Why Johnny Can’t Think Critically

Empty Classroom DesksSchool is now back in session. And our children’s minds are impressionable vessels. And we trust their teachers to take precious care of them.

But can we?

We have learned over the years “Why Johnny Can’t Read,” “Why Johnny Can’t Write,” and “Why Johnny Can’t Count.”

Now with far-right activists like Glen Beck pushing for more Jesus and less Darwin — working to reshape the academic landscape in schools, colleges and universities across the country — we will soon know without having to wonder “Why Johnny Can’t Think Critically.”

When the Texas Board of Education last March approved changes to its school curriculum to emphasize the superiority of American capitalism, creationism over evolution, and Republican political philosophies some of us may have laughed it off as typical and tendentious of Texas.

But when Arizona Governor Jan Brewer two months later in May signed a bill to become effective December 31st, eliminating ethnic studies in Arizona schools to specifically target Latinos in the state, I realized our American classrooms can gradually become a political laboratory of the Tea Party movement’s indoctrination rather than a free marketplace of diverse ideas for critical thinking.

“The epistemological nadir of any university is found in the wacky world of ethnic and gender studies: black studies, Africana studies, Chicano studies, Latino studies, Puerto Rican studies, Middle Eastern studies, Native American studies, women’s studies, gay and lesbian studies, et al.,” wrote columnist Mark Goldblatt in the February 9, 2005, online edition of the conservative magazine National Review. He went further to say:

“The suggestion that ‘studying’ is involved in any of these subjects is laughable. They are quasi-religious advocacy groups whose curricula run the gamut from historical wish fulfillment (the ancient Egyptians were black; the U.S. Constitution was derived from the Iroquois Nation) to political axe grinding (the Israelis are committing genocide against the Palestinians; the U.S. is committing genocide against the people of Cuba)”

The “Glenn Beck scholars” blame the current crisis in education on the erosion of the so-called “traditional American education” in favor of giving unmerited advantage to underrepresented minority groups. But the resistance to shift from the millennia–long opuses of dead white heterosexual men to a multicultural perspective including the scholarship of women, gays and lesbians, and people of color is viewed, by many, as a “dumbing-down” effect of America’s educational curriculum.

The movement to reshape the academic landscape of our schools, colleges and universities from a democratizing force in our society where all ideas and voices are welcome into a tool of conservative indoctrination can be traced back to the 1951 publication of William F. Buckley’s book God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom. Buckley, once a leading voice in the American conservative movement, decried his alma mater for spreading “socialist” ideas by attacking students’ religious beliefs through their teaching.

But the success of conservative and Tea Party academic agendas winning over the impressionable minds of America’s students simply boils down to funding (Conservative and Tea Party activists spend more and have more money than liberals to promulgate their causes.) and activism on college campuses.

“The campus is an arena for ideological struggle. The crucial prize is the mind of the student. Right-wing conservatives have set out, with enormous funds at their command, to capture the thinking of students, to imbue them with certain ideas: the glories of capitalist “free market” the justness of the nation’s wars, the genius of the American political system, pride in the nation as “superpower” bringing democracy and liberty to other places in the world, “ Howard Zinn stated at the 2006 Speak Out and the Oakland Institute forum “Turning the Tide: Challenging the Right on Campus,” that called for building a broad-based and sustainable movement for progressive values on college campuses.

The Rights has built a nationwide network with a highly organized infrastructure, an extensive network of campus affiliates, and over a dozen conservative student- focus think tanks, spending over 40 million annually. And the Right has worked hard to eliminate student fees funding campus progressive groups.

For example, already successful on some campuses is the defunding of gay organizations. Student fees, they argue, should not be used to support groups with which some students ideologically and religiously disagree with.

Activists on scattered campuses nationwide have a unified communication strategy funded and crafted by the right-wing Collegiate Network, which operates or supports more than 80 student publications. Its anti-gay and anti people-of-color rhetoric reaches over 2.5 million students a year.

Right-wing foundations have strategically leveraged their resources to engineer the rise of a right-wing intelligentsia that can wield enormous influence in national policy debates in their favor. For example, Harvard University received more than $6.2 million from the Olin Foundation between 1993 and 1997 to set up various conservative law, business, and economics and strategic studies programs.

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For conservatives and Tea Party activists the buck doesn’t stop at the classroom level or on college campuses but rather their dollars are also spent on producing future generations of neoconservative and right-wing journalists, government employees, and legislators.

A mind is a terribly thing to waste. But for conservatives and Tea Party activists who want to indoctrinate our kids rather than to educate them, a mind is a terrible thing to have.

Rev. Irene Monroe

Published by the LA Progressive on September 9, 2010
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About Rev. Irene Monroe

Rev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes - “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Her writings have also appeared in Boston Herald and in the Boston Globe. Her award-winning essay, “Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia”, was greeted with critical acclaim.

Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As an religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”