Wanted: A Massive Education, Organizing Drive and Progressive Vision to Vanquish Trump

by Les Leopold, www.commondreams.org, June 3, 2017 www.commondreams.org/views/2017/06/03/wanted-massive-education-organizing-drive-and-progressive-vision-vanquish-trump

As Trump stumbles, and maybe crumbles, progressives are confronting a painful truth: Trump is a reflection of a much bigger problem ― the rise of runaway inequality and the failure of the liberal establishment to address it.

Between 1980 and 2014, the gap between the top 100 CEOs and the average worker climbed from $40 to one to an incredible $844 to one. All boats did not rise. During that time the real income of the average worker (after accounting for inflation) actually declined. Both Republicans and Democrats alike rushed to deregulate Wall Street, which is a major cause of these enormous gaps.

The Democrats, who once spoke for these working people, are in real danger of losing them. Since 2008, they have given up 917 state, local and federal elected offices. There are now 33 Republic governorships.

Who’s to blame?

In workshops around the country, we’ve been asking participants why Trump won. The answers primarily focus on the Comey letter, Hillary as a poor candidate, the Russian hacking, anti-establishment protest, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and so on..

In no instance is there any self-reflection from progressives about our own role in any of this. Isn’t it possible that maybe, just maybe, the enormous rightward drift has something to do with us ― with how progressives are organized and disorganized? At the very least, we should admit the obvious: all of this happened and continues to happen on our watch. To not take some responsibility for this growing calamity is to concede that we have no agency, no power, and no effective strategy to forge meaningful social change.

The Hazards of Silo Organizing

For the last generation, progressives have organized themselves into issue silos, each with its own agenda. Survival depends on fundraising (largely from private foundations) based on the uniqueness of one’s own silo. Each group must develop its own expertise and activities which distinguish it from other groups. Each needs to proclaim that its issue is the existential threat, be it climate change, police violence, abortion rights or health care. The net result of this Darwinian struggle is a fractured landscape of activity. The creativity, talent and skill are there in abundance, but the coherence and common purpose among groups is not.

Siloed organizational structures also make it extremely difficult to cooperate on a common program to reverse runaway inequality, There is little incentive to form a grand progressive alliance to build what the Sanders campaign, for example, had set in motion. Better to launch your own national effort and claim that it is the center of the organizing universe.

It is therefore not surprising that the two biggest progressive challenges to runaway inequality in the last decade ― Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders campaign ― did not arise from within these siloed organizations. OWS largely grew from a notice in Adbusters, a Vancouver, BC, journal. Most of those who did the occupying at the 900 encampments also did not come from progressive siloed organizations. In fact, the non-profit/NGO community more or less watched from the sidelines.

Similarly, the Sanders campaign also did not emerge from a concerted effort among progressives to create a new politics within the Democratic Party. Rather, it was driven by Bernie’s own social-democratic vision that he had been espousing for over 40 years, year after year after year. When his effort showed signs of life, progressives broadly divided between the idealists feeling the burn and the pragmatists seeking to back a sure winner, who at least would provide access to progressive ideas.

Talking to Ourselves?

The advent of Trump certainly has unleashed an enormous amount of progressive activity. In addition to the many sizeable marches, there are now approximately 5,000 Indivisible groups making life miserable for Republican office holders. However, nearly all of this activity is anti-Trump and defensive. There is no common Indivisible national agenda, nor is there a common organization to set a coherent strategic direction.

More importantly, pure anti-Trumpism guarantees we will be talking to the already convinced. By focusing solely on Trump, it becomes next to impossible to reach the Trump voters who also voted for Sanders and Obama.

Some argue that such outreach is a waste of time because there really are not that many Obama-to-Sanders-to-Trump voters. Unfortunately, exit polls do not give us enough data to reasonably estimate the size of this hybrid voting population. But sources inside the United Steelworkers, for example, report that 50 percent of their members who voted, voted for Trump. Given how representative those members are of the broader working class, we’re probably looking at several million Obama-Sanders-Trump voters.

We do know this: In the state of Michigan there was a 500,000 vote loss from Obama (2012) to Clinton (2016). It was minus 290,000 in Pennsylvania and minus 222,000 in Wisconsin.

Very few, if any of our siloed progressive organizations are targeting these working people. Danger ahead.

The Deplorables?

It will not be easy for progressive to reach out to Trump voters, unionized or not. In part, that is because anti-Trump defensive activity has become the basis for a new wave of silo organizing and fundraising. Each group is claiming that its activities will be the most effective means for upending the Trump agenda and returning Congress to the Democrats.

The animosity towards Trump voters runs deep. One prominent progressive educator told me privately that Trump voters should be viewed as terrorists ― that their anti-establishment revolt was like throwing a grenade into a crowd, and we’re the collateral damage. Others argue that the Trump voters really are “deplorables” when it comes to their racism, sexism and anti-immigrant beliefs.

The suspicion also spreads to those who do want to reach out to these Obama-Sanders-Trump voters. They are often criticized for favoring class over race ― for failing to put anti-racism as the central feature of all organizing and educational efforts. So for example, if addressing “white skin privilege” is not a major part of the education, then the education is viewed as catering to the racist white working class.

This can cascade into a series of litmus tests on race, gender, immigration, abortion, global warming, etc that must be passed in order to be welcomed into the progressive community. While there is no denying that these issues are of critical importance, the net effect of administering such tests is that progressives will be stuck within their own bubbles.

The Power of Education:

We’re facing a moment of truth about education and social change. We need to decide whether or not we believe that real education about big picture issues can make a difference in how people see the world. This kind of education is not the same as campaign propaganda, sound bite memes or technical training about how to get out the vote or organize an action. It’s about building a broad-based discussion on how the economy works and doesn’t work, and how to make it serve us all. Here are some of its features:

1. Placing a Target on Wall Street: By showing how and why society is growing more unequal, runaway inequality education (see runawayinequality.org) lays bare the ways in which Wall Street and its CEO partners engage in financial strip-mining, ― the immoral siphoning away of wealth from our jobs, communities and families. The weapons of financial engineering are many including mortgage fraud, high interest student loans, stock buybacks, payday loans, too big to fail/jail, bailouts, tax loopholes, tax breaks, off-shore accounts, privatization of public assets, and many, many more. None of our silos are immune from ravages of financial strip-mining

2. Building Common Ground: Big picture education can tie together virtually all the issues that we care deeply about. Runaway inequality and runaway finance are linked to runaway global warming. The forces causing runaway inequality are connected to the rise of the prison population and the expansion of private prisons where we now warehouse millions of our impoverished youth. It’s tied to the attack on union rights, the decline of good paying jobs, the harassment of immigrants and the failure of our corporate-run health care system. This educational process helps us see that our issue silos are in fact deeply connected.

3. Safe space for Dialogue: A strong educational process provides an excellent venue to have dialogue with those that do not immediately share every progressive value or position. I’ve done runaway inequality workshops with Trump voters and the response has been positive. They too want to understand why the richest country in the history of the world cannot provide decent paying jobs and adequate public services for all its people.

4. Developing and Spreading a Common Agenda: Such an educational process also leads naturally to testing and sharing a common agenda to reverse runaway inequality. Such an agenda, in the form of a petition, can serve as an educational tool, and, if it catches on, a way to shift the public debate towards a social-democratic agenda. (See here for national polling results on how young people reacted to such an agenda.)

Learning from the Populists of the late 19th Century

Over a century ago, small farmers, black and white, in the Midwest and South organized a potent mass movement to challenge the power of Wall Street. They called for cooperative enterprises, public banks, public ownership of railroads and telegraph, a progressive income tax and many other limits on corporate power. Their agenda led to many state and nation reforms as well as paving the way for the New Deal and its tight controls on Wall Street.

“Building a fairer and more just society will require a massive educational movement. As the Populists taught us, it can be done.”

The key to their organizational successes was education. They fielded 6,000 educators to help build their chapters and spread the word in the 1880s and 1890s. Today we would need about 30,000 to do the same, given the growth of our population.

Building such a network, however, requires having faith in the power of education. It requires that we understand that runaway inequality ties us all together and can only be tackled through a broad-based common movement with a common agenda. This educational process asks us to have the confidence and courage to engage in dialogue with a wide range of people who also care about building a better society for themselves and their families.

None of this will come easy. Our silos provide us with strength. We take pride in our identities and are empowered by them. Also, it is very difficult for us to even imagine what a common movement might look like, let alone how to build one. But we can be sure of one thing: Building a fairer and more just society will require a massive educational movement. As the Populists taught us, it can be done.

(For those willing to take that leap, please join us in building the runawayinequality.org educational network. We need you. We need each other.)

Farewell, America

By Neal Gabler, billmoyers.com, November 10, 2016

Excerpt

No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on Nov. 7, they will now look at us differently.

America died on Nov. 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity — all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country… It turned out to be the hate election because, and let’s not mince words, of the hatefulness of the electorate. In the years to come, we will brace for the violence, the anger, the racism, the misogyny, the xenophobia, the nativism, the white sense of grievance that will undoubtedly be unleashed now that we have destroyed the values that have bound us. We all knew these hatreds lurked under the thinnest veneer of civility. That civility finally is gone. In its absence, we may realize just how imperative that politesse was. It is the way we managed to coexist… Who knew that after years of seeming progress on race and gender, tens of millions of white Americans lived in seething resentment, waiting for a demagogue to arrive who would legitimize their worst selves and channel them into political power? …This country has survived a civil war, two world wars and a Great Depression. There are many who say we will survive this, too. Maybe we will, but we won’t survive unscathed. We know too much about each other to heal. No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things. Nor can we pretend that democracy works and that elections have more-or-less happy endings. Democracy only functions when its participants abide by certain conventions, certain codes of conduct and a respect for the process. No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things.

