Ed­u­ca­tion the en­emy? It’s a Repub­li­can no­tion

The Morning Call - - TOWN SQUARE - Leonard Pitts

You’d think it would be the one thing we could all agree upon.

Life grows ever more com­plex. Plan­e­tary over­heat­ing threat­ens a fu­ture of floods, food short­ages and mass mi­gra­tion. We carry su­per­com­put­ers in our pock­ets. Ro­bots are tak­ing our jobs.

So you’d think, for all the par­ti­san and ide­o­log­i­cal ran­cor in this coun­try, the one thing upon which we could come to­gether is ed­u­ca­tion. You’d think we’d all agree it’s a good thing. And you’d be wrong. Mon­day, the Pew Re­search Cen­ter pub­lished a new study, “The Grow­ing Par­ti­san Di­vide in Views of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion,” which found that the share of Amer­i­cans who say col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the coun­try has jumped by 12 per­cent­age points since 2012. But here’s the kicker: “The in­crease in neg­a­tive views,” said Pew, “has come al­most en­tirely from Repub­li­cans and in­de­pen­dents who lean Repub­li­can.”

GOP an­tipa­thy to­ward higher ed­u­ca­tion is driven in part, the study says, by a be­lief that col­leges have gone over­board in pro­tect­ing stu­dents from views they deem of­fen­sive. On the other hand, most Repub­li­cans also think pro­fes­sors should stop bring­ing their so­cial and po­lit­i­cal views into the class­room. We will pass lightly over the con­tra­dic­tion of say­ing stu­dents should not be shel­tered from dif­fer­ing opin­ions while at the same time, want­ing to shel­ter stu­dents from dif­fer­ing opin­ions.

The larger is­sue here is this no­tion that ed­u­ca­tion is the en­emy. Not that this is new. Pew merely cod­i­fies some­thing that has been anec­do­tally clear for years. Who can for­get Rick San­to­rum’s 2012 com­plaint: “Pres­i­dent Obama once said he wants ev­ery­body in Amer­ica to go to col­lege. What a snob.”

Pass lightly — again — over the fact that Obama never said any such thing. What’s more fas­ci­nat­ing is that San­to­rum — holder of an MBA from the Univer­sity of Pitts­burgh and a Juris Doc­tor from Dick­in­son School of Law — would iden­tify higher ed­u­ca­tion as a mark of elitism.

But he un­der­stood some­thing about his base and its sus­pi­cion to­ward ed­u­ca­tion that the rest of us are only be­lat­edly catch­ing up to. In­deed, for all the at­ten­tion that has (rightly) been paid to how big­otry ( whether theirs or his) mo­ti­vated Donald Trump’s vot­ers, we need to rec­og­nize that ed­u­ca­tion — and the lack thereof — also de­ter­mined who did and did not sup­port him.

Shortly af­ter the 2016 elec­tion, Nate Sil­ver of the in­flu­en­tial FiveThir­tyEight blog doc­u­mented how Trump trounced Hil­lary Clin­ton in the 50 largest coun­ties with the low­est per­cent­age of col­lege grad­u­ates. His head­line: “Ed­u­ca­tion, Not In­come, Pre­dicted Who Would Vote For Trump.” So when Trump said, “I love the poorly ed­u­cated,” he had good rea­son to do so.

The rest of us can­not be so san­guine. Not sim­ply be­cause the ed­u­ca­tion gap helped elect our present em­bar­rass­ment, but also be­cause of what it por­tends for Amer­ica’s abil­ity to ef­fec­tively gov­ern it­self and meet its chal­lenges. It is a telling, chill­ing and omi­nous sign of the times that a na­tion that once en­gi­neered mis­sions to the moon now re­gards cli­mate change with a help­less shrug.

If the great di­vi­sions of the past cen­tered on race and class, the di­vi­sions of the fu­ture will likely also be along lines of knowl­edge. Yet Repub­li­cans are hos­tile to­ward knowl­edge right at the mo­ment when it is be­com­ing a valu­able in­ter­na­tional cur­rency. That may make sense as a short-term po­lit­i­cal strat­egy, but it is a long-term ex­is­ten­tial threat.

Yes, the poet Thomas Gray fa­mously said that “ig­no­rance is bliss.” But he died in 1771.

There were no ro­bots then.

When Trump said, ‘I love the poorly ed­u­cated,’ he had good rea­son to do so.

Tri­bune Con­tent Agency

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