Political Animal


March 09, 2012 5:17 PM Getting on the Anti-School Bus

By Ed Kilgore

Like a lot of commentators (include Daniel Luzer and myself), Paul Krugman thought Mitt Romney’s recent dissing of the idea of federal involvement in making higher education affordable was pretty significant. Though he only mentions it in passing, Krugman makes one observation that’s worth thinking about:

[N]ow one of our two major political parties has taken a hard right turn against education, or at least against education that working Americans can afford. Remarkably, this new hostility to education is shared by the social conservative and economic conservative wings of the Republican coalition, now embodied in the persons of Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney.

The sudden semi-universal hostility to public education, which is an entirely new thing for the bulk of the Republican Party (at least in places other than, say, Alabama), is indeed the product of a convergence of the economic and social wings of the conservative movement, which now largely owns the GOP.

By “economic conservatives” I would include both the libertarian types who reflexively oppose all public services other than national defense and the enforcement of contracts, and “limited government” folk who think, on fiscal grounds, that the public sector as it has existed for many decades now is unaffordable.

In a trend that has been accelerating in recent years, “social conservatives,” which mainly consists of members of the Christian Right, have come to deplore public schools either because they compete with religious schools or home-schooling, or because they are key instruments of a “secularist” cultural assault on “traditional” culture.

It’s all somewhat unsurprising if unfortunate, since support for public education—if sometimes a stern, underfunded version of it—used to be a hallmark of Establishment Republicans, particularly at the state level. But for the sake of honesty, I do wish conservatives would stop pretending that recent GOP education initiatives like George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law were some sort of godless departure from conservative orthodoxy. The forces opposing public education in the Republican Party have existed for quite some time, but only recently did they achieve mainstream respectability, and then dominance. Pols like Romney are just now catching up. But after all, this anti-school bus has been moving at well beyond the speed limit.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • stormskies on March 09, 2012 5:23 PM:

    The current Repiglican party needs to keep people stupid in order to make them 'believe' in the delusions they peddle.

  • T2 on March 09, 2012 5:29 PM:

    keyword is "public" education. The GOPers don't want any of their precious tax money going to educate blacks or mexicans, and they don't want anyone, white/black/brown/yellow/pink/or purple actually LEARNING stuff that makes them smart. A smart, thinking modern individual with a history of spending several years around other smart, thinking people typically will reject the crazy crap spewing from the Old White People's Republican Party. In other words, the dumber they are, the more likely to vote GOP (as stormskies says).

  • janinsanfran on March 09, 2012 6:05 PM:

    Hating on public education is about hating on the people who consume it. In many states, an actual majority of public school students are brown and black, decades before former minorities become pluralities. Got to keep 'em down or they'll take over ...

  • martin on March 09, 2012 6:06 PM:

    at least in places other than, say, Alabama

    Dude,Auburn and Alabama are both public schools. As long as they can play football, Alabama loves it some public schools.

  • Mitch on March 09, 2012 6:11 PM:

    They are not fighting against education. They are fighting against Reason. They are fighting to bring back the pre-Renaissance view of the world.

    A huge portion of our society wears their ignorance as a badge of honor, and they grow nearly violent with rage when their ignorance is questioned.

    Sometimes I do fear that we are Rome, on the road to another Dark Age. And the worst part is that the people will bring it on themselves. While leaders who know better will take advantage of it, as they have always done.

    You know the old saying, "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it."

    Well these people never learned history, do not want to learn it, and consider the rest of us as lower than scum for not loving ignorance.

    The real question is: who has the numbers? Us or them?

  • JW on March 09, 2012 6:13 PM:

    "In a trend that has been accelerating in recent years, “social conservatives,” which mainly consists of members of the Christian Right, have come to deplore public schools either because they compete with religious schools or home-schooling, or because they are key instruments of a “secularist” cultural assault on “traditional” culture".

    Ain't no "trend", bubba. It's the way it's been since (at least) Brown vs. The Board of Education. What's different nowadays is the accelerating capture of republican party machinery by so-called "social conservatives". Refer to them as you will, they are as socially retarded as they are politically savvy, and all the more vicious for it.

  • Hedda Peraz on March 09, 2012 6:37 PM:

    Things were so much simpler in Bygone Days, when the populace was illiterate, and the priesthood read to them from the altar.
    Plus, they had all those lovely stained glass windows- comic books for the Illiterati!