The virus that kills democracy is extremism because extremism disables those codes. Republicans have disrespected the process for decades…they haven’t believed in democracy for a long time, and the media never called them out on it.

Democracy can’t cope with extremism…because ever since the days of Ronald Reagan, rhetoric has obviated action, speechifying has superseded governing…

Just as Trump has shredded our values, our nation and our democracy, he has shredded the mediaJust as the sainted Ronald Reagan created an unbridgeable chasm between rich and poor that the Republicans would later exploit against Democrats, conservatives delegitimized mainstream journalism so they could fill the vacuum.

Like Goebbels before them, conservatives understood they had to create their own facts, their own truths, their own reality. They have done so, and in so doing effectively destroyed the very idea of objectivity. Trump can lie constantly only because white America has accepted an Orwellian sense of truth — the truth pulled inside out.

Among the many now-widening divides in the country, this is a big one, the divide between the media and working-class whites, because it creates a Wild West of information — a media ecology in which nothing can be believed except what you already believe.

With the mainstream media so delegitimized… not having had the courage to take on lies and expose false equivalencies — they have very little role to play going forward in our politics. I suspect most of them will surrender to Trumpism — if they were able to normalize Trump as a candidate, they will no doubt normalize him as presidentFor the press, this is likely to be the new normal in an America in which white supremacists, neo-Nazi militias, racists, sexists, homophobes and anti-Semites have been legitimized by a new president who “says what I’m thinking.” It will be open season… if anyone points the way forward, it may be New York Times columnist David Brooks. Brooks is no paragon. He always had seemed to willfully neglect modern Republicanism’s incipient fascism (now no longer incipient), and he was an apologist for conservative self-enrichment and bigotry. But this campaign season, Brooks pretty much dispensed with politics. He seemed to have arrived at the conclusion that no good could possibly come of any of this and retreated into spirituality. What Brooks promoted were values of mutual respect, a bolder sense of civic engagement, an emphasis on community and neighborhood, and overall a belief in trickle-up decency rather than trickle-down economics. He is not hopeful, but he hasn’t lost all hope.

For those of us now languishing in despair, this may be a prescription for rejuvenation. We have lost the country, but by refocusing, we may have gained our own little patch of the world and, more granularly, our own family. For journalists, Brooks may show how political reporting…might yield to a broader moral context in which one considers the effect that policy, strategy and governance have not only on our physical and economic well-being but also on our spiritual well-being. In a society that is likely to be fractious and odious, we need a national conversation on values. The media could help start it….We are not living for ourselves anymore in this country. Now we are living for history.

Full text

No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on Nov. 7, they will now look at us differently.

America died on Nov. 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity — all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country.

Whatever place we now live in is not the same place it was on Nov. 7. No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on Nov. 7, they will now look at us differently. We are likely to be a pariah country. And we are lost for it. As I surveyed the ruin of that country this gray Wednesday morning, I found weary consolation in W.H. Auden’s poem, September 1, 1939, which concludes:

“Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.”
I hunt for that affirming flame.

This generally has been called the “hate election” because everyone professed to hate both candidates. It turned out to be the hate election because, and let’s not mince words, of the hatefulness of the electorate. In the years to come, we will brace for the violence, the anger, the racism, the misogyny, the xenophobia, the nativism, the white sense of grievance that will undoubtedly be unleashed now that we have destroyed the values that have bound us.

We all knew these hatreds lurked under the thinnest veneer of civility. That civility finally is gone. In its absence, we may realize just how imperative that politesse was. It is the way we managed to coexist.

If there is a single sentence that characterizes the election, it is this: “He says the things I’m thinking.” That may be what is so terrifying. Who knew that so many tens of millions of white Americans were thinking unconscionable things about their fellow Americans? Who knew that tens of millions of white men felt so emasculated by women and challenged by minorities? Who knew that after years of seeming progress on race and gender, tens of millions of white Americans lived in seething resentment, waiting for a demagogue to arrive who would legitimize their worst selves and channel them into political power? Perhaps we had been living in a fool’s paradise. Now we aren’t.

This country has survived a civil war, two world wars and a Great Depression. There are many who say we will survive this, too. Maybe we will, but we won’t survive unscathed. We know too much about each other to heal. No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things. Nor can we pretend that democracy works and that elections have more-or-less happy endings. Democracy only functions when its participants abide by certain conventions, certain codes of conduct and a respect for the process.

No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things.

The virus that kills democracy is extremism because extremism disables those codes. Republicans have disrespected the process for decades. They have regarded any Democratic president as illegitimate. They have proudly boasted of preventing popularly elected Democrats from effecting policy and have asserted that only Republicans have the right to determine the nation’s course. They have worked tirelessly to make sure that the government cannot govern and to redefine the purpose of government as prevention rather than effectuation. In short, they haven’t believed in democracy for a long time, and the media never called them out on it.

Democracy can’t cope with extremism. Only violence and time can defeat it. The first is unacceptable, the second takes too long. Though Trump is an extremist, I have a feeling that he will be a very popular president and one likely to be re-elected by a substantial margin, no matter what he does or fails to do. That’s because ever since the days of Ronald Reagan, rhetoric has obviated action, speechifying has superseded governing.

Trump was absolutely correct when he bragged that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and his supporters wouldn’t care. It was a dictator’s ugly vaunt, but one that recognized this election never was about policy or economics or the “right path/wrong path,” or even values. It was about venting. So long as Trump vented their grievances, his all-white supporters didn’t care about anything else. He is smart enough to know that won’t change in the presidency. In fact, it is only likely to intensify. White America, Trump’s America, just wants to hear its anger bellowed. This is one time when the Bully Pulpit will be literal.

The media can’t be let off the hook for enabling an authoritarian to get to the White House. Long before he considered a presidential run, he was a media creation — a regular in the gossip pages, a photo on magazine covers, the bankrupt (morally and otherwise) mogul who hired and fired on The Apprentice. When he ran, the media treated him not as a candidate, but as a celebrity, and so treated him differently from ordinary pols. The media gave him free publicity, trumpeted his shenanigans, blasted out his tweets, allowed him to phone in his interviews, fell into his traps and generally kowtowed until they suddenly discovered that this joke could actually become president.

Just as Trump has shredded our values, our nation and our democracy, he has shredded the media. In this, as in his politics, he is only the latest avatar of a process that began long before his candidacy. Just as the sainted Ronald Reagan created an unbridgeable chasm between rich and poor that the Republicans would later exploit against Democrats, conservatives delegitimized mainstream journalism so they could fill the vacuum.

With Trump’s election, I think that the ideal of an objective, truthful journalism is dead, never to be revived.

Retiring conservative talk show host Charlie Sykes complained that after years of bashing from the right wing, the mainstream media no longer could perform their function as reporters, observers, fact dispensers, and even truth tellers, and he said we needed them. Like Goebbels before them, conservatives understood they had to create their own facts, their own truths, their own reality. They have done so, and in so doing effectively destroyed the very idea of objectivity. Trump can lie constantly only because white America has accepted an Orwellian sense of truth — the truth pulled inside out.

With Trump’s election, I think that the ideal of an objective, truthful journalism is dead, never to be revived. Like Nixon and Sarah Palin before him, Trump ran against the media, boomeranging off the public’s contempt for the press. He ran against what he regarded as media elitism and bias, and he ran on the idea that the press disdained working-class white America. Among the many now-widening divides in the country, this is a big one, the divide between the media and working-class whites, because it creates a Wild West of information — a media ecology in which nothing can be believed except what you already believe.

With the mainstream media so delegitimized — a delegitimization for which they bear a good deal of blame, not having had the courage to take on lies and expose false equivalencies — they have very little role to play going forward in our politics. I suspect most of them will surrender to Trumpism — if they were able to normalize Trump as a candidate, they will no doubt normalize him as president. Cable news may even welcome him as a continuous entertainment and ratings booster. And in any case, like Reagan, he is bulletproof. The media cannot touch him, even if they wanted to. Presumably, there will be some courageous guerillas in the mainstream press, a kind of Resistance, who will try to fact-check him. But there will be few of them, and they will be whistling in the wind. Trump, like all dictators, is his own truth.

What’s more, Trump already has promised to take his war on the press into courtrooms and the halls of Congress. He wants to loosen libel protections, and he has threatened Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos of Amazon with an antitrust suit. Individual journalists have reason to fear him as well. He has already singled out NBC’s Katy Tur, perhaps the best of the television reporters, so that she needed the Secret Service to escort her from one of his rallies. Jewish journalists who have criticized Trump have been subjected to vicious anti-Semitism and intimidation from the white nationalist “alt-right.” For the press, this is likely to be the new normal in an America in which white supremacists, neo-Nazi militias, racists, sexists, homophobes and anti-Semites have been legitimized by a new president who “says what I’m thinking.” It will be open season.

This converts the media from reporters to targets, and they have little recourse. Still, if anyone points the way forward, it may be New York Times columnist David Brooks. Brooks is no paragon. He always had seemed to willfully neglect modern Republicanism’s incipient fascism (now no longer incipient), and he was an apologist for conservative self-enrichment and bigotry. But this campaign season, Brooks pretty much dispensed with politics. He seemed to have arrived at the conclusion that no good could possibly come of any of this and retreated into spirituality. What Brooks promoted were values of mutual respect, a bolder sense of civic engagement, an emphasis on community and neighborhood, and overall a belief in trickle-up decency rather than trickle-down economics. He is not hopeful, but he hasn’t lost all hope.

