|“Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.” Carl Sagan|
Betsy Devos is actually being considered for Education in the Trump cabinet. Oh hell no.
Let's consider the words of one of the founding fathers:
"I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness...Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance." Thomas Jefferson (letter to George Wythe, August 13, 1786).
Thomas Jefferson's lifelong belief in the importance of public education as the bedrock of a free Republic was shared by many of the founding fathers. A major reason why most of humanity has lived in virtual enslavement for most of history is that the common people have been historically excluded from the education that was strictly reserved for the wealthy and priestly classes. As students of the Enlightenment, the framers of the Constitution of the United States of America understood from reading history - and through personal experience and observation - that the elusive key to greater liberty and equality for humankind has always been education.
Knowledge is power and education is the great equalizer. The founders knew that public education - the dissemination of the power of knowledge throughout a population of equals - was vital to a free and productive society. They believed that an educated citizenry was one of the foundational "common causes" behind which all citizens ought to throw their full support for the betterment of humankind and for the good of the new nation.
They also knew that this public education - which would become the backbone of a more just and free society, the first of its kind in human history - must be protected from ideological influences and agendas. They had witnessed firsthand the oppression and tyranny that results when religious ideology is imposed upon a people, and they tried - via the establishment clause in the Constitution - to strike a balance between protection of an individual's religious liberty and the protection of the general population from any religious group which might seek to impose its religious ideology on the entire people.
|"...kings, priests and nobles..."|
Wealthy, religious elites - whose wealth is sucked out of the people over whom they have religious power - fear an educated population the most and, when public education is legally mandated (as in the USA), they will do their utmost to undermine and impoverish it. They know that an educated populace will inevitably lead to the disruption of their traditional power structures. They recognise that they cannot exploit the people if the people are educated. Educated people have access to the knowledge once exclusively owned by religious elites, and can separate facts from fiction. Educated people develop confidence, independence and aspirations. Educated people fight back against exploitation.
|A rare, true church sign slogan.|
Jefferson's insight no doubt informed religious conservatives in their strategy to undermine the Republic and reduce the United States to an authoritarian theocracy. They recognized that it really was education, primarily, which enabled millions of people to rise above the poverty and disenfranchisement which has been the fate of "common people" everywhere for all of human history. And it was education of the people which was helping millions of Americans enjoy a better standard of living - earned through their own well-educated efforts - which had been impossible when they were an uneducated peasantry whose life circumstances and well-being were entirely at the mercy of a culture which allowed all power and wealth to be concentrated into the hands of a very few, usually religious, elite groups.
|...which is exactly what conservatives fear most!|
Millions of educated people who are capable of understanding the ideologies and questioning the actions of powerful groups in their midst become far more difficult to control and exploit. Millions of educated people, who have been taught history and critical thinking skills, are able to recognise when the doctrine of a religious elite is immoral, self-interested power-mongering. Therefore, it became the first priority of the religious right movement to undermine and discredit public education while simultaneously spearheading a parallel assortment of pseudo-educational systems with which to replace it. The Christian homeschooling movement is not, and never was, a grassroots phenomenon. Likewise, the private Christian school and college campuses mushrooming up all over the country are a targeted investment in this strategy.
As they insinuated themselves into school boards across the country - running as fiscal conservatives to get elected only to turn around and concentrate on their religious agenda once in power - religious conservatives began a determined campaign to inject religious mythology into public school classrooms, inventing fake "controversies" over established scientific theories which conflicted with Christian beliefs, and often succeeding in forcing grossly misleading "information" into school curriculums. The ongoing effort of Christian conservatives to force the teaching of Biblical creationism in science classrooms, falsely presenting religious belief as a scientific theory to school children is a chilling example of this.
|Who needs public school when all you'll ever need to|
know can be found in the Bible?
Consider this plank in the Texas Republican party platform:
Knowledge-Based Education – 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. (from a position statement in the 2012 Texas Republican Party Platform).
The Texas Republican Party is openly calling for a ban on the teaching of vital critical thinking skills. They are not shy about saying this - it is right there in their published platform statement - and, thanks to the current climate of rising authoritarian anti-intellectualism, they are not shy about saying why they want to deprive Texas students (and ultimately all students) of the right to a full education, including the development of the ability to think for themselves.
|...and only This...|
They intend to change Texas law so that religious belief will replace scientifically verifiable knowledge. They intend to enshrine into law that children cannot learn anything in school which will conflict with Christian teachings. The reference to "behavior modification" is a dog whistle thrown in to arouse right wing paranoia. HOTS have nothing to do with "behavior modification"; that sentence makes no sense whatsoever to anybody who actually understands educational theory, but pseudo-intellectual sounding claptrap is the stock in trade of Christian conservatives justifying their rejection of any secular initiative. Likewise, the jarringly inappropriate reference to "parental authority" and "fixed beliefs" makes no sense, unless the crux of the position is that schools will be prohibited from teaching pupils anything at all other than what parents and churches have already told them is all they need to know. That would make public schools unnecessary and redundant.
Which is exactly the point.
Preventing a generation of children from receiving a proper education is precisely the goal of the religious right. For those children that they have already siphoned off into fundamentalist Christian homeschooling and private Christian schools, the pseudo-education has already been well underway for more than a generation. It is the public schools which still vex them. Limping along, greatly hampered by the constant attacks, the draining of resources through determined conservative legislative attacks on the value and sincerity of public education and teachers, and the bleeding dry of funding and student enrollments via school voucher campaigns redirecting public funds into religious schools, the public school system has been under constant, vicious attack for over three decades. Unless the American people wake up and put a stop to it, the religious right may succeed in completely dismantling public education, leaving students to the deliberate miseducation of religious schooling, thus plunging the country back into a new kind of dark age, with both intellectual and social liberty lost.
|...before it's too late!|
Ironically, although President Jefferson's considered opinion that a free society depended upon a publicly-educated population was the insight upon which the religious right based its attack upon America, as soon as they had achieved their goal of majority influence over school boards and state legislatures, they acted to try to erase Thomas Jefferson and other progressive thinkers from the text books which American children will study, replacing them with conservative idols and religious ideology.
Nearly destroying the public education system in the United States was never simply a mildly-regretted, unintended consequence of the conservative Christian campaign to "take
Recommended reading (No seriously, I'm begging you: read these things!):
A thoughtful, in-depth and very readable article on the conservative Christian strategy to rewrite history, erase progressive contributions and undermine the entire foundation of American society: How Christian Were the Founders? Russell Shorto, New York Times Magazine, February 11, 2010
Why public education must be preserved, Valerie Strauss, Washington Post.
Texas textbook standards revision story here.
PBS, School: The Story of American Public Education.
Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. The moral imperative for education policy.
Dr. P Z Myers, A well informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will.
Patrick Murfin's brief history of public education here.
Columbus Dispatch story
Louisiana private (religious) schools voucher story here.
|"...improve the law for educating the common people...the people alone can protect us against...tyranny..."|