The American war on smart people is incredible. For some reason, there has been a growing disdain for intellect and distrust for education in the “Greatest Country in the World,” and this year’s presidential election has never ceased to amaze me at every turn. The idea that people should not be educated, think critically, or be honest is ridiculous, foolish, and dangerous. Obviously not all education is equal (i.e,. unaccredited universities are garbage) and not all smart people are educated (nor are all educated people smart). But in general, no one should dismiss or denigrate education. So here is a list of the five most egregious quotes that demonstrate the growing animosity towards intelligence and education in America.
5) Education? What a Snob (Rick Santorum)
Speaking at a Tea Party rally, former presidential candidate Rick Santorum said this:
President Obama wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob!
To this, his audience gave a round of applause, evidently because they either agree that education is awful, or they go along with any attack on President Obama regardless of how idiotic it is. And you can be sure that this was an idiotic attack on the president. To give more context, he continued with this:
There are good, decent men and women who work hard every day and put their skills to [the] test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor, trying to indoctrinate them. Oh I understand why he wants you to go to college – he wants to remake you in his image.
I like the false dichotomy of working hard and not being educated, not to mention the idea that all college professors must be liberal, not to mention having a sinister agenda. But what’s with that last statement likening Obama to God? Remaking you in his image? Santorum got all of that from Obama’s “I hope your children go to college.” Such a snob.
4) Say No to Critical Thinking (Texas Republican Party)
The Texas Republican Party published a party platform that, at one point, makes an argument that they would later apologize for, calling it a mistake. (Note: Much of the other nonsense was not apologized for.) Under “Knowledge-Based Education,” they say:
We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.
What’s that about opposing critical thinking skills? The communications director of the party, Chris Elam, would later give an interview saying that the wording was a mistake, and that they shouldn’t have used the phrase “critical thinking skills.” But this mistake is now their official policy until 2014. Laura Klawson from Daily Kos says:
Since they “regret” it, no harm, no foul, right? About that. Even if we take them at their word that this was in fact a mistake rather than just being something you regret when you get caught, and aside from the fact that this regretted mistake remains official party policy, it’s pretty damn clear that the party’s Education Subcommittee seriously discussed its opposition to critical thinking skills and included said opposition in some advanced drafts of its part of the platform. I think we can safely say Texas Republicans don’t support critical thinking skills, anyway.
As the above video demonstrates well, the inclusion of critical thinking skills in their platform was not the only controversial statement they made. But critical thinking is important for them to get rid of because they want votes. And the only way they’re going to get votes is if people suspend their critical thinking faculties. Paul Begala for the Daily Beast said this:
Texas Republicans hate the heavy hand of government. And so they oppose mandatory preschool and kindergarten, mandatory immunizations, mandatory, well, mandatory mandates. It’s one thing to be antigovernment. It’s another to be pro-stupid.
3) Smart People Aren’t on Our Side (Rick Santorum)
Another gem from Santorum, who was speaking a Value Voters Summit last month:
We will never have the media on our side, ever, in this country. We will never have the elite, smart people on our side, because they believe they should have the power to tell you what to do. So our colleges and universities – they’re not going to be on our side.
Indeed, I imagine they’re not going to be on your side when you call people who go there “snobs.” Now obviously, he wasn’t trying to suggest that Republicans were stupid, as opposed to the smart opposition – he was saying that Republicans aren’t elitist. This is coming from the same party as another former presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, who once said:
We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto.
I’m not sure if I could find a better example of elitism – as well as bigotry. But let’s also remember that Santorum has two higher education degrees (law degree and master’s in business), and his snobbish daughter Elizabeth also goes to the University of Dallas. Only, she’s not a snob (or at least, not necessarily); and he’s not an idiot for being educated. He’s an idiot for saying what he said.
But the simple fact that he even said that is telling. Santorum is convinced that democrats like Obama are elitist – after all, he wants people to go to college! – so he is using the word “smart” like it’s a bad thing. His belittling of education is disconcerting.
2) Let’s Stand Up to Experts (Don McLeroy)
Considering the Texas textbook market pretty much controls half of the country’s textbooks (the other half is controlled mostly by California) this basically means that their changes determine the curriculum of American high school students. During lengthy Texas education board meetings in 2010, they voted for several changes to textbooks, such as omitting information on how the Constitution prevents the government from promoting one religion over others, restricting sex and gender education (i.e., regarding transgender studies), and removing Thomas Jefferson from the history books because he just wasn’t religious enough. Sadly, they voted for these and won.
But if that wasn’t bad enough, in his anti-evolution diatribe in the video below – restating the same sentiments later in his 2012 documentary - Texas creationist Don McLeroy proudly stated this, when talking about the evidence for evolution:
“I disagree with these experts. Somebody’s gotta stand up to experts that are just… I don’t know why they’re doing it.”
The anti-evolution mantra of “we don’t understand the science so it must be false” is nothing new, but it’s amazing to think that brilliant scientists who dedicate their whole lives to a specific field of study still don’t get the respect they deserve. They aren’t called experts because they memorized thousands of verses in an archaic book – they’re experts because they studied seriously for years, and through scrutiny and criticism, they passed the gauntlet of academic trials to get to where they are. I’m talking about the archeologists and anthropologists that have told us so much about our ancient history. No one’s perfect, but they have gathered robust evidence which has led us to a phenomenal understanding of our past, and what we do know is astonishing when you consider how far back they had to look.