For those of us now languishing in despair, this may be a prescription for rejuvenation. We have lost the country, but by refocusing, we may have gained our own little patch of the world and, more granularly, our own family. For journalists, Brooks may show how political reporting, which, as I said, is likely to be irrelevant in the Trump age, might yield to a broader moral context in which one considers the effect that policy, strategy and governance have not only on our physical and economic well-being but also on our spiritual well-being. In a society that is likely to be fractious and odious, we need a national conversation on values. The media could help start it.

But the disempowered media may have one more role to fill: They must bear witness. Many years from now, future generations will need to know what happened to us and how it happened. They will need to know how disgruntled white Americans, full of self-righteous indignation, found a way to take back a country they felt they were entitled to and which they believed had been lost. They will need to know about the ugliness and evil that destroyed us as a nation after great men like Lincoln and Roosevelt guided us through previous crises and kept our values intact. They will need to know, and they will need a vigorous, engaged, moral media to tell them. They will also need us.

We are not living for ourselves anymore in this country. Now we are living for history.

Neal Gabler Neal Gabler is an author of five books and the recipient of two LA Times Book Prizes, Time magazine’s non-fiction book of the year, USA Today‘s biography of the year and other awards. He is also a senior fellow at The Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, and is currently writing a biography of Sen. Edward Kennedy.

http://billmoyers.com/story/farewell-america/#.WLWQK_Sbyos.facebook

Why Did We Stop Teaching Political History?

By FREDRIK LOGEVALL and KENNETH OSGOODAUG. 29, 2016

American political history, it would seem, is everywhere. Hardly a day passes without some columnist comparing Donald J. Trump to Huey Long, Father Coughlin or George Wallace. “All the Way,” a play about Lyndon B. Johnson, won a slew of awards and was turned into an HBO film.

But the public’s love for political stories belies a crisis in the profession. American political history as a field of study has cratered. Fewer scholars build careers on studying the political process, in part because few universities make space for them. Fewer courses are available, and fewer students are exposed to it. What was once a central part of the historical profession, a vital part of this country’s continuing democratic discussion, is disappearing.

This wasn’t always the case. Political history — a specialization in elections and elected officials, policy and policy making, parties and party politics — was once a dominant, if not the dominant, pursuit of American historians. Many of them, in turn, made vital contributions to the political process itself, whether it was Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s role in the Kennedy White House or C. Vann Woodward’s “The Strange Career of Jim Crow,” which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the “bible of the civil rights movement.”

But somewhere along the way, such work fell out of favor with history departments. According to the American Historical Association’s listing of academic departments, three-quarters of colleges and universities now lack full-time researchers and teachers in the subject.

There appears to be little effort to fill the void. A search of the leading website advertising academic jobs in history, H-Net, yielded just 15 advertisements in the last 10 years specifically seeking a tenure-track, junior historian specializing in American political history. That’s right: just 15 new jobs in the last decade.

As a result, the study of America’s political past is being marginalized. Many college catalogs list precious few specialized courses on the subject, and survey courses often give scant attention to political topics. The pipelines for new Ph.D.s in the subject, and therefore new faculty, are drying up, and in many graduate programs one can earn a doctorate in American history with little exposure to politics.

How did it come to this? The trend began in the 1960s. America’s misadventure in Vietnam led to broad questioning of elite decision making and conventional politics, and by extension those historical narratives that merely recounted the doings of powerful men. Likewise, the movements of the 1960s and 1970s by African-Americans, Latinos, women, homosexuals and environmental activists brought a new emphasis on history from the bottom up, spotlighting the role of social movements in shaping the nation’s past.

The long overdue diversification of the academy also fostered changing perspectives. As a field once dominated by middle-class white males opened its doors to women, minorities and people from working-class backgrounds, recovering the lost experiences of these groups understandably became priority No. 1.

These transformations enriched the national story. But they also carried costs. Perceived “traditional” types of history that examined the doings of governing elites fell into disfavor, and political history suffered the effects (as did its cousins, diplomatic and military history).

The ramifications extend well beyond higher education. The drying up of scholarly expertise affects universities’ ability to educate teachers — as well as aspiring lawyers, politicians, journalists and business leaders — who will enter their professions having learned too little about the nation’s political history. Not least, in this age of extreme partisanship, they’ll be insufficiently aware of the importance that compromise has played in America’s past, of the vital role of mutual give-and-take in the democratic process.

Change will not be easy, and will not come from history departments facing tight budgets and competing demands. What is needed, to begin with, is for university administrators to identify political history as a priority, for students and families to lobby their schools, for benefactors to endow professorships and graduate fellowships and for lawmakers and school boards to enact policies that bolster its teaching — and without politicizing the enterprise.

This matters. Knowledge of our political past is important because it can serve as an antidote to the misuse of history by our leaders and save us from being bamboozled by analogies, by the easy “lessons of the past.” It can make us less egocentric by showing us how other politicians and governments in other times have responded to division and challenge. And it can help us better understand the likely effects of our actions, a vital step in the acquisition of insight and maturity.

Judging by the state of our political discourse during this dismal campaign season, the change can’t come soon enough.

Fredrik Logevall is a professor of history and international affairs at Harvard. Kenneth Osgood is a professor of history at the Colorado School of Mines.

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A version of this op-ed appears in print on August 29, 2016, on page A17 of the New York edition with the headline: The End of Political History?. Today’s Paper|Subscribe

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/29/opinion/why-did-we-stop-teaching-political-history.html

If Philosophy Won’t Diversify, Let’s Call It What It Really Is

by Jay L. Garfield and Bryan W. Van Norden, THE STONE New York Times, MAY 11, 2016 It would be better to teach Confucius alongside with Kant, but until then, we should face facts.

Excerpt -

The vast majority of philosophy departments in the United States offer courses only on philosophy derived from Europe and the English-speaking world. …Given the importance of non-European traditions in both the history of world philosophy and in the contemporary world, and given the increasing numbers of students in our colleges and universities from non-European backgrounds, this is astonishing…The present situation is hard to justify morally, politically, epistemically or as good educational and research training practice… Non-European philosophical traditions offer distinctive solutions to problems discussed within European and American philosophy, raise or frame problems not addressed in the American and European tradition, or emphasize and discuss more deeply philosophical problems that are marginalized in Anglo-European philosophy…Of course, we believe that renaming departments would not be nearly as valuable as actually broadening the philosophical curriculum and retaining the name “philosophy.” Philosophy as a discipline has a serious diversity problem, with women and minorities underrepresented at all levels among students and faculty, even while the percentage of these groups increases among college students. Part of the problem is the perception that philosophy departments are nothing but temples to the achievement of males of European descent. Our recommendation is straightforward: Those who are comfortable with that perception should confirm it in good faith and defend it honestly; if they cannot do so, we urge them to diversify their faculty and their curriculum. This is not to disparage the value of the works in the contemporary philosophical canon: Clearly, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with philosophy written by males of European descent; but philosophy has always become richer as it becomes increasingly diverse and pluralistic. We offer one last piece of advice to philosophy departments that have not already embraced curricular diversity. For demographic, political and historical reasons, the change to a more multicultural conception of philosophy in the United States seems inevitable. Heed the Stoic adage: “The Fates lead those who come willingly, and drag those who do not.”

Jay L. Garfield is a professor of humanities, Yale-NUS College in Singapore, and the author of “Engaging Buddhism: Why It Matters to Philosophy.”
Bryan W. Van Norden is a professor of philosophy at Vassar College, and the author of “Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy.”

Full text

 

The vast majority of philosophy departments in the United States offer courses only on philosophy derived from Europe and the English-speaking world. For example, of the 118 doctoral programs in philosophy in the United States and Canada, only 10 percent have a specialist in Chinese philosophy as part of their regular faculty. Most philosophy departments also offer no courses on Africana, Indian, Islamic, Jewish, Latin American, Native American or other non-European traditions. Indeed, of the top 50 philosophy doctoral programs in the English-speaking world, only 15 percent have any regular faculty members who teach any non-Western philosophy.

Given the importance of non-European traditions in both the history of world philosophy and in the contemporary world, and given the increasing numbers of students in our colleges and universities from non-European backgrounds, this is astonishing. No other humanities discipline demonstrates this systematic neglect of most of the civilizations in its domain. The present situation is hard to justify morally, politically, epistemically or as good educational and research training practice.

We each — alongside many colleagues and students — have worked for decades to persuade American philosophy departments to broaden the canon of works they teach; we have urged our colleagues to look beyond the European canon in their own research and teaching. While a few philosophy departments have made their curriculums more diverse, and while the American Philosophical Association has slowly broadened the representation of the world’s philosophical traditions on its programs, progress has been minimal.

The profession as a whole remains resolutely Eurocentric. It therefore seems futile to rehearse arguments for greater diversity one more time.

Many philosophers and many departments simply ignore arguments for greater diversity; others respond with arguments for Eurocentrism that we and many others have refuted elsewhere. The profession as a whole remains resolutely Eurocentric. It therefore seems futile to rehearse arguments for greater diversity one more time, however compelling we find them.

