While campaigning in Florida, Conservative ringleader Rick Santorum attacked President Obama for encouraging young people to “go to college”. Apparently, within the conservative psyche, college is now evil because education “indoctrinates” students with progressive ideas and that somehow turns them into members of the Democratic Party. Santorum’s conservative audience clapped and cheered at his revelation. It appears that conservatives have not only abandoned intellectual enlightenment, they have demonized it.
If you are one of those that still consider a college education a good thing don’t breathe a sigh of relief that Santorum has suspended his campaign and this kind of regressive thinking would fade into the Dark Ages where it belongs, because Mitt Romney has announced that he would consider Santorum as his Vice Presidential running mate. Just when many thought the Republicans would never make a mistake like Sarah Palin again, they find a way to eclipse their past mistakes with an even greater mismatch for America’s future.
Responding to these conservative attacks on higher education is difficult because by its nature the idea of attacking education is so alien to our traditional American value system that it defies logic. That being said, it is none-the-less important to respond even to these illogical statements when they come from the mouth of a misguided individual that conservatives see as their spokesman.
It is pure ignorance for any politician to condemn higher education in America when the future strength of our economy will be determined by our ability to compete globally with nations that are making huge investments in the education of their own populations. How did the conservatives forget that in the post-World War II era the United States had the best educated work force in the world? More than any other one factor, having the best educated workforce in the world put us on top and made our middle class prosperous. Maybe the conservatives have forgotten that simple fact, but the Japanese and Germans learned from America’s success and they learned that you cannot develop a prosperous middle class without a commitment to education.
Even China recently announced a massive expansion of its primary and secondary educational systems including pre-school, compulsory education, and greater equity in access to a good education. China believes it must shift from a nation with large human resources to a nation of well-educated people in order to prosper in the future. What is surprising about this announcement by the Chinese is that it was only 45 years ago when during the “Cultural Revolution” Mao Zedong attacked his nations “educational elite” as being too liberal and sent Chinese university professors to camps in order to be “re-educated” in the doctrines of Mao. The conservatives are constantly making reference to China’s economic dominance over the U.S. therefore wouldn’t it then be prudent to invest in our educational system to insure we do not fall further behind our competition? Instead of investing in the education of our young people and preparing them to compete with the likes of the Japanese, Germans, and Chinese, conservatives are attacking and condemning education at the federal, state, and local levels. This conservative attack on higher education will only serve to weaken the American middle class and place our future workers at a huge disadvantage when compared to nations that have embraced the wisdom of investing in higher education and not attacking it.
Earlier this year Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust, spoke before an the Asian Society Foundation on Education and said the following, “There is also an explosive demand for higher education," she said, "at a time when ideas and capital travel across the world with ease and when knowledge has become the primary driver of social mobility and prosperity."
America would be wise to listen to one of our own respected educational leaders at this critical and challenging time in our history.
It is a perilous mistake for America to elect conservatives that possess this anti-intellectual platform. We need to again embrace education and invest in our schools and reaffirm the value system that worked for America in the past and will work again. It is critical that as a nation we commitment ourselves to make American workers the best educated in the world. Because if we follow the path of the conservatives and attack our educational system on political or even religious grounds we had better at the same time find another philosopher like Saint Thomas Aquinas to generate a new American Renaissance in order to end the conflict between faith and reason and rebuildour educational system.