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The Crusade Against Education
Written March 12, 2012


When our eyes are suddenly opened to a wider reality, we remember where we were at the time.

Not Everyone Believes Like You Do

In Richwood, Ohio, it was a cold, rainy day in the fall of 1954.  I was in second grade.  Outside our school building, the ground was muddy because they were building a new wing to accommodate the larger classes that would be required as we baby boomers grew older.  Rather than go outside for recess, many of us in Mrs. Matlack’s class stayed in the room and gathered around a table with crayons for an informal seminar.  Someone posed a question to the group:  Do you believe in Santa Claus?

I had never heard that question.  I had never considered the possibility of not believing.  My parents, my grandparents, all the other adults at church — everybody talked to me enthusiastically at this time of year about Santa’s impending arrival, just to see my eyes light up in anticipation.  Surely they weren’t all lying?

“Yes,” I answered; I believed.  Some of my friends agreed with me, others didn’t.  But the mere fact that the question had been raised got me thinking.  I began considering the evidence, and by the time Christmas rolled around, I had figured out the scam.  However, just to humor the adults, I continued acting as though the presents really came from Santa.

As I got older and learned more about science, I began considering the evidence for other stories that the adults told me, and I gradually realized the truth.  However, just to humor the adults, I continued acting as though the world is really controlled by an invisible old man in the sky.

Not Everyone Desires Like You Do

In Oberlin, Ohio, it was a dark evening in the fall of 1966.  I was a college sophomore.  Around the table at our dining hall, someone revealed a surprising fact of which we were not all aware:  There are actually people who prefer having sex with others of their own gender, rather than the opposite gender.  I had never heard of such a thing.

That seems hard to believe in the 21st century, when homosexual relationships are debated daily in the newspapers and depicted nightly on TV.  But back then, “gay” merely meant happy, and any “deviant behavior” was illegal and kept locked away in the secret closet.  In grade school, a boy who behaved in an insufficiently macho manner, such as reading poetry or avoiding fistfights, might be called a “sissy,” but that’s all that was said.

Learning about the World

Those are just a couple of examples of what I discovered while a student.  As Robert Fulgham wrote, “All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.”  In kindergarten — not at home, but in school, interacting with other young people from families unlike mine and discovering new things that my parents might never have told me.

For example, it turns out that there are other religions.  In our little town, there were a few kids in school who — for some strange reason — weren’t allowed to eat meat in the cafeteria on Fridays.  When questioned, they admitted this was because they were “Catholics.”  On Sundays they had to go to a neighboring town where there was a “Catholic” church.  So not everyone believes as my family does?  Interesting.  Who’s right?

At college, I met representatives of even more groups, such as blacks and Jews and Asians.  Also interesting.  They were people too.

John Roderick on Omnibus episode 261:  "My mom grew up in western Ohio, where there was not a ton of ethnic diversity and the worst thing they could think of was a Catholic.  There was so much anti-Catholic racism that they didn't even have room for anti-Semitism.  My mom had dated a Jewish guy in college, and she brought him back to her home in Van Wert, Ohio, and no one there knew he was Jewish --- although it would have appalled them, because it didn't even occur to them that there were Jews in America!"

So public schools and colleges are important for the knowledge we gain there — not only academic knowledge about subjects like spelling and chemistry, but also personal knowledge about the people unlike us with whom we share the planet.

Avoiding Worldly Influences

That may be one reason why social conservatives dislike public schools and colleges.  They prefer home schooling.

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum noted approvingly that centuries ago, “Parents educated their children because it was their responsibility.  Yes, the government can help, but the idea that the ... government should be running schools is anachronistic.”  After all, the government might not be willing to teach your particular attitudes and prejudices.

It’s even more anachronistic, I would add, to expect parents in this modern world to quit their jobs to stay home and educate their kids, or to expect them to competently teach the kids skills and subjects that they never learned very well themselves.

Nevertheless, when conservatives have the power to do so, they slash government spending on schooling.  “Adjusted for inflation, state support for higher education has fallen 12 percent over the past five years,” writes Paul Krugman.  “In California, support is down by 20 percent.”

The Keystone

In my own state of Pennsylvania, learning is no longer a priority.  Republican governor Tom Corbett says we can no longer afford our traditional support for education.

Public schools:  If the Republican-controlled legislature passes his 2012 budget, elementary and high schools will have lost a billion dollars in funding since he took office two years ago.

State-owned colleges:  His 2011 budget proposed a 50 percent cut.  Penn State University might have to give up its status as a public institution.  At least they’re investigating the possibility:  Penn State, tuition $15,984, could turn itself into a private college like Cornell, tuition $41,541.  Columnist Reg Henry writes:  “If Penn State were to go private, it would betray the public trust.  Pennsylvanians have supported the school with public money for many years with the understanding that it would remain affordable for their children.  It really is up to the governor to recognize the importance of higher education on future prosperity.  To boast that he didn't raise taxes today, Mr. Corbett is prepared to beggar Penn State (and Pitt and the rest) tomorrow.”

Time to Be Real

Or consider this rant, which I heard on March 9, 2012.

The Taliban may want to live in the 8th century, but the Christian right wants to go back even further, to Adam and Eve, who screwed it up for everybody when they ate an apple from the Tree of Knowledge.

... Rick Santorum home-schools his children because he does not want them eating that apple!  He wants them locked up in the Christian madrasah that is the family living room, not out in public where they could be infected by the virus of reason.

If you’re a kid and the only adults you’ve ever met are Mom and Dad, well then, they’re also the smartest adults you’ve ever met.  Why not keep it that way?  Why mess up Paradise with a lot of knowledge?  After all, a mind is a terrible thing to open.

This is also why Rick Santorum doesn’t care much for college.  It leads to indoctrination, he says.  And I agree.  It indoctrinates you into the world of ideas.  ... Young minds are exposed to information that challenges the fairy tales of childhood.  Oh, it’s a despicable process where they first open a young mind and then they start introducing facts.  ... To the religious right, the scariest three words ... are “Here’s an idea!”

...  Explaining how college ruins minds, Rick Santorum said that more than 60% of kids who enter college committed to religious faith graduate without the same commitment.  Translation:  There’s an inverse relationship between knowledge and superstition.  His solution?  Ban knowledge.

It’s like the Republican theory on sex education.  Teach abstinence only.  Don’t even expose them to the real world.

That was Bill Maher on his HBO show Real Time.

My View

Personally, I’m in favor of knowledge.  Learn about the world any way you can.  And don’t keep your kids locked up at home or cloister them in closed-minded parochial indoctrination factories.  Let them go to school in public, where they can meet the rest of us.



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