Instead, we ask those who sincerely believe that it does make sense to organize our discipline entirely around European and American figures and texts to pursue this agenda with honesty and openness. We therefore suggest that any department that regularly offers courses only on Western philosophy should rename itself “Department of European and American Philosophy.” This simple change would make the domain and mission of these departments clear, and would signal their true intellectual commitments to students and colleagues. We see no justification for resisting this minor rebranding (though we welcome opposing views in the comments section to this article), particularly for those who endorse, implicitly or explicitly, this Eurocentric orientation.

Some of our colleagues defend this orientation on the grounds that non-European philosophy belongs only in “area studies” departments, like Asian Studies, African Studies or Latin American Studies. We ask that those who hold this view be consistent, and locate their own departments in “area studies” as well, in this case, Anglo-European Philosophical Studies.

Others might argue against renaming on the grounds that it is unfair to single out philosophy: We do not have departments of Euro-American Mathematics or Physics. This is nothing but shabby sophistry. Non-European philosophical traditions offer distinctive solutions to problems discussed within European and American philosophy, raise or frame problems not addressed in the American and European tradition, or emphasize and discuss more deeply philosophical problems that are marginalized in Anglo-European philosophy. There are no comparable differences in how mathematics or physics are practiced in other contemporary cultures.

Of course, we believe that renaming departments would not be nearly as valuable as actually broadening the philosophical curriculum and retaining the name “philosophy.” Philosophy as a discipline has a serious diversity problem, with women and minorities underrepresented at all levels among students and faculty, even while the percentage of these groups increases among college students. Part of the problem is the perception that philosophy departments are nothing but temples to the achievement of males of European descent. Our recommendation is straightforward: Those who are comfortable with that perception should confirm it in good faith and defend it honestly; if they cannot do so, we urge them to diversify their faculty and their curriculum.

This is not to disparage the value of the works in the contemporary philosophical canon: Clearly, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with philosophy written by males of European descent; but philosophy has always become richer as it becomes increasingly diverse and pluralistic. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) recognized this when he followed his Muslim colleagues in reading the work of the pagan philosopher Aristotle, thereby broadening the philosophical curriculum of universities in his own era. We hope that American philosophy departments will someday teach Confucius as routinely as they now teach Kant, that philosophy students will eventually have as many opportunities to study the “Bhagavad Gita” as they do the “Republic,” that the Flying Man thought experiment of the Persian philosopher Avicenna (980-1037) will be as well-known as the Brain-in-a-Vat thought experiment of the American philosopher Hilary Putnam (1926-2016), that the ancient Indian scholar Candrakirti’s critical examination of the concept of the self will be as well-studied as David Hume’s, that Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), Kwazi Wiredu (1931- ), Lame Deer (1903-1976) and Maria Lugones will be as familiar to our students as their equally profound colleagues in the contemporary philosophical canon. But, until then, let’s be honest, face reality and call departments of European-American Philosophy what they really are.

We offer one last piece of advice to philosophy departments that have not already embraced curricular diversity. For demographic, political and historical reasons, the change to a more multicultural conception of philosophy in the United States seems inevitable. Heed the Stoic adage: “The Fates lead those who come willingly, and drag those who do not.”

Jay L. Garfield is a professor of humanities, Yale-NUS College in Singapore, and the author of “Engaging Buddhism: Why It Matters to Philosophy.”

Bryan W. Van Norden is a professor of philosophy at Vassar College, and the author of “Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy.”

Now in print: “The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments,” An anthology of essays from The Times’s philosophy series, edited by Peter Catapano and Simon Critchley, published by Liveright Books.

The Stone

A forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless. The series moderator is Simon Critchley, who teaches philosophy at The New School for Social Research.

 

Are We Approaching the End of Human History?

by Noam Chomsky, In These Times, posted on BillMoyers.com, September 9, 2014

It is not pleasant to contemplate the thoughts that must be passing through the mind of the Owl of Minerva as the dusk falls and she undertakes the task of interpreting the era of human civilization, which may now be approaching its inglorious end.

“The likely end of the era of civilization is foreshadowed in a new draft report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the generally conservative monitor of what is happening to the physical world.”

The era opened almost 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, stretching from the lands of the Tigris and Euphrates, through Phoenicia on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean to the Nile Valley, and from there to Greece and beyond. What is happening in this region provides painful lessons on the depths to which the species can descend.

The land of the Tigris and Euphrates has been the scene of unspeakable horrors in recent years. The George W. Bush-Tony Blair aggression in 2003, which many Iraqis compared to the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, was yet another lethal blow. It destroyed much of what survived the Bill Clinton-driven UN sanctions on Iraq, condemned as “genocidal” by the distinguished diplomats Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, who administered them before resigning in protest. Halliday and von Sponeck’s devastating reports received the usual treatment accorded to unwanted facts.

One dreadful consequence of the US-UK invasion is depicted in a New York Times “visual guide to the crisis in Iraq and Syria”: the radical change of Baghdad from mixed neighborhoods in 2003 to today’s sectarian enclaves trapped in bitter hatred. The conflicts ignited by the invasion have spread beyond and are now tearing the entire region to shreds.

Much of the Tigris-Euphrates area is in the hands of ISIS and its self-proclaimed Islamic State, a grim caricature of the extremist form of radical Islam that has its home in Saudi Arabia. Patrick Cockburn, a Middle East correspondent for The Independent and one of the best-informed analysts of ISIS, describes it as “a very horrible, in many ways fascist organization, very sectarian, kills anybody who doesn’t believe in their particular rigorous brand of Islam.”

Cockburn also points out the contradiction in the Western reaction to the emergence of ISIS: efforts to stem its advance in Iraq along with others to undermine the group’s major opponent in Syria, the brutal Bashar Assad regime. Meanwhile a major barrier to the spread of the ISIS plague to Lebanon is Hezbollah, a hated enemy of the US and its Israeli ally. And to complicate the situation further, the US and Iran now share a justified concern about the rise of the Islamic State, as do others in this highly conflicted region.

Egypt has plunged into some of its darkest days under a military dictatorship that continues to receive US support. Egypt’s fate was not written in the stars. For centuries, alternative paths have been quite feasible, and not infrequently, a heavy imperial hand has barred the way.

After the renewed horrors of the past few weeks it should be unnecessary to comment on what emanates from Jerusalem, in remote history considered a moral center.

Eighty years ago, Martin Heidegger extolled Nazi Germany as providing the best hope for rescuing the glorious civilization of the Greeks from the barbarians of the East and West. Today, German bankers are crushing Greece under an economic regime designed to maintain their wealth and power.

The likely end of the era of civilization is foreshadowed in a new draft report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the generally conservative monitor of what is happening to the physical world.

Putting the Freeze on Global Warming

The report concludes that increasing greenhouse gas emissions risk “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems” over the coming decades. The world is nearing the temperature when loss of the vast ice sheet over Greenland will be unstoppable. Along with melting Antarctic ice, that could raise sea levels to inundate major cities as well as coastal plains.

The era of civilization coincides closely with the geological epoch of the Holocene, beginning over 11,000 years ago. The previous Pleistocene epoch lasted 2.5 million years. Scientists now suggest that a new epoch began about 250 years ago, the Anthropocene, the period when human activity has had a dramatic impact on the physical world. The rate of change of geological epochs is hard to ignore.

One index of human impact is the extinction of species, now estimated to be at about the same rate as it was 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the Earth. That is the presumed cause for the ending of the age of the dinosaurs, which opened the way for small mammals to proliferate, and ultimately modern humans. Today, it is humans who are the asteroid, condemning much of life to extinction.

The IPCC report reaffirms that the “vast majority” of known fuel reserves must be left in the ground to avert intolerable risks to future generations. Meanwhile the major energy corporations make no secret of their goal of exploiting these reserves and discovering new ones.

A day before it ran a summary of the IPCC conclusions, The New York Times reported that huge Midwestern grain stocks are rotting so that the products of the North Dakota oil boom can be shipped by rail to Asia and Europe.

One of the most feared consequences of anthropogenic global warming is the thawing of permafrost regions. A study in Science magazine warns that “even slightly warmer temperatures [less than anticipated in coming years] could start melting permafrost, which in turn threatens to trigger the release of huge amounts of greenhouse gases trapped in ice,” with possible “fatal consequences” for the global climate.

Arundhati Roy suggests that the “most appropriate metaphor for the insanity of our times” is the Siachen Glacier, where Indian and Pakistani soldiers have killed each other on the highest battlefield in the world. The glacier is now melting and revealing “thousands of empty artillery shells, empty fuel drums, ice axes, old boots, tents and every other kind of waste that thousands of warring human beings generate” in meaningless conflict. And as the glaciers melt, India and Pakistan face indescribable disaster.

Sad species. Poor Owl.

The views expressed in this post are the author’s alone, and presented here to offer a variety of perspectives to our readers.

 

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among his recent books are Hegemony or Survival, Failed States, Power Systems, Occupy, and Hopes and Prospects. His latest book, Masters of Mankind, will be published soon by Haymarket Books, which is also reissuing twelve of his classic books in new editions over the coming year. His website is www.chomsky.info.

An Informed and Educated Electorate

By Thom HartmannTruthout.org, December 6, 2010

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.…Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right. —Thomas Jefferson

Talk Radio News Service, based in Washington, D.C., is owned and run by my dear friend Ellen Ratner. Ellen is an experienced and accomplished journalist, and a large number of interns and young journalism school graduates get their feet wet in reporting by working for and with her.

