taught in schools, the answer is usually that while they don’t use that term, they teach students that racism has been prominent in the US for a long time and the impact lasts until today on. I don’t know how you can honestly teach our nation’s history without mentioning these facts, but in the eyes of a significant number of voters, teaching uncomfortable facts is actually a form of liberal propaganda.

And once you adopt that mindset, you see leftist indoctrination everywhere, not just in history and social studies classes. When biology class explains the theory of evolution and why almost all scientists accept it (or the theory of how vaccines work), that’s also liberal propaganda. And when physics lessons explain how greenhouse gas emissions can change the climate, that’s also rather liberal propaganda.

As a result, a large segment of the population — the segment DeSantis is courting — has become altogether hostile to higher education.

As a side note, it is a well-known fact that US politics is becoming increasingly polarized along educational lines, with the better educated supporting Democrats and the less educated supporting Republicans. This polarization is often portrayed as a symptom of the failure of the Democratic Party: Why is it failing to appeal to white, working-class voters? But it’s also fair to wonder how Republicans managed to scare off more educated voters who might benefit from tax cuts. And the Republican Party’s growing hostility to education is certainly part of the answer.

In any case, the sad thing is that this shift away from education comes at a time when a well-educated workforce is becoming increasingly important for the economy. This is particularly evident when looking at regional data within the United States: the percentage of a city’s population with college degrees is a powerful indicator of both its current wealth and future growth.

This is not to say that higher education in the United States is perfect. In general, we obsess over the standard four-year degree, which isn’t for everyone, and unceremoniously rule out other forms of education, like vocational training, that might be more useful to many people. But that’s a whole different story.

Right now it’s important that we understand that people like DeSantis attack education not because it teaches liberal propaganda, but because it undermines the maintenance of that ignorance that they want to preserve.

Paul Krugman is a Nobel laureate in economics. © The New York Times, 2023. Translated from news clips

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