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.

The Arizona Ministries of Truth

George Orwell
George Orwell Wikipedia

Arizona’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey, in cooperation with the state’s Republican-controlled legislature, allocated $5 million in the state’s FY 2017 budget for three “freedom schools” at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona. The money will go to the U of A’s Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, ASU’s Center for Political Thought and Leadership, and ASU’s Center for the Study of Economic Liberty. These three schools were established with seed money from the Charles Koch Foundation, an organization that promotes a radical libertarian ideology. The billionaire Koch brothers provided millions in “dark money” support for Ducey’s 2014 election campaign.

According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, no other state has cut university funding more than Arizona since the Great Recession. Last year, for example, Ducey and the Legislature reduced state university funding by $99 million. This year’s budget restores just $32 million, but $5 million of it is earmarked for the so-called freedom schools – or about 15% of the increased funding.

Ducey’s spokesperson Daniel Scarpinato defended the earmark by saying the governor “believes it’s important that students in our university system are exposed to a broad range of viewpoints and academic views on a number of issues, including economics.”

Several Republican legislators also voiced their support. Representative Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, a former conservative radio talk show host, said the money represents “a wonderful opportunity” to fund conservative viewpoints, which he claims are lacking at the state’s universities.

But Arizona Republicans weren’t concerned about encouraging different viewpoints when the they passed HB 2281 in 2010. That law was used to stop Mexican-American studies classes from being taught in Tucson’s public schools. John Huppenthal, Arizona’s school superintendent at the time, helped get it passed because he claimed the classes taught Mexican-American students to resent Anglos.

If Republicans are so concerned about the quality of the information that’s being given to the state’s students, then why aren’t they concerned about what’s being taught at the freedom schools? Dr. William Boyes, for instance, the founding director of ASU’s Center for the Study of Economic Liberty, is advocating for the elimination of public schools. He gave a speech last fall in support of the School Sucks Project in which he rejected the belief held by most Americans that public schools are a foundation of our democracy. He called for the end of public schools, saying they are our biggest obstacle to greater personal and political liberty.

Furthermore, Dr. Boyes in an advocate of the Austrian School of economic thought, which is promoted by the Mises Institute.  Austrian School economic theory advocates the concept of methodological individualism – that social phenomena result from the motivations and actions of individuals. It rejects the use of econometrics and macroeconomic analysis. Instead, it calls for the government to be dismembered so the free market can magically solve all problems.

If this doesn’t seem to make sense, that’s because it doesn’t. There aren’t any reputable economists that believe in it. But, not coincidentally, Austrian School economic theory can be used to justify a radical libertarian political ideology.

Updates

The FY 2018 state budget passed by Arizona Republicans gave another  $2 million to the state’s “freedom schools” at the U of A and ASU. This was in addition to their ongoing $5 million annual appropriation. Republican Rep. Anthony Kern, who pushed for the funding, claimed the schools are needed to counteract the widespread “liberal indoctrination” that’s going on at the state’s universities.

The FY 2019 state budget passed by Arizona Republicans included another  $2.5 million for the state’s “freedom schools.” This was in addition to the ongoing $5 million annual appropriation. Republican Sen. John Kavanagh said the money was needed to help balance “left-wing bias” at the state’s universities. The U of A and ASU will each receive $1 million more, and Northern Arizona University will get $500,000 to establish a new school there.

Total Appropriations to AZ Freedom Schools: $19.5 million

The Original Spin Master

adolf hitler
Adolf Hitler (Wikipedia)

After Germany’s humiliating defeat in WWI, Adolf Hitler remained in the German army and was ordered to attend a political indoctrination course at Munich University in 1919. He successfully completed the class and was assigned to an “enlightenment squad” to teach soldiers the “correct” (politically conservative) perspective before they returned to civilian life. He did such a good job that he became a liaison officer between the army and the right-wing political groups in Bavaria.

In September he attended a meeting of the right-wing German Workers’ Party in order to monitor their activities on behalf of the army. But he couldn’t resist expressing his personal opinions during the meeting. The group’s leaders were so impressed with his ideas that they convinced him to join them as their propaganda and recruitment officer. By the beginning of 1920 Hitler had been discharged from the army and was successfully promoting the growth of the party. He renamed it the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), adding the words national and social to the party’s name to appeal to as many people as possible. He also designed the party’s attractive and iconic swastika flag.

In 1923 Hitler’s NSDAP, popularly known as the Nazi party, tried to overthrow the popularly elected German government. The attempt, called the Beer Hall Putsch, was put down by the police and resulted in the deaths of 16 Nazis and four policemen. Hitler was subsequently sent to prison where, among other things, he decided that he would need to use the election process in order to achieve his goal of ruling Germany. He began to rebuild the NSDAP after he was released from prison at the end of 1924.

adolf hitler's release from prison 1924
New York Times

The beginning of the Great Depression in 1929 created severe economic turmoil in Germany, which was exploited as a political opportunity by the Nazis. The right-wing media mogul Alfred Hugenberg lent Hitler his newspaper resources and the 1930 election campaign was first to be coordinated by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. The Nazis succeeded in winning 107 seats in the German parliament, making them the second largest party in that body.

Then in the 1933 elections the Nazis used skillful propaganda to sow fear among the voters about the Reichstag fire, an arson attack against Germany’s parliament building in Berlin.  Their candidates, with financial support from German industrialists, gained enough seats in the parliament to give Hitler the votes he needed to pass the Enabling Act, which legally made him the dictator of Germany.

“Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell.” – Adolf Hitler

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