In March 2010 I was in Washington for a meeting with a group of senators, and I needed a studio from which to do my radio and TV show. Ellen was gracious enough to offer me hers. I arrived as three of her interns were producing a panel-discussion type of TV show for Web distribution at www.talkradionews.com, in which they were discussing for their viewing audience their recent experiences on Capitol Hill.

One intern panelist related that a White House correspondent for one of the Big Three TV networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) had told her that the network registered a huge amount of interest 66 Rebooting the American Dream in the “hot story” that week of a congressman’s sexual indiscretions. Far less popular were stories about the debates on health care, the conflicts in the Middle East, and even the Americans who had died recently in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“So that’s the story they have to run with on the news,” the intern said, relating the substance of the network correspondent’s thoughts, “because that’s what the American people want to see. If the network doesn’t give people what they want to see, viewers will tune away and the network won’t have any viewers, ratings, or revenues.”

The two other interns commiserated with the first about what a shame it was that Americans wanted the titillating stories instead of the substantive ones, but they accepted without question that the network was therefore obliged to “give people what they want.”

When they finished their panel discussion, I asked these college students if they knew that there was a time in America when radio and TV stations and networks broadcast the actual news— instead of infotainment—because the law required them to do so. None of them had any idea what I was talking about. They were mystified: why would a station or network broadcast programs that were not popular or not what people wanted?

The Devolution of Broadcast News

But the reality is that from the 1920s, when radio really started to go big in the United States, until Reagan rolled it back in 1987, federal communications law required a certain amount of “public service” programming from radio and television stations as a condition of retaining their broadcast licenses.

The agreement was basic and simple: in exchange for the media owners’ being granted a license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to use the airwaves—owned by the public—they had to serve the public interest first, and only then could they go about the business of making money. If they didn’t do so, when it came time to renew their license, public groups and individuals could show up at public hearings on the license renewal and argue for the license’s being denied.

One small way that stations lived up to their public-service mandate was by airing public-service announcements (PSAs) for local nonprofit groups, community calendars, and other charitable causes. They also had to abide by something called the Fairness Doctrine, which required them to air diverse viewpoints on controversial issues. Separately, during election campaigns, broadcasters had to abide by the Equal Time Rule, which required them to provide equal airtime to rival candidates in an election.

But the biggest way they proved they were providing a public service and meeting the requirements of the Fairness Doctrine was by broadcasting the news. Real news. Actual news. Local, national, and international news produced by professional, oldschool journalists.

Because the news didn’t draw huge ratings like entertainment shows—although tens of millions of Americans did watch it every night on TV and listened to it at the top of every hour on radio from coast to coast—and because real news was expensive to produce, with bureaus and correspondents all over the world, news was a money-loser for all of the Big Three TV networks and for most local radio and TV stations.

But it was such a sacred thing—this was, aft er all, the keystone that held together the station’s license to broadcast and thus to do business—it didn’t matter if it lost money. It made all the other money-making things possible.

Through much of the early 1970s, I worked in the newsroom of a radio station in Lansing, Michigan. It had been started and was then run by three local guys: an engineer, a salesman, and a radio broadcaster. They split up the responsibilities like you’d expect, and all were around the building most days and would hang out from time to time with the on-air crew—all except the sales guy. I was forbidden from talking with him because I worked in news. Th ere could be no hint—ever, anywhere—that our radio station had violated the FCC’s programming-in-the-public-interest mandate by, for example, my going easy on an advertiser in a news story or promoting another advertiser in a different story. News had to be news, separate from profits and revenue—and if it wasn’t, I’d be fired on the spot.

News, in other words, wasn’t part of the “free market.” It was part of our nation’s intellectual commons and thus the price of the station’s license.

After Reagan blew up the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, two very interesting things happened. The first was the rise of rightwing hate-speech talk radio, starting with Rush Limbaugh that very year. The second, which really stepped up fast after President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which further deregulated the broadcast industry, was that the moneylosing news divisions of the Big Three TV networks were taken under the wings of their entertainment divisions—and wrung dry. Foreign bureaus were closed. Reporters were fired. Stories that promoted the wonders of advertisers or other companies (like movie production houses) owned by the same mega-corporations that owned the networks began to appear. And investigative journalism that cast a bright light on corporate malfeasance vanished.

And because newscasts had ads, and those ads were sold based on viewership, the overall arc and content of the news began to be dictated by what the public wanted to know rather than by what they needed to know to function in a democratic society.

The interns were aghast. “Reagan did that?!” one said, incredulous. I said yes and that Bill Clinton then helped the process along to its current sorry state by signing the Telecommunications Act, leading to the creation of the Fox “News” Channel in October 1996 and its now-legal ability to call itself a news operation while baldly promoting what it knows to be falsehoods or distortions.

Now here we are in 2010, and the news media is an abject failure when it comes to reporting the real news—news that citizens in a democracy need to know. Even Ted Koppel, no flaming liberal by any means, said in an April 2010 interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that he thought the state of the news industry was “a disaster.”[1] He went on:

I think we are living through the final stages of what I would call the Age of Entitlement. We fight two wars without raising a single nickel to support them. We feel entitled to mortgages whether we have jobs or not. We feel entitled to make $10 million, $50 million, or $100 million even though the enterprise we headed up is a total failure. And we now feel entitled not to have the news that we need but the news that we want. We want to listen to news that comes from those who already sympathize with our particular point of view. We don’t want the facts anymore.

Koppel was also well aware of the influence of profit-making on the news organizations, which he believed was driving the degradation of news so that it appealed to our baser instincts:

I think it’s the producer [of the particular news show] who is at fault, who desperately needs the consumer…In the good old days, when you only had three networks—ABC, NBC, and CBS—there was competition, but the competition still permitted us to do what was in the public interest. These days all the networks have to fi ght with the dozens of cable outlets that are out there, the Internet that is out there, and they are all competing for the almighty dollar, and the way to get there is to head down to the lowest common denominator.

When we talk about news that people “need,” we are really talking about the intellectual and informational nutrition that is essential for the health and the well-being of our democracy. We need an educated and informed citizenry to participate in our democratic institutions and elections, and we’re not going to get that if we keep dumbing down the news and giving people what they want and not what they and society need.

Breaking Up the Media Monopolies

The Studio System

Back in the 1930s and 1940s, the eight biggest movie studios owned the majority of movie theaters in America. A Paramount theater, for example, would show only movies produced by Paramount’s movie studios, which featured only people under contract to Paramount. The result was that the studios could make (or break) any movie star and control what people could see in their local community. It was very profitable to the studios, but it was stifling to competition and creativity and therefore a disservice to the moviegoing audience.

So through that era, in a series of actions that lasted almost a decade and which were capped by the big studios’ signing a major consent decree with the feds, the federal government tried to force the big theaters to open up the business to competition. The big theaters said that they would, even agreeing to the 1940 Paramount Decree, but they continued with business as usual.

The issue came to a head when it was argued in an antitrust case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948. Th e Court, in a 7-to-1 decision, ruled against the movie giants, saying that they could no longer have total control of the vertically integrated system—from contracting with actors to making movies to showing them in their own theaters across the country. They had to choose: operate in either the movie making business or the movie showing business. They couldn’t do both.

The result was the beginning of the end of the “kingmaker” movie studio monopoly and a boon for independent filmmakers. It also led to a proliferation of new theaters, from ones in urban areas (many retrofitting old opera or burlesque houses) to the new fad of drive-in movie theaters. Th e industry today is infinitely more diverse and creative as a result of that breakup.

Television and the Prime Time Access Rule

In the late 1960s, television was going through a similar vertical integration, with the Big Three TV networks dominating the content of local television stations they either owned or had as affiliates. In response the FCC promulgated the Prime Time Access Rule in 1970, which dictated that at least one hour out of the four “prime time” hours on every local TV station in the nation would have to come from some source other than the network.

This opened the door to independent TV production companies, like MTM Enterprises, which produced several sitcoms derived from the work of Mary Tyler Moore, and competition from the new television divisions of old-line movie houses, such as Twentieth Century Fox’s producing a TV version of M*A*S*H and Paramount’s producing Happy Days.[2]

Although the rules against vertical theater integration are no longer enforced, and the Prime Time Access Rule was blown up in 1996, both the movie and TV industries are broadly more diverse in their programming than they would have been without these “market interventions” that increased competition and decreased monopoly. Which brings us to radio.

The Vicious Circle of Conservative Talk Radio

Many people wonder why the big 50,000-watt AM stations (and even many of the big 25,000- and 10,000-watt stations) across the country carry exclusively conservative programming, particularly programs featuring Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck. In most cases, it’s a simple matter of the economics of monopoly.

One of the largest owners of the biggest (full-power) radio stations in the country is a mega-corporation that also owns the largest talk-radio syndication service in the nation. When the corporation’s stations carry shows that its syndication service owns, it makes money both from the local station ownership and from the ownership of the syndication service. When the stations carry shows from other syndicators or independent shows, the corporation loses the syndication revenue and the local station (which it also owns) loses typically five minutes of advertising inventory per hour that it must barter with the syndicated show for in exchange for the right to air the show.

Thus, so long as the radio industry is allowed to run like the movie studio system in the 1940s, the “studio”—in this case the giant corporation that owns radio stations as well as the nation’s largest talk-radio syndication service—will have an outsized influence on what shows up on the very biggest stations in the largest markets across the country. Because of the huge, booming voice of those stations, those shows will have a significant edge in “finding” listeners (and vice versa), making those shows “successful” and thus creating demand for them from the independent stations. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Some progressives have suggested that radio needs a “fairness doctrine” where a government panel will determine how much “liberal” or “conservative” programming each station carries and then force the stations to “balance” out any disequilibrium. But who decides what is “liberal” or “conservative”? Is there a checklist of political positions that a government watchdog would have to go through—immigration, taxes, protecting the commons, gay rights, abortion, gun control, foreign policy? It would be a mess, particularly since many of those issues don’t lend themselves to easy pigeonholing.

