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The Republican ignorance agenda

Robin Lakoff, professor emerita of linguistics | March 31, 2011

Conservative Republicans have been very busy lately making inroads into teaching and learning at all levels — a curious program, especially at a time when more serious voices have been urging America to strengthen its investment in science and technology in order to remain globally competitive in the twenty-first century. One wonders what their oppositionism is really about.

Let me summarize a bit of this interesting record:

Congressional Republicans have fought to reduce pre-kindergarten (Head Start) funding.

Conservatives in various arenas have been whittling away at the prestige, authority and autonomy of elementary and high school teachers. The denial of the right to collective bargaining, the destruction of security of employment, demands to take classroom decisions out of teachers’ hands and create a national curriculum, forcing teachers to teach to tests whose subject matter bears no relation to what future generations of Americans will need to know, allowing school buildings to deteriorate in the interests of “no new taxes,” carrying banners at rallies identifying teachers as “glorified babysitters” — all these work to encourage contempt for those who teach in those who need to learn, and to make mediocrity the norm. (Does anyone believe that “the best and the brightest” will want to become teachers under these working conditions?)

At the university level, we have seen many disquieting moves over the last several years. After 9/11, Lynne Cheney’s ACTA (the American Council of Trustees and Alumni) tarred as “treasonous” any academic who had dared to suggest that the U.S. bore any responsibility for the acts of terrorism. Several conservative organizations have placed “student” spies in the classrooms of professors suspected of liberal sympathies to report on them and cause them embarrassment and, ideally, loss of employment. Tenure has come under attack at this level as well as at the primary and secondary levels.

There have been demands for national uniformity of curricula in many or all fields, as well as exit exams to be taken by undergraduates, a means of depriving professors of autonomy and dignity in the classroom. And most recently, e-mail accounts of academics have been broken into on what must be considered frivolous — or, better, dubious — grounds. In one well-known case, climate scholars’ e-mails were hacked and the results published to cast doubt on climate change; more recently, the distinguished University of Wisconsin professor (and Republican) William Cronon, who had dared to question the Republican agenda, had his e-mails made public under the Freedom of Information Act, by the conservative Mackinac Center.

In 1929, Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson closed the State Department bureau of cryptanalysis saying that “gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail.” Well, maybe faux populists aren’t gentlemen.

Scholarship at all levels has been devalued and impugned by the deep thinkers of the Right. Conservatives have cast doubt on science — from evolution to climate change — on no rational basis at all other than that it isn’t in the Bible or they just plain don’t like it. Their inability to grasp the ideas of postmodernism has proven no deterrent to their making fun of its questioning of the absolute certainty of all scientific claims (does anyone detect an irony here?). Generally, the conservatives’ aim seems to be to reassure their constituencies that you don’t have to know anything to be an expert. All you have to do is yell louder than anyone else.

The above is certainly depressing. But is it just a list of the desperate flailings of a party confused about how to respond to the situation in Libya and fragmented by the Tea Partiers in their midst? Are the proponents of all of the above just a bunch of fogeys (old and young) terrified of losing ground in 2012 once voters realize they were snookered in 2010? Is each of the items independent of the others, each a response to some vague, inchoate fear? Or does that list represent something planned, deliberate, and coherent?

Perhaps conservatives realize that their attractiveness is dependent on ignorance at many levels and of many kinds: ignorance of the Constitution; ignorance of the benefits that unionization has brought to so many people; ignorance of the importance of science and technology in the modern world; ignorance of their own ignorance.

If education is respected and strong, if teachers are autonomous, authoritative, and respected, ignorance cannot survive. If ignorance cannot survive, groups that thrive on it will not do well.

Do the math.

Cross-posted from The Huffington Post.

Comments to “The Republican ignorance agenda

  1. A hard-core group of liberal House Democrats is questioning the constitutionality of U.S. missile strikes against Libya, with one lawmaker raising the prospect of impeachment during a Democratic Caucus conference call on Saturday.

    “Conservative Republicans have been very busy lately making inroads into teaching and learning at all levels ”

    Wrong, you lie. 99.99% of academia is made up of anti-American libtards. Why do you think a dictator thug was elected to the office of the presidency. At least Bush had Congressional approval for Iraq and Afghanastan wars — Obummer did no such thing and is a common criminal, disregards Constatution — the Cal kiddie ways, u know!