  • David Carlton on March 09, 2012 6:55 PM:

    This, actually, has been coming on for well over a generation--certainly in the South. As the sociologist John Shelton Reed once pointed out, white public schools in the Jim Crow South were essentially like Roman Catholic parochial schools, in that they inculcated an ethnic identity that encompassed not only white supremacy but pervasive evangelicalism. I grew up under that regime, and so (mutatis mutandis) did you, Ed. But it started falling apart in the 1960s and 1970s, partly because of desegregation, but also because of the School Prayer decision. This had something to do with the fact that the "second wave" of seg academies coming in 1970 and after were often established by churches and "Christian" organizations [The first wave was mainly class-based (elite whites in the Black Belt); the second wave was more downstream]. By and large, commitment to public education was well-nigh absolute when I was attending, but that was in large part because they were controlled by white southerners and served their ends. A diverse and secularized public school system no longer reinforced ethnic values--hence as early as the 1970s large numbers of white southerners began turning against public education altogether as an alien intrusion. What's remarkable is how much devotion there remains.

  • Fred Fnord on March 09, 2012 7:05 PM:

    Y'all are reading this all wrong, when it comes to Romney at least.

    He said what he meant: 'If you can't afford college, you should just pick a slightly cheaper one instead of depending on federal loans and grants and such. I mean geez, not everyone has to go to Harvard.'

    It's not that he's denigrating college itself. It's that he thinks that the average American (or, for that matter, everyone except the poor, and there can't be more than a few thousand of them in the US, right?) can afford an 'inexpensive' college just fine. He can, and he has no idea what life is like for people who aren't rich. You know. Just pay for college. What's with all this federal loan shit? What's wrong with you people? Just, you know, take the money out of the $200k you make every year (that's the minimum anyone makes in the US without being considered poor, and as mentioned there are only a few thousand poor people, right?) and pay for it!

    Romney thinks that everyone should be able to afford college, but that's okay because basically everybody can. He simply really is that out of touch. As are many of the wealthy in the US, who say things like, "I make $250k a year, that's solidly middle class" and "You can't live in New York on less than $500k a year!" and...

    Well, you get the idea. Romney isn't anti-education, he just has no idea what the US is like. Since he's never even visited.

  • rrk1 on March 09, 2012 7:08 PM:

    Anti-intellectualism has deep roots in this country despite our embrace of universal public education.

    Our educational system has been on the rocks for decades despite all the money spent on it, and more money alone won't solve the problem. We are no longer competitive with other developed countries, who treat education as an important component of government, in the performance of our students at all levels of education. This is particularly true in math and science.

    Destroying teacher unions has been a major goal of the right-wing, but it goes well beyond that. The revanchist base of the Rethugs believes only white folks should receive a minimal religiously based education, indoctrination actually, unless you're rich. Non-whites are on their own. No education for them. This mentality would take us back about 500 years, which is where this troglodyte crowd is most comfortable.

    This is what thirty years of Reagan go-for-it propaganda has produced.

  • cmdicely on March 09, 2012 7:16 PM:

    The sudden semi-universal hostility to public education [...] is an entirely new thing for the bulk of the Republican Party

    You mean the same Republican Party that has been trying to:
    (1) include privately-operated charter schools funded with public money but without accountability to the rules public schools operate under (particularly as regards serving the whole spectrum of students) to replace traditional public schools,
    (2) replace direct funding of public schools with vouchers that can be used at private schools, including sectarian ones, that aren't accountable to the non-discrimination rules or curriculum standards generally applied to public schools,
    (3) defund public education outright...

    Yeah, no, I don't think the attitude is new, though some of the particular manifestations may be.

  • boatboy_srq on March 09, 2012 7:17 PM:

    Conservatists have always resented paying for public education to teach children of Teh Others. JW has it right taking it back to Brown. What's new is their resentment of paying for public education for anyone. But I think think there's a new wrinkle with recent efforts - the aging population.

    Anyone who's lived in a retirement community knows that the elderly resent paying taxes: income, property, sales, ANY taxes. Yet they insist on keeping their Medicare and Social Security, even if it means screwing younger people's ability to collect those benefits when it's their turn. As the population ages, this mindset is sweeping out of Florida and Arizona and engulfing the whole country: what's new and different about it is that FL and AZ have become too expensive for those old volk and they're starting to stay home again. For this to change, we need the senior voting populace to buy into the idea that it'd be a really good idea for the country to remain viable well past the time their "loved ones" are through paying for their funerals. So far I don't see that happening.

  • Doug on March 09, 2012 7:47 PM:

    Personally, I think it's a combination of stinginess AND policy, with the emphasis varying depending on age.
    Older Republicans are probably just p*ssed at having to pay taxes when THEIR children are no longer using the public school system. Younger, more radical Republicans are likely trying to both "protect" THEIR children from the hideous influence of union-member teachers AND show how clearly better a "private" education is.
    Trouble is, most of them haven't the funds to pay for a private education for their children, so they've decided they'll accept public monies. Wouldn't surprise me to discover some of them even brag about how they're getting "their" money back, since everyone KNOWS taxes are theft. Or something like that.
    Subsidy, thy name is Republican...

  • Texas Aggie on March 10, 2012 1:17 AM:

    Recently I read the thesis that we no longer have two parties separated by issues. What we have now is a major separation because of values. Issues can be resolved or compromised, but values are sacrosanct.

