The hard right has been waging a War on Women, and their personal freedoms. It appears they are also waging a War on Children, and their intellectual freedoms.
No kid of mine is gonna be smarter than me.
A teacher I know related how one time in a parent-teacher meeting, a father said this about his son. I think that most of us find his comment shocking. Good parents work hard in the hope that our children will definitely be smarter than we are.
But Smarter Means Different
But I wonder how many of us think that all the way through. If our children are smarter than we are, that doesn’t mean they’ll just solve algebra equations faster. It means they will ask questions that never occurred to us. They may even question our politics, our religion, and our lifestyle choices.
Everyone is for freedom of expression, right up until someone disagrees with him. Similarly, managers want employees who can think critically about the business, as long as they don’t think critically about the manager, his policies or his decisions.
Critical Thinking & Schools
I see the same thing in our schools. Every school administration says they want to teach kids to think critically, but then they make it clear that they don’t want the students to question or challenge anything; not the school books, not the curriculum, not administration.
Not even the dress code.
So by default what we see are managers and school boards say: “Think critically about everything, except what we tell you.”
Which sounds to me like, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”
One of my basic motivations for this blog is to urge people to cultivate an open mind. That requires that we be skeptical of what we believe, and that we be tolerant of others who question what we believe. We should not be overly confident about what we know.
Or more precisely, what we think we know.
I also noted that the American Founders would be wildly disoriented by modern technology. If they would find modern technology dizzying, just imagine what they would think of modern religion, government and lifestyles.
Some people point to just those Founders and their views, to argue that we have gone too far. But how far is ‘too’ far? Because I don’t think there are many today would give up what we have, and go back to live in 1776. First, we would not give up our luxuries; and like it or not, our ability to innovate and create new solutions seems to be connected to a relaxation of the rigidity of 18th century society. Second, not even the severest critic of modern government would sacrifice our roads, the protections of a standing military, strict government overview of drugs, the advances that NASA has provided us, nor other governmental ‘oddities’ as the Internet.
Certainly you wouldn’t: without the Internet, you wouldn’t be reading this scintillating blog.
Either way, the Founders never envisioned government taking on any of these new tasks. So if our kids are smarter than we are, they are going to go in directions that we might not approve of. Americans have certainly gone many places that would shock the Founders.
War on Women
Which brings us to the ‘conservative’ War on Women. Before continuing, I would like to say I reject that accusation. I have known too many conservatives who feel quite strongly that women should have the same freedoms, privileges, and wages that men do. There are also conservatives who are pro-choice, and many more who, while strongly opposing abortion, nevertheless grudgingly agree with the opinions of Roe v. Wade, that the practicalities of policing women’s reproductive systems violate too much of our Constitution.
So it is my observation that the war on women does not come from conservatives, but from the hard right. Think about it: ‘hard’ means inflexible.
Hard means closed-minded.
So it’s not conservatives waging a War on Women, but extremists; it’s the closed-minded right.
War on Children
Which brings us back to our point. Because I suspect for some years they have been expanding their scope into a War on Children. The hard right wants to deny children their freedoms as well.
First, we have seen attacks on curricula and text books in grade schools around the country, with an insistence on teaching creationism and omitting Darwinism, pushes for other religious intrusions, and an adamant narrative of American Exceptionalism. Clearly, there are officials who want students to inherit freedom, but not the freedom to disagree with the those officials.
Attacks on Higher Education
We see a parallel in higher education across the country where hard-right administrations – again, not conservatives, but inflexible ideologues – have carried the War on Children into higher education. We have seen it here in Louisiana, where higher education has been slashed repeatedly, ironically by a governor who previously headed one of the systems he later proved intent on destroying.
But Louisiana isn’t unusual. State elected administrations – exclusively, hard-right administrations – have been waging a war on children. They have cut or attempted to cut funding to higher education across the nation: Texas, Minnesota North Carolina, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Indiana, and several others. It seems to be a coordinated effort.
And it is. In Louisiana, a friend of mine, someone active at the highest levels of state government, filled me in. On more than one occasion the Governor said to a close circle of conservative elected officials that he wanted to limit higher education to students from the more affluent classes. He assumed that his circle shared his priorities; he never considered that many conservatives believe in strong universal education, and might leak his comments. One of them did, and also leaked the Governor’s reasoning for slashing higher ed: kids from wealthier families are more likely to vote with the Governor’s party. This attitude, and strategy, has emerged from the hard right over the past couple of decades.
In contrast, the kids who struggle, who don’t have the same advantages, are statistically much more likely to vote for the other party.
George F. Will
It can’t be a coincidence. I think it all goes back to the George F. Will essay I discussed, accusing colleges of being too liberal. There appears to be a narrative among the extreme right that if higher education is weakened, there will be fewer liberals in the country. So they are comfortable weakening our nation, and giving our children a diminished future, if it insures ideological conformity.
Which sounds a bit like, “No kid of mine is gonna be smarter than me.”
Or maybe, “Everyone supports freedom of expression, right up until someone disagrees with him.”
Ideas in this post are incorporated into my book, Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths: From Alexander to Hitler to the Corporation, available from the University of Louisiana Press and Amazon.
‘Feet in Chains’ courtesy of George Hodan on PublicDomainPictures.