Education As a Political Football: Just One More Example

Here’s a headline from today’s New York Times: “Wisconsin Sees Presidential Ploy in Walker’s Push for University Cuts.” Only to be expected, of course:

to his critics, Mr. Walker, in both his proposed cuts and his aborted effort to overhaul the Wisconsin Idea, is trying to capitalize on a view that is popular among many conservatives: that state universities have become elite bastions of liberal academics that do not prepare students for work and are a burden on taxpayers.

This shibboleth has been around for far too long. Beloved by David Horowitz and Anne Neal of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, an organization founded twenty years ago by Lynne Cheney, the denigration of educators has gotten way too far out of hand. It’s not something only committed by conservatives–Andrew Cuomo, Governor of Wall Street, has no more love for teachers or schools or colleges than does his pal Chris Christie, Governor of the George Washington Bridge. It crosses from kindergarten teachers to senior faculty at R1 universities.

The value of our schools… all of them… at all levels… to our country is incalculable. The contribution of teachers to our economy is probably larger than any other single group–including politicians, including ‘wealth managers.’

Imagine the contribution of Harvard, MIT, and all of those other colleges in the area to Boston. Add to that the economic impact of all the teachers at all of the schools in the city, and all the administrators and all of the others who work in the schools. Add to that the extra earning power of the graduates of all of those schools and all of those colleges and universities.

Do you think that those two real estate powers in Manhattan, Columbia University and New York University, gained their clout by being a burden?

Would State College, PA, Ann Arbor, MI, Iowa City, IA, Berkeley, CA, Austin, TX and, yes, Madison, WI even exist if it weren’t for the universities housed there? Would the state governments in the last two of these be enough to sustain them?

Let’s focus back just on public universities… elite bastions? Do any of these people know who actually attends these schools–or what they actually are? The crown jewels, the big state universities, aren’t the only parts of their systems–and, even there, the students come from everywhere across their home states, the nation and even the world. They enter with all sorts of beliefs and graduate with beliefs mostly the same–but now with educations that are going to add to their income for decades (even if only a little, for some, at first). Though Rand Paul and Scott Walker may not have earned undergraduate degrees, most everyone who is a success in the United States, liberal or conservative or apolitical, has. The rare example to the contrary only proves the rule. People may not like the political leanings of their teachers, but they learned from them–and are successful at least partly as a result.

It’s time for us to stop cringing when people attack our schools, be they preschools or anything on up the developmental ladder.

The value of our education is the value of our country.



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