    This article is more evidence that this particular thesis is valid.

  • James M on March 10, 2012 2:16 AM:

    What is really scary about this is the total lack of concern for building the future. I live in Asia, and although, teachers, like members of most professions, have experienced a drop in social status and prestige, they are positively worshipped here compared to the U.S.

    You say that you are a 'sensei' (teacher) and people's eyes light up. The governments of all the major Asian countries know that a strong educational system and an educated populace are crucial to their future competitiveness. You can argue (and I do) that it is too much, but Asian kids study their butts off. That in addition to taking lessons in English, swimming, judo/karate, piano and perhaps dance or ballet as well.

    The gap in the focus on education is already starting to hurt us and the damage will only grow in the future. These people are serious, and if Americans don't shake off their delusions of innate exceptionalism we are going to be in dire straits in the next 15 to 20 years or so.

  • R Johnston on March 10, 2012 5:03 AM:

    By "economic conservatives" I would include both the libertarian types who reflexively oppose all public services other than national defense and the enforcement of contracts

    Every libertarian I've encountered fully supports wasting trillions of dollars on things like a manned mission to Mars. They are heavy into the encouragement of delusional sci-fi spending by the government. They're the folks Newt was appealing to with his moon base schtick. They think that Star Trek is right around the corner, except that we're the Ferengi, not the Federation. They prioritize this spending over national defense and enforcement of contracts.

  • R on March 10, 2012 7:58 AM:

    @James M -- Maybe you don't worry so much about the future if either (A) you're so obscenely wealthy that you can set up trust funds for the next few generations of your own family, and to hell with everyone else, or (B) you are certain that any day now the Rapture will scoop you up (kinda like the tornado did to Dorothy only different) and take you away from the heathens, meaning darker-skinned people or anyone with a functional brain. Hence the category A people are doing their best to increase the ranks in category B and convince them they're allies. To that end, denigrating public education (and demonizing teachers) is, well, a no-brainer.

    Captcha says ynchin Warren. Oh yeah -- remember to send her a contribution today!

  • ceilidth on March 10, 2012 8:08 AM:

    Fred Fnord captured my thoughts exactly on the Romney comment. When he talks about going to a slightly "cheaper" college to avoid high tuition, he's forgotten that those schools are fast disappearing. In my state a year at the state university now costs $9000 for tuition. Living expenses come to another $9000. If the student pays for half of his living expenses from a job, that means that mom and dad have to pay about $1500 a month during the school year to avoid loans. Maybe Romney hasn't noticed, but a lot of folks lost any savings they had in the recession and this is not small change, even if say you are making $100,000 a year and don't qualify for financial aid. And those are folks who are doing well. Imagine you have two children in college at the same time. By the way, ten years ago we spent around $25,000 a year at a private college that was considered pretty expensive for one child and closer to the $20,000 a few years earlier for another. Given that salaries have not risen for many of us, that means that "cheaper" colleges now cost close to what "expensive" colleges did then. But it doesn't matter to Romney--he earns more in a day off of his investments than most of us earn in a year. 'Just another example of his utter disconnect from ordinary Americans.

  • David Martin on March 10, 2012 10:28 AM:

    Many in the Christian right indeed agree with Mr. Santorum that public education has fallen into the hands of evil people, and is best abolished.

    Public higher education has a complex history. The Northeastern states stand out for their private colleges, and for their history of discouraging private gifts to public schools, not to mention that kids from "good" families weren't supposed to go to public schools, which were informally reserved for their social inferiors. That was never the case in states like North Carolina or California.

  • tcinaz on March 10, 2012 12:43 PM:

    I was a public educator in Oregon for 34 years, until I retired in 2004. It was never my experience during all that time that Republicans were anything but hostile to public education and public educators. In my earliest years, this stemmed from their desire to control curriculum, bending it toward training students at public expense to specific job tasks they would then save training costs on. Needless to say, in a comprehensive high school, teachers resisted having curriculum dictated by business or later by Republican legislative fiat. Republican response to that resistance took on two forms, budget cutting through tax limitation and legislative budget reduction, and direct assault on teacher unions, which continue today in collective bargaining battles. The truth is that teachers have little incentive to side with Republicans, since most policy they endorse harms either the school from the teacher's point of view, or harms teachers economically. This, of course leads Republicans to justify their actions on the basis of public education's general resistance to Republican policy. But truthfully most educators I know could not vote for Republicans for these reasons, thus ensuring their continued and deepening hostility. Republicans in my experience don't like schools in general because schools won't teach only Republican friendly ideas.

  • Anonymous on March 10, 2012 3:28 PM:

    Yet another reason the wars were genius! The US used to have money for education and infrastructure and houses... all kinds of stuff. Spend multi-Trillions of dollars on war (and tax cuts) and suddenly, all that fluff becomes too expensive and we can go back to how it's supposed to be.