21st Century Anti-intellectualism

NYU's 2016 graduation ceremony
NYU’s 2016 graduation ceremony, Yankee Stadium (Jeff Burgess)

I recently attended New York University’s 184th commencement ceremony. I felt a bit like a traitor being there, because it was held at Yankee Stadium and I grew up a Detroit Tigers baseball fan. But it’s the Yankees’ fancy new stadium, not the original one, and I was there to see my daughter graduate with honors.

The ceremony was amazing, and not just because of the spectacular venue. It included the bestowment of honorary degrees to some outstanding individuals. One of them was given to John Lewis, the iconic black civil rights activist who risked his life alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the South in the 1960s, getting repeatedly beaten and arrested for protesting against discrimination. Another was given to Emmanuelle Charpentier, a scientist who’s recent work on genome editing is helping to revolutionize medical treatments. The celebrity Billy Crystal also received one for his outstanding career in the entertainment industry, along with his many contributions to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts .

There were also several inspirational speeches given by various faculty members and students. Each speech was unique and interesting in its own way. But they all shared a common theme: The real purpose of education isn’t to simply help graduates find good jobs, but to broaden minds, encourage the use of science to solve problems, promote social justice, and continually seek the truth.

I confess these speeches brought tears to my eyes. One reason, of course, was that I was very proud of my daughter for graduating from such a prestigious institution. But also because they reminded me of how low are nation’s standards have recently sunk in regards to the respect for knowledge and truth.

A couple of the speakers helped to remind everybody of that with some thinly veiled references to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. But the ongoing assault on public education by Republicans in Arizona is just as troubling. According to reports by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, state spending on Arizona’s K-12 public school students has fallen 17.5 percent since 2008, the third-deepest rate of school budget cuts in the nation. And a recent U.S. Census Bureau report showed that the state’s school spending is about 33 percent below the national average of $10,700, and 49th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Furthermore, while these cuts were being implemented, private school tax credits were expanded.

As for higher education in Arizona, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities issued another report that showed no other state has cut state university funding more since the Great Recession. This year’s budget restored a portion of the $99 million Ducey and the legislature cut from the state’s universities last year, but $5 million of it is earmarked for so-called freedom schools – think tanks established by the Koch brothers to promote a radical libertarian ideology that includes the privatization of the public schools.

The vast majority of Arizona’s voters didn’t support these cuts. A survey conducted last fall, for example, found that 69% opposed the $99 million cut to university spending, and only 36% supported raiding the state’s First Things First early childhood development program to help fund K-12 schools.

“As people do better, they start voting like Republicans – unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing.” – Republican strategist Karl Rove

Republican Governor Doug Ducey and the state’s Republican-controlled legislature were forced to respond to this widespread opposition to their education funding cuts. They passed a ballot initiative, called Proposition 123, that proposed to distribute more funds to public schools from State Trust land revenues. The voters narrowly approved it in May. But the primary objective of these Republicans in submitting this proposal to the voters wasn’t to adequately fund the schools, but to make it possible for more tax decreases, so they can continue to implement a dubious supply-side economic strategy for the state.

The refusal of Arizona Republicans to adequately fund public schools highlights the lack of respect they have for education. This attitude is exemplified by the influential Arizona Republican Assembly, a group dedicated to promoting “true conservative” candidates for office. Their principles say that, “We must insure no school or teachers’ union can compromise the education of our children or advance a particular political agenda at the expense of our future generation’s education.” In other words, they believe education should promote a conservative ideology, and they reject the classic liberal education that has served Western civilization so well.

Anti-intellectualism isn’t a new phenomenon in the United States. But this modern version being nurtured by conservative dark money lords and their Republican marionettes is especially dangerous because the world is growing increasingly complicated and voters need to be well-informed. The answers to modern problems aren’t simple and can’t be solved by putting up walls.

New York City Celebrated U.S. Independence on July 9, 1776

Bowling Green Park, Manhattan
Fountain in Bowling Green Park, lower Manhattan, New York City (Jeff Burgess)

After the Continental Army forced the British to abandon Boston in March of 1776, General George Washington correctly guessed that the next British move would be to try and seize the strategic port city of New York.

He began moving troops to Manhattan Island in April and established his headquarters in a house across the street from New York’s Bowling Green park, which was located on the northern side of Fort George (the former Fort Amsterdam) and the current location of the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House  at the southern tip of Manhattan.

On July 2 British ships began landing troops on nearby Staten Island. The British fleet stationed in New York harbor eventually grew to more than 100 ships and the British army on the island to more than 30,000 troops.

Washington only had about 19,000 troops and didn’t know where the initial British attack would be made – against Manhattan or Brooklyn on nearby Long Island. But he and his men were determined to resist and kept themselves busy by planning a defense.

bowling green park
Bowling Green Park fence, lower Manhattan, New York City (Jeff Burgess)

On July 6 Washington received official notification of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress, with orders to read it to his troops. He ordered his commanding officers to assemble their troops at 6 p.m. on July 9 on the city’s commons (the current City Hall Park). Before the declaration was read, however, Washington spoke to the men and personally endorsed. it. The declaration’s words were so moving that a mob of citizens led by the Sons of Liberty ran south down Broadway to Bowling Green park. Their target was the park’s gilded lead equestrian statue of king George III of Great Britain. It had been erected in 1770 to celebrate the British victory in the French and Indian War, but had become a target of vandalism as relations with Britain soured. A protective iron fence, which still surrounds the park, was erected in 1773. But the mob tore down the king’s statue, mounted what remained of its head on a pike outside a tavern, and sent most of the lead inside of it to be melted into musket balls.

battle pass historical marker
Battle Pass, Prospect Park, Brooklyn (Jeff Burgess)

On August 22 British General William Howe surprised Washington by landing troops on Gravesend Bay on Long Island, south of Brooklyn. Washington sent more troops across the East River to create a defensive position along the Guan Heights south of Brooklyn. The American defensive positions were strong but on August 27 Howe succeeded in secretly sending much of his army around the end of their fortifications and attacked them from the rear. In what became known as the Battle of Long Island, the American troops had no choice but to withdraw to a defensive perimeter along the East River. Their retreat was successful due to sacrificial counterattacks made near the Vechte–Cortelyou House by members of the 1st Maryland Regiment – the Maryland 400.

The British thought they had the American army trapped, but on the night of August 29/30 Washington was able to evacuate all 9,000 his men, along with their artillery and supplies, across the East River to Manhattan. He was the last man to step on a departing boat.

Howe eventually invaded Manhattan on September 15, and by the end of the year had conquered the entire island and chased Washington’s army across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania. Patriotic New Yorkers wouldn’t be able to celebrate in their town again until November 25, 1783, when British troops evacuated the city after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War.

White Noise

It reminds you of the sound of distant, rolling thunder when it first becomes audible. But as it quickly moves toward you, it gets louder, and sounds more like the roar of a jet airplane taking off. Then, as it passes by, you feel the floor rumble like a minor earthquake. And after that, it’s quickly gone.

But only, of course, until another subway train passes beneath the New York City street where you’re apartment is located. The trains traveling in the opposite direction on the other side of the street aren’t as loud. And during the nights and weekends the frequency of the trains decreases. But you don’t notice or care, because it’s just another source of the near-constant stream of white noise that’s part of your life.

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