Why conservatives must approach the educational imbalance with urgency.
Rush Limbaugh weighed in recently on the Republicans’ on-going debate about what went wrong in November. Elaborating on his earlier comment that he was “ashamed of America,” Limbaugh said, “The Left has beaten us. They have created far more low-information, unaware, uneducated people than we’ve been able to keep up with . . . I’ve always had a Civics 101 view of the country: People get what they want, they vote what they want, and they get the way they vote.” He added that the Democrats “control the education system . . . pop culture, movies, TV and books” and use that control to create “dependency” among voters.
Some may think this is a dog-bites-man observation, but it’s worth looking more closely at the most important item in Limbaugh’s list––the educational system. Everything else Limbaugh mentions is made possible because of the deep corruption in public education from kindergarten to university.
We often focus on the ideological biases of the university, where the more lunatic examples of political correctness get the most attention. But in education as in economics, there is a trickle-down effect. The grandees at the elite universities train the PhD’s who go on to second and third tier institutions, where they in turn train the students who get high school and grade school teaching credentials. They also write most of the textbooks that end up in K-12 classrooms. Thus the progressive ideology metastasizes throughout the educational system, determining the curriculum, the textbooks, and the point of view of the teachers. At that level the ideas may be garbled, half-baked, incoherent, and a collection of clichés and slogans. But they are still toxic and effective at transmitting a world-view to impressionable minds.
When my kids were in public school I witnessed this process over and over. Questionable leftist ideas I had to sit through in graduate seminars turned up regularly in my kids’ English and history courses and textbooks. In the Marxiste interpretation of history, for example, traditional historical narratives reflect the “false consciousness” of capitalism’s academic publicists justifying and “mystifying” a history marked by oppression and atrocities in service to a dehumanizing capitalist ideology.
The founding of the United States, then, was not about things like freedom and inalienable rights, but instead reflected the economic interests and power of wealthy white property-owners. The civil war wasn’t about freeing the slaves or preserving the union, but about economic competition between the industrial north and the plantation south. The settling of the West was not an epic saga of hardships endured to create a civilization in a wilderness, but genocide of the Indians whose lands and resources were stolen to serve capitalist exploitation. Inherent in this sort of history were the assumptions of Marxist economic determinism and the primacy of material causes over the camouflage of ideals and principles.
In the 60’s this narrative was married to identity politics: the defining of ethnic minorities and Third World peoples on the basis of their status as victims of this capitalist hegemony and it imperialist and colonialist mechanisms, which justified the plundering, oppression, and exploitation of the non-white “others” with racist notions of their natural inferiority. Various strains of postmodernism added a cultural relativism that put out of bounds any judgments of a culture’s values, since all such standards reflect the economic needs of the dominant power. Soon feminism added women to the list of victims sacrificed to the white-male power structure. Edward Said’s historically ignorant and tendentious Orientalism rationalized the failure of the Muslim Arab Middle East in the same way. Soon Said’s book expanded beyond Middle East studies to condition the way generations of English and history professors approach their traditional subjects––as narratives justifying an unjust, racist, exploitative Western power of which all right-thinking people should be ashamed.
The politicizing of the universities has led to two ill effects. First, the Gresham’s law of education means that adding all this material to the curriculum necessitates the driving out of the traditional curriculum––based (imperfectly, to be sure) on fact and argument––that could provide the empirical antidote to this left-wing toxin. Second, generations of credential students have sat in these courses and then gone on to teach in high schools and grade schools, and to write the textbooks and curricula that propagate this ideology. The result is a student population ignorant of the basic facts of history, the vacuum filled with melodramas of victimization, racism, oppression, and violence that cast the United States as a global villain guilty of crimes against humanity. A mentality is fostered that is receptive to domestic and foreign policies predicated on American guilt and the need to make reparations for historical crimes, whether by foreign aid, global retreat, or the surrender of sovereignty to international organizations. That’s why a pure embodiment of the leftist historical drama like Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech did not evoke outrage over its historical lies and slanders. It was no different from what most people under the age of say 50 had been hearing in school for years.
So too with the movies, books, television shows, and popular music Limbaugh identifies as vectors of this disease. They merely reflect what their creators absorbed in school and what their audiences have been programmed to uncritically accept as true. Having been schooled in the evil designs of oppressive, greedy corporations that abuse workers and rape the planet, these cultural consumers are natural audiences for the plots of movies and television shows that recycle these dull clichés. Having been taught the evils of free-market capitalism that enriches the few at the expense of the many, they are natural constituents of a class-envy politics demanding the rich “pay their fair share,” which is nothing more than property redistribution useful for creating a class of political clients dependent on the federal government. Having spent years being indoctrinated with romantic environmentalism and Disneyfied visions of nature, they are susceptible to an anti-carbon politics that retards development of American oil resources in the name of “protecting the planet” from an apocalyptic rise in global temperatures caused by human and corporate misbehavior, a notion that barely qualifies as a hypothesis, let alone a scientific fact. But how could most products of our dysfunctional educational system tell the difference?
No surprise, then, that last year Obama won the 18-44 demographic––46% of the electorate––by about 15 points. This is the age group that has spent its whole educational career in schools that fail at teaching fundamental skills and basic information, but succeed at transmitting the progressive ideology perfect for creating conformist dependents like the cartoon Julia or actress Lena Dunham, both stars of Obama campaign ads. That so many escape this warping influence is a testimony to parents and independent-minded teachers who are careful to counter this ideology.
The Jesuit educational maxim was, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” Today’s progressives get children until they are 18 and sometimes 21. That kind of influence is hard to match.
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