BY JOHN K. WILSON
Inside Higher Ed reports on a recent interview by Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson in which Johnson declares, “we need destructive technology for our higher education system.” This is exactly what Donald Trump wanted to do with his “Trump University.” As I note in my new book, Trump Unveiled: Exposing the Bigoted Billionaire, Trump University was a scam that began as a delusion. Trump is a con artist who used his name to convince suckers to spend thousands of dollars on a crappy real estate investing seminar. But before that evolution, Trump spent millions of dollars on his deluded belief that he could create a high-tech, practical-oriented alternative to conventional higher education—the same kind of “destructive technology” dreamed of by Johnson, who has said he supports (but won’t endorse) Trump.
What does Johnson mean by destroying our colleges with technology? Videotapes!
One of the examples I always used — if you want to teach the Civil War across the country, are you better off having, I don’t know, tens of thousands of history teachers that kind of know the subject, or would you be better off popping in 14 hours of Ken Burns’s Civil War tape and then have those teachers proctor based on that excellent video production already done? You keep duplicating that over all these different subject areas.
I’m certain Ken Burns would object to Sen. Johnson’s idea of having his documentary replace history teachers. Notice how Johnson never suggests that students might need to read a book, or ask questions, or develop their own ideas. No, it’s all about watching a video and answering the rote questions from the “proctor.”
And that’s exactly what Johnson proposes for higher education:
We’ve got the internet — you have so much information available. Why do you have to keep paying different lecturers to teach the same course? You get one solid lecturer and put it up online and have everybody available to that knowledge for a whole lot cheaper? But that doesn’t play very well to tenured professors in the higher education cartel.
Johnson also shares a fondness for conspiratorial thinking with Trump. No, it’s not enough to conclude that aspects of higher education are wasteful and misguided. Instead, there must be a “cartel” secretly running the scheme. How, exactly, does a “cartel” of thousands of colleges force people to go to college? How, exactly, are all tenured professors part of this higher education “cartel”? Does Johnson even know what a cartel is, or did he skip that day in class because Ken Burns hasn’t made a documentary about the subject?
People like Ron Johnson and Donald Trump have dumbed down our political system with the idea that guys like them, who were born rich or married into a rich family, deserve to be our rulers because they have money. Now they want to dumb down our educational system, to remove the educated people who have knowledge and hold individual opinions, and replace them with a single video approved by wealthy donors or politicians. Ron Johnson’s proposal might be one of the worst ideas in the history of education. Like Trump, he’s just a con man intent on attacking his enemies, and in this case, educated people are the worst enemy of Donald Trump and Republican senators across the country.