  2. There is absolutely no doubt that the whole system is corrupted. All parts, divisions, departments, aspects and angles of our society are affected, including politics, education, media, business and finance, among the others. No one cares about America, Americans, middle class, poor and needy. Everyone just care about his, her or their own interests. Money, power and fame are above and beyond everything else including ethics, morality, compassion, sympathy and principles. No one is thinking, what he or she can give to the country. All we think about is, what country can give us. It is extremely hard to find a person or group of people, ready to sacrifice his, her or their interests for the sake of country.

  3. Rubbish. Academia in USA, western nations too, are 99.999999% liberaltards. Been that way since the ’70s., started by a program in the 1920s, France to achive the level of lying ignorance displayed here by Lackof ( intelligence).

  4. Excuse me Alberto, why would you think that you are the only Christian on the planet who has been to Berkeley? You sound rather narrowed minded for being a Berkeley grad, physician and a Christian.

    Actually, I am offended that you call yourself a Christian, because if you really know the teachings of our Lord, then your heart and not your intellect would have conveyed a message of love for all of God’s creations including “all these liberal atheist thinkers at Cal who rely on their limited knowledge of science and reduce God as a fairy-tale told by the uneducated.”

    I am praying for you and that God has mercy on your soul. “And I really mean that.”

    For the record I believe Jesus Christ is a Democrat.

  5. While I can agree to many of your points, allowing elementary and high schools to teach whatever they feel like with no standard curicullum or testing, is not one of them. This liberal teaching methodolgy form the 60’s is basically at the core of what got us into this mess. I can guaruntee you that India, China, and Finland all have VERY strict curriculum and VERY strict nationalized testing (I know several who have lived through their programs).

  6. “Are the proponents of all of the above just a bunch of fogeys (old and young) terrified of losing ground in 2012 once voters realize they were snookered in 2010?”

    Problem is, those same voters were “snookered” in 2008 by corporatist Democrats dressing up in quasi-progressive garb. Change beneficial to the great majority of Americans won’t come through the existing power structure, and likely won’t come until society is awakened by an economic cataclysm far greater than the one we are continuing to experience.

  7. Ms. Lackoff,
    You and professors of your ilk bear an equal responsibility in this. Educators like you who parade their disdain for the right in such a public manner (even using the forums of a public university to do so) undermine the integrity of your profession and OUR university and only serve to incite the right to make deeper cuts to the system which has come to be viewed (and not incorrectly so) as an appendage of the left wing. Half the posts on the Berkeley blog are nothing more than condemnations of Republicans. And then you express outrage when the Republicans want to slice away the funding from our university. You have used your position and your voice to make education an even bigger target and who pays the price? Not the tenured apparatchiks but the students.

  8. As a Berkeley grad, physician and Christian, I feel sorry for all all these liberal atheist thinkers at Cal who rely on their limited knowledge of science and reduce God as a fairy-tale told by the uneducated.

    Many atheists who have passed away already had a profound realization of their irreversible error. And it is a pity that a university that I really love is run by people without hope for all eternity.

    Sure they can laugh at this comment, but laughter stops at Judgment.

    What happened before the Big Bang? See if you all high and mighty liberal atheist faculty can answer that.

    I pray for all of you. May God have mercy on you. And I really mean that.

  9. “If there ever was a cause, if there ever can be a cause worthy to be upheld, by all, it is education, be a shame to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” Horace Mann

    We must not be naïve and believe that Obama and other politicians have our best interest. We know the truth when we see it, when they decide to bail out Wall St at the cost of Main Street. Administrators at many University do not care about students, when they increase fees and at the same time increase their own pay checks. It is also not a priority to pay for high price athletic departments, when academic programs like history are cut or when middle class students can not pay for their education, and poor students need to take on student loans they can not pay back because all the jobs have left to China. We must understand that only with a long and difficult struggle, we can achieve and get what we mostly desire, an opportunity to follow our dreams and aspirations. We must also go from Berkeley Free speach movement to the people’s education movement. Above all we must be able to smile and keep our head up. Professor Robin Lakoff is right to point out some of the lack of leadership of the Republicans, but she needs to mention that the “liberal” Democrats and Obama have failed to protect the middle class and the poorer among us from Republican attacks.

  10. Repubicans are so pro-corporate, that they jeopardize their own well being by refusing to support health care or increase taxes on corporations, who are making record profits. Not sure why, it has not occured to them, that by putting the wealth into the hands of few, weakens everyones elses chance to succeed.
    America tried “the trickle-down theory” not to mention the ‘bale out’ but guess what – nothing trickled down, the corporations kept all of it for themselves. Corporations didn’t provide more goods at lower prices, or create jobs for the middle class or for that matter anything except benefitting themselves.

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