But while they work hard studying their predecessors’ work and building on it, science-literate American teachers decide that it’s best to “teach the controversy,” calling evolution “just a theory,” and that they need to “stand up to experts.” On March 17, 2010, Jon Stewart made this brilliant statement on The Daily Show, referring to the fact that McLeroy is a licensed dentist (i.e., a dental expert) in his typical satirical fashion:
So, doctor, you think brushing keeps your teeth healthy? Well I think rubbing chocolate on them does. I guess we’ll just have to teach the controversy.
Considering the God-fearing republicans won votes on so much of what they were attempting to strike from the textbooks, it seems that the only way for an American youth to fully understand their own culture and history is by being taught in a school that receives textbooks from California, as opposed to Texas. But even then, there’s no guarantee in America’s failing educational system.
On April 23 of this year on The Colbert Report, fellow comedian Stephen Colbert took McLeroy to task in some of the best satirical skewering you can find anywhere on TV today. It’s interviews like these that show why satire is one of the best ways to discredit a political position.
1) Say No to Fact-Checkers (Neil Newhouse)
Just a month and a half ago, an aide for republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney spoke with what Buzzfeed characterized as “unusual political bluntness.” His name is Neil Newhouse, and he has a thing against fact checkers:
Fact checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs, and we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.
This is, in my opinion, truly incredible. It’s the cherry on the giant anti-reality cheesecake. Considering this was said in the context of the deceitful advertisements attacking Obama on things like welfare, this is basically like saying “it doesn’t matter to us if we lie.”
Now obviously, if a random person calls himself a fact-checker, then there’s little reason to believe them. The “who’s fact-checking the fact-checkers?” is, on its surface, a reasonable question. But if multiple bipartisan sources check facts, show how they can back them up, and all point to the same result, then no matter how much you belittle them, they will still probably be right.
This is the concept of consensus - one that is foreign to most republicans like Newhouse, most creationists like McLeroy, and most science-illiterate zealots like Santorum. It’s not necessarily 100%, but it’s clear that the only fact-checkers Newhouse is going to trust are the ones that tell him what he wants to hear.
The Dumbing Down of America
When you have people dispensing lies in America like candy bars (and believe me, Americans love their candy bars) it becomes more difficult to discern the lies from the truth, such as many of the untruthful attack ads that are levelled against Obama. Things are especially made worse if children receive lackluster critical thinking education, which Isa-Lee Wolf from Yahoo! argues is intentional. Wolf made this statement in an article entitled “Why Republicans Want Us Stupid” earlier this year:
Republicans don’t want to educate you. They don’t want to educate your children. The less education you have, the more they can manipulate you. The more they can get you to believe that money in the pockets of their choice somehow benefits you, the better for them.
Wolf may be right, citing that republicans want to get rid of funding Head Start - an early education program – not to mention the more recent and very public incident that occurred just last week – the “Big Bird death threat.” That is, presidential candidate Mitt Romney saying that he would cut funding of PBS, thus affecting Sesame Street, which has historically helped educate children in poor families. Also, the budget under Romney would restrict funding for public education, but particularly for the students who need it the most. And don’t forget the absurd vilification of teachers in America, which is – to my knowledge – a uniquely American feud.
Nature vs. Republicanism
You can say what you want about American Democrats, but at least they won’t belittle education, intellect, and scientific research like their right-wing counterparts. Research, for example, like the collection of studies which changed homosexuality from a mental disorder to a normal aspect of the human condition (as normal as, say, being born left-handed) in the DSM. In fact, scientists have found homosexuality among many different species found in nature; but despite this, Republicans largely cannot accept homosexuality as natural. This is just one example of a connection between education and liberalism, but note that it doesn’t happen because professors turn them into liberals. The link is quite indirect.
It’s not particularly hard to see why Republicans (most of whom are Christian) never change their mind despite research to the contrary – the Christian tradition does not have a particularly grand history of religious figures changing their minds. After all, Christians don’t discover new things through the bible, unless you count reminiscing on new interpretations of it a discovery. Scientists, on the other hand, do research and learn about new information, challenging previously held beliefs and expanding their knowledge. Is it any wonder, then, that religious faith tends to make people vote for right-wing candidates?
Not really. While scientists change their opinions based on new evidence from scientific research, many Christians continue to live in the past, and most believe what they have always believed. Fortunately, the younger generations are less discriminatory, and as older bigots die (though this is really regardless of political or religious affiliation), homophobia continues to decline. It shouldn’t take an expert to know what is or isn’t a natural part of life, but if your belief system doesn’t change alongside the ever-expanding body of scientific knowledge (i.e., reality), then you’re going to stay living in the past, which seems to be where the values of a lot of the right wing derive from. Some might call it traditionalism, while others would prefer to use the word “outdated.” But I digress.
The Bottom Line
Topics like critical thinking and evolution are paramount to science. And science is paramount to understanding reality. And reality is… well, how am I supposed to convince someone that reality is a good thing when they throw “we don’t like fact-checkers, experts, smart people, educated people, or critical thinking” at me?
If the US gradually lowers its educational standards every generation by dismissing inconvenient history or omitting scientific facts, who knows how long it will take for the next world’s superpower to become the main player on the global stage? America didn’t send a man on the moon by praying him there. It was science that did it. In other words, educated people, smart people, and experts.
Republicans are so obsessed with building an army that they’re willing to take money out of education to fund it. What they probably don’t realize is that the global race to the top is not won on the battlefield, but in the schools; and if the US is not careful, the war on smart people might just be their undoing.