A much easier way to balance the playing field is simply to bring into the marketplace real competition by separating syndication companies from local radio stations so that the stations will no longer have an incentive to carry programming because “it’s in the family” and instead will look for shows that can attract and hold an audience.

Programming in the Public Interest

We need to return to the notion of “programming in the public interest,” making news back into news. We also need to start enforcing the Sherman Antitrust Act and use it to break up the large media monopolies that have re-formed since the Reagan and Clinton eras, thus effectively rolling back media deregulation.

And this isn’t limited to radio and TV. Consumer-friendly regulation almost always has a similar effect in breaking up monopolies when it’s designed to help people get around the monopoly.

For example, the company that owns the copper wires, cable, G3 or G4 wireless, or fiber-optic cabling going into your house also owns the exclusive right to carry the content that goes over that infrastructure. If you have a cable company supplying your home, it’s probably competing only with the local phone company for your business. Because those two companies (and maybe a mobile provider) are the only ones “competing” for your business, they can easily keep prices—and profits—very high.

In most other developed countries, however, regardless of who owns and maintains the wires, cable, or fiber, anybody can off er content over it. Th e rationale for this is that infrastructure of physical wires and the wireless frequencies constitutes a “natural monopoly” that heavily uses public spaces (cables and phone lines go through and along public streets and rights-of-way); and so while a company can make a small profit on that part of its business, the wires and the wireless frequencies are really a part of the commons that can be regulated.

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On the other hand, these developed countries believe that the content delivery should be competitive. After all, this is where most of the innovation comes from: it’s not a matter of the newest, coolest copper wires; it’s the content that draws customers.

The result of this is that the average citizen in France, for example, pays about $33 per month for what the New York Times described as “Internet service twice as fast as what you get from Verizon or Comcast, bundled with digital high-definition television, unlimited long distance and international calling to 70 countries and wireless Internet connectivity for your laptop or smartphone throughout most of the country.”[3]

And that’s all from private companies, with no government subsidies. Why? Because small and new companies are allowed to compete by the government’s requiring whichever company carries the signal (wire, cable, fiber, wireless) to make that signal path available to any company that wants to off er content to consumers.

Competition—mandated by the French government—has driven the price down and innovation up. Th e average French citizen is not only paying one-fifth of what the average American pays for such services but is also getting better quality, more variety, and much faster Internet access.

Breaking up the media monopolies and fostering more competition, innovation, and creativity in the media world clearly has public benefits, especially in ensuring that people have access to information they need to participate in our democracy. An informed and educated electorate would be one major result of such government regulation.

The same result can also be helped by making higher education more accessible to the average American.

Access to Higher Education

Jefferson’s Tombstone

Thomas Jefferson’s tombstone contains an epitaph that he wrote before his death with a directive that not a single word be changed. He had been the president of the United States for two terms and the vice president for one, was a member of the Virginia legislature, and was a famous inventor and architect as well as the author of nearly a million words in various letters, diaries, notebooks, books, pamphlets, and rants. But he chose not to mention any of that on his gravestone.

Besides the dates of his birth and death, he chose to be remembered for three things that he did in his 83 years of life on earth:

Here Was Buried Thomas Jefferson

Author of the Declaration of American Independence

of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom

and Father of the University of Virginia

Writing the Declaration of Independence was an obvious choice, and declaring forever his opposition to integrating church and state also made sense (although it got him demoted in 2010 in schoolbooks in the state of Texas). But “Father of the University of Virginia” being more important than “President of the United States of America”?

Jefferson, it turns out, had this wacky idea. He actually believed that young people should be able to go to college regardless of their ability to pay, their station in life, and how rich or poor their parents were. He thought that an educated populace was the best defense of liberty and democracy in the new nation he’d helped birth.

So the University of Virginia that he started was free.

Reagan’s Legacy

Ronald Reagan certainly thought that that was a wacky idea, and he was diametrically opposed to the Jeffersonian ideal. When he took office as governor of California in 1967, he quickly called for an end to free tuition at the University of California and an across-the- board 20 percent cut in state funding for higher education.[4] He then argued for a cut in spending on construction for higher education in the state and set up the fi ring of the popular president of the university, Clark Kerr, whom he deemed “too liberal.”

When asked why he was doing away with free college in California, Reagan said that the role of the state “should not be to subsidize intellectual curiosity.”

Reagan further referred to college students who nationwide were protesting the Vietnam War as “brats,” “cowardly fascists,” and “freaks.” Adding that if the only way to “restore order” on the nation’s campuses was violence, that was fine with him. Just a few days before the Kent State shootings, he famously said, “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with. No more appeasement!”[5]

The trend that Reagan began with the UC system continues to this day. During Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s tenure, state funding for education saw drastic cuts and tuition for undergraduate students rose by more than 90 percent.[6]

Reagan set a tone as governor of California that metastasized across the nation through the 1970s and became federal policy when he was elected president in 1980. By the time he left offi ce in 1988, federal funding for education in the United States had declined from 12 percent of total national educational spending in 1980 to just 6 percent.[7]

Interestingly, to find most of this information you have to dive into recent biographies of the former president or read old newspaper archives that are usually not available online. Not a word of Reagan’s role in slashing the UC funding exists, for example, on the Wikipedia pages for either the University of California or Reagan himself. Conservative foundations have poured millions of dollars into campaigns to scrub the Internet clean when it comes to Reagan’s past (and that of most other right-wingers).

Yet the reality is that before the Reagan presidency, it was possible for any American student with academic competence to attend college and graduate without debt.

Even in Michigan in the late 1960s, where education was not free but was highly subsidized by the state, my wife paid her way through college by working part-time as a waitress at a Howard Johnson’s. To the extent that I went to college (I completed less than a year altogether), I paid my own way by working as a DJ for $2.35 per hour, running my own TV repair business, pumping gas, and working as a cook at a Big Boy restaurant on weekends.

Such a scenario is unthinkable today. Instead public higher education has become a big business and is oft en totally corporate; costs are through the roof; and if you’re not from a very wealthy family, odds are you’ll graduate college with a debt that can take decades to repay. As a result, the United States is slipping in virtually every measurement of innovation, income, and competitiveness. A highly educated workforce is good for innovation and entrepreneurialism: every one of the top 20 innovative countries in the world—except the USA—offers free or very inexpensive college to qualified students.

Ireland took a cue from the pre-Reagan University of California and began offering free college tuition to all Irish citizens and a fl at-rate registration fee of 900 euros per year for all European Union citizens. Th e result, decades later, is that Ireland has gone from having a backwater economy that was largely based on agriculture and tourism to becoming one of the high-tech and innovation capitals of the world.

Ironically, Ireland’s vision—and California’s pre-Reagan vision—of education was at the core of Thomas Jefferson’s hopes for the country he helped found.

Jefferson’s Vision

On June 14, 1898, more than 70 years aft er Jefferson’s death, a new building (then called the Academic Building, now called Cabell Hall) was inaugurated at the University of Virginia. One of the nation’s most prominent attorneys at the time, James C. Carter of New York City, gave the dedication speech.[8] Carter noted that when Jefferson retired from public office, he was only 66 years old and still energetic and enthusiastic to do something for his country. That something was founding the University of Virginia. Carter said:

He had cherished through life a passion for the acquisition of knowledge, and was one of the best educated men, if not the best educated man, of his country and time…

He had in early manhood formed a scheme of public education, which, from time to time, had pressed itself on his attention throughout even the busiest years of his public life. It was part of his political philosophy.

Lover of liberty as he was, firmly as he believed that popular government was the only form of public authority consistent with the highest happiness of men, he yet did not believe that any nation or community could permanently retain this blessing without the benefit of the lessons of truth, and the discipline of virtue to be derived only from the intellectual and moral education of the whole people.

Carter noted that Jefferson had laid out, in numerous letters and discussions throughout his life, a broad overview of how education should be conducted in the United States. Jefferson envisioned the division of states into districts and wards with primary schools and the establishment of colleges and universities where deserving students “might acquire, gratis, a further and higher education.”

Jefferson envisioned the goal of free public education—from childhood through university—to be straightforward. In a report he prepared for a state commission in Virginia, Jefferson laid out the six purposes of education:[9]

1. To give to every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business.

2. To enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts in writing.

3. To improve, by reading, his morals and faculties.

4. To understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either.

5. To know his rights; to exercise with order and justice those he retains; to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor and judgment.

6. And, in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness, all the social relations under which he shall be placed.

In other words, a well-educated citizenry can “choose with discretion” the elected representatives who are the holders of our government that protects our rights, and hold those politicians accountable “with diligence, with candor and judgment.”

Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, promised during his election campaign of 1980 to “eliminate the Department of Education” from the federal government; and he appointed his friend William Bennett, who had campaigned and written extensively about destroying the federal Department of Education, as secretary of education —akin to asking the fox to guard the chicken coop. Between Reagan’s ax hacking at the roots of our educational systems and his tax cuts to “starve the beast” of government, we are now left with the highest illiteracy rate in the developed world and an electorate that is spectacularly vulnerable to demagoguery and cynical political manipulation.

