Many politicians and business leaders these days think the public education system is overvalued. After all, you don’t need to read The Great Gatsby to operate a power mower. You don’t have to know the atomic weight of carbon to empty bedpans or flip burgers. So why the fuss over the fact that Congress might allow the fixed interest rate on Stafford government-subsidized loans for college students to double this summer?
We know why the yahoo wing of the Republican Party — Rick Santorum is in the vanguard — thinks college educations are for snobs. It’s because colleges are staffed by the sort of people who teach evolution and contraception, and make you read things like Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man.
But many of us don’t understand why savvy businessmen such as Mitt Romney are just as likely as the yahoos to take a stand against government-subsidized education of the working classes. Paul Krugman explained today:
… Over the past 30 years, there has been a stunning disconnect between huge income gains at the top and the struggles of ordinary workers. You can make the case that the self-interest of America’s elite is best served by making sure that this disconnect continues, which means keeping taxes on high incomes low at all costs, never mind the consequences in terms of poor infrastructure and an under-trained work force.
And if underfunding public education leaves many children of the less affluent shut out from upward mobility, well, did you really believe that stuff about creating equality of opportunity?
So whenever you hear Republicans say that they are the party of traditional values, bear in mind that they have actually made a radical break with America’s tradition of valuing education. And they have made this break because they believe that what you don’t know can’t hurt them.
Krugman might have added that Romney and his CEO cronies — cheered on by media agents for globalization, such as the New York Times’ Tom Friedman — care nothing about fixing America’s education system because they care nothing about Americans. Once the global economy became a reality, they no longer had a reason to invest in education. They could outsource jobs that require advanced education, or import highly skilled workers. Anything but pay taxes to help educate Americans to do those jobs!
Yes, it’s true that college education isn’t for everybody, and that the need for trades people of all sorts is as important as the need for college-educated workers. But the ruling class’s antipathy to public education is about more than this. It’s about belief in government for the few rather than the many, and about the arrogant assumption by bloodless drones like Romney that the majority of Americans are going to passively accept serfdom as their lot in life.