The evidence is in that the Republican Party appears to loathe learning. How do we know this?
Sadly, there are only three reasons that most U.S. politicians do anything: (1) currying favor with interest groups in hopes of snagging a big-paying job down the road; (2) determining in whose deep pockets they should snuggle up (NRA? Big Pharma?) in order to maximize campaign donations; or (3) calculating which positions are most likely to win them votes at the next election. Why voters put up with being played like this is baffling.
When it comes to hostility to education, you can dismiss reasons number 1 and 2. Few Republicans seek jobs in the education community once they leave Congress. The education sector cannot afford to buy many politicians. The NRA’s only interest in education is arming teachers so that even more guns will be out there, and pharmaceutical companies want to keep the public ignorant of the devastating effects of opiods. That leaves reason no. 3. Go figure how anti-education bias wins anyone’s vote.
Contempt for learning is not a new GOP strategy suddenly adopted because their current Dear Leader is not a reader, dismisses what little history he knows, and repudiates the importance of education for getting ahead and bootstrapping oneself out of poverty. Republican anti-intellectualism has a long history. It entered into choosing Dan Quayle to be Vice President in 1992 and Sarah Palin’s selection as the GOP Vice Presidential nominee in 2008 (the biggest political judgment error attributable to the otherwise largely admirable record of John McCain). Since then, it has been Republican mantra to publicly disdain scholarship and knowledge and, instead, to extol the virtues of ignorance.
It was not always so. It took a long time for the Party to get to where it stands on education today. The GOP was launched in the 1850s and championed a pro-education platform for the next 100-plus years. Republican presidents Lincoln, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Teddy Roosevelt, Hoover, Eisenhower, Nixon and even George W. Bush were avid readers (and consequently competent writers). Even President Grant, not otherwise known for a great presidency, wrote, by himself, the best-by-far autobiography of any president.
Moreover, this contempt for education is not mere fulmination. It has resulted in a concerted effort by Republicans up and down the ballot to eviscerate school systems nationwide. Facts demonstrate this:
Per-pupil K-12 education spending in red states lags far behind blue state expenditures. In Fiscal Year 2015 (the last year for which complete data is available), 15 of the top 18 education spending states are governed by Democrats. In stark contrast, red states occupy the bottom 12 positions in the rankings.
The contrast between blue and red state spending is even more blatant when it comes to teacher salaries: 9 of the 10 highest-paying states are run by Democrats; the bottom 10 by Republicans.
It follows that the states where teachers must dip into their own pay the most to buy essential supplies for their classrooms are all red states.
This year’s mass teacher protests against low pay and cheapskate education spending have taken place only in red states: West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, South Carolina and North Carolina (which has a new Democratic governor but a deep scarlet legislature that seeks to undermine his every initiative).
In many red states, teachers must work one or two additional jobs in order to survive.
A number of red states have cut back the school week to four days in order to accommodate budget cuts.
Red state students must often share textbooks because school districts can’t afford one for each student.
Republican hostility to science is well-known and widely proclaimed.
One of the collateral consequences of the Trump push for net neutrality would be more limited access to the educational opportunities offered via the Internet, an outcome that would disproportionately penalize low-income students.
The Republican war on education has consequences. A higher percentage of blue state students go to college, secure better jobs and earn more money ($500,000 more over a career) than their red state counterparts. Every study in existence shows that education is the best (and for most people the only) way up the economic ladder.
None of this makes any sense. Republican politicians who so uniformly denounce learning are themselves highly educated. Nevertheless, they want to deny their constituents the same blessings that enable them to live better, more prosperous lives.
Canandaigua Academy graduate Richard Hermann is a law professor, legal blogger, author of seven books and part-time resident of the Finger Lakes.