The experiment of Reaganomics and Reagan’s anti-intellectual worldview are demonstrably disordered and dead; we must put them behind us and build anew our country on the solid Jeffersonian foundation of good and free education for all.

Combine that with breaking up the media monopolies in this country and fostering competition and its attendant innovation through intelligent regulation of the “natural monopolies” in our nation, and we would have a more informed citizenry with better and faster access to real news and information—including information about our body politic.

These “radical” concepts of free public education all the way up to graduate degrees, breaking up companies that vertically integrate entire markets (particularly in the media), and requiring infrastructure-owning companies to off er their infrastructure to a wide variety of competitors work quite well in dozens of countries around the world. They can here too.

NOTES

1. “Ted Koppel Assesses the Media Landscape,” BBC World News, April 12, 2010, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/world _news_america/8616838.stm.

2. “Studio,” Museum of Broadcast Communications, http://www .museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=studio.

3. Yochai Benler, “Ending the Internet’s Trench Warfare,” New York Times, March 20, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/21/ opinion/21Benkler.html.

4. Wallace Turner, “Gov. Reagan Proposes Cutback in U. of California Appropriation; Would Impose Tuition Charge on Students from State; Kerr Weighs New Post,” New York Times, January 7, 1967, cited in Gary K. Clabaugh, “Th e Educational Legacy of Ronald Reagan,” NewFoundations.com, January 24, 2009, http://www.newfounda tions.com/Clabaugh/CuttingEdge/Reagan.html#_edn3.

5. Steven V. Roberts, “Ronald Reagan Is Giving ‘Em Heck, New York Times, October 25, 1970, cited in Clabaugh, “Educational Legacy.”

6. Richard C. Paddock, “Less to Bank on at State Universities,” Los Angeles Times, October 7, 2007, http://articles.latimes.com/2007/ oct/07/local/me-newcompact7.

7. Gary K. Clabaugh, “Th e Educational Legacy of Ronald Reagan,” NewFoundations.com, January 24, 2009, http://www.newfounda tions.com/Clabaugh/CuttingEdge/Reagan.html#_edn3.

8. James C. Carter, The University of Virginia: Jeff erson Its Father, and His Political Philosophy: An Address Delivered upon the Occasion of the Dedication of the New Buildings of the University, June 14, 1898 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Library, 1898).

9. Albert Ellery Berch, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 2 (Washington, DC: Th omas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1905), http://www.constitution.org/tj/jeff 02.txt.

Thom Hartmann is a New York Times bestselling Project Censored Award winning author and host of a nationally syndicated progressive radio talk show. You can learn more about Thom Hartmann at his website and find out what stations broadcast his program. He is also now has a daily television program at RT Network. You can also listen to Thom over the Internet.

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Overview – Education

“The new education must be less concerned with sophistication than compassion. It must recog­nize the hazards of tribalism. It must teach people the most difficult lesson of all—to look at someone anywhere in the world and be able to see the image of himself, or herself. The old emphasis upon superficial differences that separate peoples must give way to education for citi­zenship in the human community. With such an education and with such self-understanding, it is possible that some nation or people may come forward with the vital inspiration that men need no less than food. Leadership on this higher level does not require mountains of gold or thunder­ing propaganda. It is concerned with human destiny. Human destiny is the issue. People will respond.”  The New Education — Norman Cousins

Our economies have for many years been moving away from old style manufacturing to services. That transition is set to continue, and requires new skills sets. Meanwhile, traditional and digital technologies are converging and becoming more integrated; and changing how we find, use, present and understand information.…All of these will require new literacies not only for work but for living a fulfilled life, coping with the new complexities of our societies, and engaging as a citizen. Literacy refers, traditionally, to the ability to read and understand printed formats. Transliteracy has been coined to highlight the need to be able to ‘read and understand’ concepts and ideas across a growing range of formats and platforms — oral, print, visual, digital — as technologies merge and integrate, enabling radically new approaches to presentation, verification and distortion of content. They focus ever more on critical thinking, the ability to question, analyse, challenge; seeing arguments from different perspectives; articulating ideas…It is almost certainly a case of both and, not either or nature and nurture. With social mobility, unemployment and the need for growth all hot political topics, new literacies could be the key to opening new routes to success.  What Does It Mean To Be Literate In The 21st Century? By Sheila Moorcroft, Shaping Tomorrow, posted on Alternet.org, June 19, 2012

President Obama’s Remarks to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, March 10, 2009 – “…America will not remain true to its highest ideals…if we don’t do a far better job than we’ve been doing of educating our sons and daughters; unless we give them the knowledge and skills they need in this new and changing world. For we know that economic progress and educational achievement have always gone hand in hand in America…The source of America’s prosperity has never been merely how ably we accumulate wealth, but how well we educate our people. This has never been more true than it is today…what’s at stake is nothing less than the American Dream…I’m calling on our nation’s governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don’t simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and entrepreneurship and creativity…”

Report Argues U.S. Is Neglecting, Undervaluing Education in the Humanities

The Billionaires’ War Against Public Education 

The Big Picture: A 40-Year Scan of the Right-Wing Corporate Takeover of America 

The humanities are just as important as STEM classes

Indoctrinating Religious Warriors

By CHARLES M. BLOW, NewYork Times, January 3, 2014

Excerpt

In 2009, the gap between the share of Republicans and Democrats who believed in evolution was just 10 percentage points, 54 percent and 64 percent, respectively. Last year, that gap widened to a whopping 24 points because as the percentage of Democrats who believed in evolution inched up to 67 percent, the percentage of Republicans believing so plummeted to 43 percent…news comes via a survey released this week by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project…I don’t personally have a problem with religious faith, even in the extreme, as long as it doesn’t supersede science and it’s not used to impose outdated mores on others. But some people see our extreme religiosity itself as a form of dysfunction.  In a 2009 paper in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, Gregory Paul, an independent researcher, put it this way: “The level of relative and absolute societal pathology in the United States is often so severe that it is repeatedly an outlier that strongly reinforces the correlation between high levels of poor societal conditions and popular religiosity.” But I believe that something else is also at play here, something more cynical. I believe this is a natural result of a long-running ploy by Republican party leaders to play on the most base convictions of conservative voters in order to solidify their support. Convince people that they’re fighting a religious war for religious freedom, a war in which passion and devotion are one’s weapons against doubt and confusion, and you make loyal soldiersThere has been anti-science propagandizing running unchecked on the right for years, from anti-gay-equality misinformation to climate change denials...Pew found that most staunch conservatives were regular viewers of Fox News, preferring the network to any other news source. Fox has helped to ingrain the idea that Republicanism and religiosity are embattled and oppressed, fighting for survival against the forces of secular extremists…The Christians-on-the-defensive stance was front and center in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries…Newt Gingrich…citing “secular bigotry”…This is a tactic to keep the Republican rank-and-file riled up, to divert their attention from areas of common sense and the common good. After all, infidels are deserving of your enmity, not your empathy.•

Full text

In 2009, the gap between the share of Republicans and Democrats who believed in evolution was just 10 percentage points, 54 percent and 64 percent, respectively.

Last year, that gap widened to a whopping 24 points because as the percentage of Democrats who believed in evolution inched up to 67 percent, the percentage of Republicans believing so plummeted to 43 percent… Now, more Republicans believe that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time” than believe in evolution.

This sad news comes via a survey released this week by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.

In fact, this isn’t only sad; it’s embarrassing.

I don’t personally have a problem with religious faith, even in the extreme, as long as it doesn’t supersede science and it’s not used to impose outdated mores on others.

But some people see our extreme religiosity itself as a form of dysfunction.  In a 2009 paper in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, Gregory Paul, an independent researcher, put it this way: “The level of relative and absolute societal pathology in the United States is often so severe that it is repeatedly an outlier that strongly reinforces the correlation between high levels of poor societal conditions and popular religiosity.”

But I believe that something else is also at play here, something more cynical. I believe this is a natural result of a long-running ploy by Republican party leaders to play on the most base convictions of conservative voters in order to solidify their support. Convince people that they’re fighting a religious war for religious freedom, a war in which passion and devotion are one’s weapons against doubt and confusion, and you make loyal soldiers…

There has been anti-science propagandizing running unchecked on the right for years, from anti-gay-equality misinformation to climate change denials.

When you look at white evangelical Protestants, the evolution denialism gets even worse. Only 27 percent of that group believes in evolution. According to a 2011 Pew report, while white evangelical Protestants make up only 18 percent of the population overall, they “make up 43 percent of Republicans who fall into the category of staunch conservatives.”

Pew defines “staunch conservatives” as those who “take extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues — on the size and role of government, on economics, foreign policy, social issues and moral concerns. Most agree with the Tea Party, and even more very strongly disapprove of Barack Obama’s job performance.”

Pew found that most staunch conservatives were regular viewers of Fox News, preferring the network to any other news source. Fox has helped to ingrain the idea that Republicanism and religiosity are embattled and oppressed, fighting for survival against the forces of secular extremists.

There was, for instance, the Fox News-fabricated “War on Christmas” and its fight against the “Happy Holidays Syndrome.” The face of the network’s defense-of-Christmas crusade has been the “Killing Jesus” co-author Bill O’Reilly, who this season declared a victory. In December, he said on his show: “It isn’t a mythical war on Christmas. It’s real, and we just won.”

But Fox is not alone. The Christians-on-the-defensive stance was front and center in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries. During a debate in January of that year, this question from a Virginia man was put to the candidates: “Given that you oppose gay marriage, what do you want gay people to do who want to form loving, committed, long-term relationships? What is your solution?”

