News & Politics

5 Valiant GOP Efforts to Make Americans As Dumb As Possible

From the AP history ban to university budget cuts, education in America is taking a hit from the right.

If you ever want to make a conservative touchy, the quickest way---out of many quick ways---is to hint that the connection between ignorance and holding right-wing views is more than a coincidence. But when you look at what Republican politicians get up to these days, especially in state legislatures, it starts to look like Republicans are purposefully trying to make Americans more ignorant. The attacks on education are, if anything, just getting bolder all the time. Here are 5 recent examples.

1) Oklahoma is about to ban AP history classes. Under the guise of “emergency” legislation, the education committee in the Oklahoma legislature had an 11-4 vote to advance a bill that would ban the advanced placement history curriculum from Oklahoma schools. There’s not even a real attempt here, as with other conservative assaults on education, to hide that the goal is to keep students ignorant so that they are more susceptible to right wing propaganda. The bill’s sponsor, state representative Dan Fisher, argued that the schools should be teaching “American exceptionalism,” and avoiding teaching parts of American history that are less than flattering.

Sadly, this push to remove history courses that teach actual history and replace them with a bunch of flattering lies designed to imply that America can do no wrong is hardly limited to Oklahoma. The Republican National Committee has endorsed the idea that AP history courses should teach less strife and present a more rah-rah view of American history. In Colorado, attempts to whitewash the history classes even resulted in student walkouts, garnering national attention.

2) Scott Walker has it out for the University of Wisconsin. The University of Wisconsin is a point of pride for the state at large, to the point where their mascot, the badger, is blanketed over everything Wisconsin-related, including government services that aren’t affiliated with the school. Despite this, Gov. Scott Walker, flush with confidence after decimating public service unions in Wisconsin, has it out now for the university, apparently not caring that it’s the state’s pride and joy. The goal is to slash a whopping $300 million from the University of Wisconsin system over the next two years.

There may be some lip-smacking about “fiscal conservatism” going on with this, but Walker and his staff haven’t really taken many pains to hide that this is rooted in a deeper hostility to the very idea of knowledge itself. “A harbinger of what Walker might face came in an immediate uproar on social media this month after his staff proposed changing the university’s ethereal focus on the pursuit of truth, known as the ‘Wisconsin Idea,’ to a grittier focus on ‘workforce needs,’” reports the Washington Post. Walker backed off recasting higher education as nothing more than job training after his critics pointed out he is a college dropout, but the fact that this wording change was proposed at all shows that the hostility to education is ideological and has little to nothing to do with saving money.

3) Redefining education as “welfare” Mississippi state representative Gene Alday made national headlines recently by saying one of the most bone-headedly racist things to come out of a politician’s mouth in recent years, which is saying a lot. "I come from a town where all the blacks are getting food stamps and what I call 'welfare crazy checks.' They don't work," he said during his rant. He added that he once went to an emergency room and, “"I liked to died. I laid in there for hours because they (blacks) were in there being treated for gunshots."

The comments got coverage because they were clearly delusional, the result of a man substituting racist urban legends for actually bothering to learn about policy or reality. But what got lost in the shuffle a bit was that Alday went on his rant in part because he was trying to justify his opposition to increased funding for elementary school education. Mississippi schools are abysmally underfunded, resulting in shockingly high rates of kids being held back. Alday’s little racist spiel was an attempt to insinuate that teaching kids reading and writing amounts to “welfare” and to suggest that education is wasted on black people in particular. While his comments were extremist, the refusal to properly fund schools is mainstream in Mississippi. Gov. Phil Bryant, for instance, has revolted against the idea of putting more effort towards teaching kids to read, and suggesting that he’s fine with just holding them back instead.

4) Threatening to arrest teachers for sex education. In Kansas, which seems to get more right-wing nutty by the year, Republicans are no longer satisfied with laws requiring teachers to pretend that it’s normal and expected for people to wait until marriage to have sex. Now there’s growing support for having teachers fear jail time should they ever hint, during sex education, that sex is a thing people do for pleasure. Using a teacher who had a poster up in class that suggested---gasp!---that sex is sometimes used to show affection, Republicans in the state are sponsoring a bill that would allow officials to criminally charge teachers for daring acknowledge such a thing ever again. The poster in question had no pictures on it, just words, suggesting advocates of the bill happily equate even the most minor acknowledgements that sex is fun with providing children with pornography.

5) Continued demands that science education be replaced with magic. Other pro-ignorance forces get more headlines these days, but creationists haven’t gone anywhere. In South Dakota, Republicans once again pushed for a bill that would “allow” teachers to “question” evolution in the classroom, which is a fancy way of saying that teachers would be permitted to treat being ignorant as the equivalent of being educated.

These kinds of laws don’t do well in court, so it’s no big surprise that legislators abandoned it. But that doesn’t mean that the right is giving up on creationism any time soon. Asked recently about evolution, Gov. Scott Walker stuck to the narrative that elevates ignorance over education, saying, “That’s a question politicians shouldn’t be involved in one way or another. I am going to leave that up to you. I’m here to talk about trade not to pontificate about evolution.” Far from a politician trying to have it both ways, the comment was the exaltation of ignorance over education. Evolutionary theory is a knowable thing. The basics can be grasped simply by watching an episode of Cosmosor reading a basic biology textbook. By treating something as simple as giving 45 minutes over to a TV show or an hour to a book as more education than he should be expected to handle, Walker epitomized the new conservative mentality of ignorance uber alles.

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. She's on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte. 

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