Newt Gingrich responded, in part citing “secular bigotry”: “The bigotry question goes both ways, and there’s a lot more anti-Christian bigotry today than there is concern on the other side, and none of it gets covered by the news media.”

There was a sustained round of applause for Gingrich’s statement. So of course, the eventual nominee, the self-proclaimed “severely conservative” eater of “cheesy grits” Mitt Romney, had to ride Gingrich’s coattails by chiming in, “As you can tell, the people in this room feel that Speaker Gingrich is absolutely right, and I do too.”

Last year, the Liberty Institute and the Family Research Council released an updated, 189-page version of a book called “Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America.”

This is a tactic to keep the Republican rank-and-file riled up, to divert their attention from areas of common sense and the common good. After all, infidels are deserving of your enmity, not your empathy.

I invite you to join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at chblow@nytimes.com.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/04/opinion/blow-indoctrinating-religious-warriors.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

Thinking for the Future

By DAVID BROOKS, New York Times, December 9, 2013

We’re living in an era of mechanized intelligence, an age in which you’re probably going to find yourself in a workplace with diagnostic systems, different algorithms and computer-driven data analysis. If you want to thrive in this era, you probably want to be good at working with intelligent machines. As Tyler Cowen puts it in his relentlessly provocative recent book, “Average Is Over,” “If you and your skills are a complement to the computer, your wage and labor market prospects are likely to be cheery. If your skills do not complement the computer, you may want to address that mismatch.”

So our challenge for the day is to think of exactly which mental abilities complement mechanized intelligence. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few mental types that will probably thrive in the years ahead.

Freestylers. As Cowen notes, there’s a style of chess in which people don’t play against the computer but with the computer. They let the computer program make most of the moves, but, occasionally, they overrule it. They understand the strengths and weaknesses of the program and the strengths and weaknesses of their own intuition, and, ideally, they grab the best of both.

This skill requires humility (most of the time) and self-confidence (rarely). It’s the kind of skill you use to overrule your GPS system when you’re driving in a familiar neighborhood but defer to it in strange surroundings. It is the sort of skill a doctor uses when deferring to or overruling a diagnostic test. It’s the skill of knowing when an individual case is following predictable patterns and when there are signs it is diverging from them.

Synthesizers. The computerized world presents us with a surplus of information. The synthesizer has the capacity to surf through vast amounts of online data and crystallize a generalized pattern or story.

Humanizers. People evolved to relate to people. Humanizers take the interplay between man and machine and make it feel more natural. Steve Jobs did this by making each Apple product feel like nontechnological artifact. Someday a genius is going to take customer service phone trees and make them more human. Someday a retail genius is going to figure out where customers probably want automated checkout (the drugstore) and where they want the longer human interaction (the grocery store).

Conceptual engineers. Google presents prospective employees with challenges like the following: How many times in a day do a clock’s hands overlap? Or: Figure out the highest floor of a 100-story building you can drop an egg from without it breaking. How many drops do you need to figure this out? You can break two eggs in the process.

They are looking for the ability to come up with creative methods to think about unexpected problems.

Motivators. Millions of people begin online courses, but very few actually finish them. I suspect that’s because most students are not motivated to impress a computer the way they may be motivated to impress a human professor. Managers who can motivate supreme effort in a machine-dominated environment are going to be valuable.

Moralizers. Mechanical intelligence wants to be efficient. It will occasionally undervalue essential moral traits, like loyalty. Soon, performance metrics will increasingly score individual employees. A moralizing manager will insist that human beings can’t be reduced to the statistical line. A company without a self-conscious moralizer will reduce human interaction to the cash nexus and end up destroying morale and social capital.

Greeters. An economy that is based on mechanized intelligence is likely to be a wildly unequal economy, even if the government tries to combat that inequality. Cowen estimates that perhaps 15 percent of workers will thrive, with plenty of disposable income. There will be intense competition for these people’s attention. They will favor restaurants, hotels, law firms, foundations and financial institutions where they are greeted by someone who knows their name. People with this capacity for high-end service, and flattery, will find work.

Economizers. The bottom 85 percent is likely to be made up of people with less marketable workplace skills. Some of these people may struggle financially but not socially or intellectually. That is, they may not make much running a food truck, but they can lead rich lives, using the free bounty of the Internet. They could use a class of advisers on how to preserve rich lives on a small income.

Weavers. Many of the people who struggle economically will lack the self-motivation to build rich inner lives for themselves. Many are already dropping out of the labor force in record numbers and drifting into disorganized, disaffected lifestyles. Public and private institutions are going to hire more people to fight this social disintegration. There will be jobs for people who combat the dangerous inegalitarian tendencies of this new world.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/10/opinion/brooks-thinking-for-the-future.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20131210

Learning to Think for Ourselves

by Michael Roth, President, Wesleyan University, HuffingtonPost.com, 11/12/2013

Over the last year there has been a steady stream of articles about the “crisis in the humanities,” fostering a sense that students are stampeding from liberal education toward more vocationally oriented studies. In fact, the decline in humanities enrollments, as some have pointed out, is wildly overstated, and much of that decline occurred in the 1970s and 1980s. Still, the press is filled with tales about parents riding herd on their offspring lest they be attracted to literature or history rather than to courses that teach them to develop new apps for the next, smarter phone.

America has long been ambivalent about learning for its own sake, at times investing heavily in free inquiry and lifelong learning, and at other times worrying that we need more specialized training to be economically competitive. A century ago these worries were intense, and then, as now, pundits talked about a flight from the humanities toward the hard sciences.

Liberal education was a core American value in the first half of the 20th century, but a value under enormous pressure from demographic expansion and the development of more consistent public schooling. The increase in the population considering postsecondary education was dramatic. In 1910 only 9 percent of students received a high school diploma; by 1940 it was 50 percent. For the great majority of those who went on to college, that education would be primarily vocational, whether in agriculture, business, or the mechanical arts. But even vocationally oriented programs usually included a liberal curriculum — a curriculum that would provide an educational base on which one could continue to learn — rather than just skills for the next job. Still, there were some then (as now) who worried that the lower classes were getting “too much education.”

Within the academy, between the World Wars, the sciences assumed greater and greater importance. Discoveries in physics, chemistry, and biology did not seem to depend on the moral, political, or cultural education of the researchers — specialization seemed to trump broad humanistic learning. These discoveries had a powerful impact on industry, the military, and health care; they created jobs! Specialized scientific research at universities produced tangible results, and its methodologies — especially rigorous experimentation — could be exported to transform private industry and the public sphere. Science was seen to be racing into the future, and some questioned whether the traditional ideas of liberal learning were merely archaic vestiges of a mode of education that should be left behind.

In reaction to this ascendancy of the sciences, many literature departments reimagined themselves as realms of value and heightened subjectivity, as opposed to so-called value-free, objective work. These “new humanists” of the 1920s portrayed the study of literature as an antidote to the spiritual vacuum left by hyperspecialization. They saw the study of literature as leading to a greater appreciation of cultural significance and a personal search for meaning, and these notions quickly spilled over into other areas of humanistic study. Historians and philosophers emphasized the synthetic dimensions of their endeavors, pointing out how they were able to bring ideas and facts together to help students create meaning. And arts instruction was reimagined as part of the development of a student’s ability to explore great works that expressed the highest values of a civilization. Artists were brought to campuses to inspire students rather than to teach them the nuances of their craft. During this interwar period a liberal education surely included the sciences, but many educators insisted that it not be reduced to them. The critical development of values and meaning was a core function of education.

Thus, despite the pressures of social change and of the compelling results of specialized scientific research, there remained strong support for the notion that liberal education and learning for its own sake were essential for an educated citizenry. And rather than restrict a nonvocational education to established elites, many saw this broad teaching as a vehicle for ensuring commonality in a country of immigrants. Free inquiry would model basic democratic values, and young people would be socialized to American civil society by learning to think for themselves.

By the 1930s, an era in which ideological indoctrination and fanaticism were recognized as antithetical to American civil society, liberal education was acclaimed as key to the development of free citizens. Totalitarian regimes embraced technological development, but they could not tolerate the free discussion that led to a critical appraisal of civic values. Here is the president of Harvard, James Bryant Conant, speaking to undergraduates just two years after Hitler had come to power in Germany:

To my mind, one of the most important aspects of a college education is that it provides a vigorous stimulus to independent thinking…. The desire to know more about the different sides of a question, a craving to understand something of the opinions of other peoples and other times mark the educated man. Education should not put the mind in a straitjacket of conventional formulas but should provide it with the nourishment on which it may unceasingly expand and grow. Think for yourselves! Absorb knowledge wherever possible and listen to the opinions of those more experienced than yourself, but don’t let any one do your thinking for you.

This was the 1930s version of liberal learning, and in it you can hear echoes of Thomas Jefferson’s idea of autonomy and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s thoughts on self-reliance.

In the interwar period the emphasis on science did not, in fact, lead to a rejection of broad humanistic education. Science was a facet of this education. Today, we must not let our embrace of STEM fields undermine our well-founded faith in the capacity of the humanities to help us resist “the straitjackets of conventional formulas.” Our independence, our freedom, has depended on not letting anyone else do our thinking for us. And that has demanded learning for its own sake; it has demanded a liberal education. It still does.

Cross-posted from Inside Higher Education. The op-ed draws on Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters, which will be published by Yale University Press in the spring.

Michael Roth

President, Wesleyan University

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-roth/learning-t