#1611 Higher Education: the Myths, McCarthyism, and Change Makers (Transcripts)

Air Date 2/17/2024

Full Notes Page

Download PDF

Audio-Synced Transcript


JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [00:00:00] Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast in which we take a look at how the debate over education has been derailed from the legitimate concern to the past, focused on the downfalls of No Child Left Behind and Common Core policies into a cul-de-sac of ignorance over opposition to diversity, equity and inclusion programs and the teaching of critical race theory, not to mention the new McCarthyism that has sprung up to squash any criticism of Israel's genocidal war in Gaza. 

Sources today include the At Liberty podcast, The Majority Report, CounterSpin, The EdUp Experience Podcast, and Virtually Connecting & Equity Unbound, with additional members-only clips from The EdUp Experience and The Majority Report.

How to Dismantle the Anti-DEI Machine - At Liberty Podcast - Air Date 2-9-24

LEAH WATSON: So, in 2020, there was really a moment where people paused and considered racism. Professor Tillery just spoke about the importance of the racial reckoning in the workplace, but the [00:01:00] reckoning didn't just happen in the workplace. There was reflection about how all of our American institutions could become anti-racist institutions. Particular to education, as there is social progress, there's always immediate retrenchment, as we talked about. And almost immediately, in the face of these commitments to anti-racism and racial justice to embrace students of color in classrooms in a system that has never fully embraced them, to be honest, conservatives coordinated an attack, alleging that critical race theory was infiltrating schools. They started to create educational gag orders, primarily in the form of legislation, but also in the form of executive orders, school board rules, and attorney general opinions that prohibit discussion of racism and sexism, particularly systemic racism and sexism in classes.

And so the first educational gag order really built on [00:02:00] an executive order, 13950, that was signed by President Trump in September of 2020. And this was an executive order that prohibited discussion of eight enumerated concepts deemed to be divisive in workplaces, really in trainings for federal contractors.

And so after President Trump signed the executive order, it was challenged in court, struck down on constitutional basis in a preliminary injunction and was rescinded by Biden on the first day of the administration. But it really planted the seed for how to attack conversations that conservatives just frankly did not want to have.

So we saw legislation designed to prohibit these concepts and courses. It's called educational gag orders because it limits teachers from having these discussions with students. And legislation was introduced in over 40 states, laws were passed in over 20 states. 

These laws were in the K-12 context, but also in higher ed [00:03:00] too, and we've seen an increasing focus on higher ed in 2022 and 2023 as a way of limiting the ideas that people learn. 

So the ACLU is very proud to be at the forefront of this fight against classroom censorship. It is unprecedented in many respects. We filed the first challenge to an educational gag order in the country with co-counsel Lawyers Committee Under Civil Rights and Schulte, Roth and Zable. We filed this challenge in Oklahoma to HB 1775, alleging constitutional violations. We also filed a challenge in Florida with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Ballard Spahr. I should mention that both of these are with the ACLU of Oklahoma, the ACLU of Florida as well. And in that case, we continue to allege constitutional violations in the Florida's educational gag order, which is called the Stop Woke Act.

The Stop Woke Act prohibits discussions of systemic racism and sexism in K-12 [00:04:00] classrooms, higher education classrooms and workplaces. In that case, we were able to obtain an order, a preliminary injunction, blocking the state of Florida from enforcing the higher education provisions of the Stop Woke Act. And we are defending or arguing in support of that preliminary injunction before the 11th Circuit currently. 

Finally, we filed a case in New Hampshire on behalf of K-12 teachers challenging HB 2 and that case is proceeding as well, also, on constitutional grounds. There's a number of organizations involved in that case. I won't list all of those co-counsels, but we've really been leading this charge from the beginning, setting a framework for challenging these laws on unconstitutional grounds, obtaining favorable orders where the laws had been substantively reviewed by courts, and we're continuing to hold the line on what is permissible in classrooms, both in the K-12 and higher education setting.

KENDALL CIESEMIER - HOST, AT LIBERTY: Leah has [00:05:00] been busy. The education gag orders she's fighting against, and all of the anti-DEI efforts we've mentioned, are all a part of this same playbook, drawn up by the same people. 

But there's one person who is touted as the brains behind this whole operation, and that's conservative activist and journalist Christopher Rufo. Rufo is not a politician, but so many of his ideas have emerged to the forefront of conservative politics. 

CHRISTOPHER RUFO: What I'm concerned about and what millions of parents are really concerned about is things that are happening in hundreds of public schools in Illinois and Chicago, where they're teaching children as young as kindergarten, that whiteness is the devil.

What I've discovered is that critical race theory has become in essence the default ideology of the federal bureaucracy and is now being weaponized against the American people. 

LEAH WATSON: Individual conservatives, primarily Chris Ruffo, really manufactured hysteria around critical race theory by [00:06:00] utilizing Fox News to deliver reporting that has been, at best, identified to misrepresent the facts, at worst, debunked in some respects. But he's gone on Fox News a few times and stated the government is using critical race theory. It's infiltrated our workplaces and schools. Fox News collaborated in creating hysteria by using the term "critical race theory" more than 3,900 times in 2021, having Rufo on at least 50 times in 2021 and then continuing to stoke concerns using the Great Replacement Theory that any progress by BIPOC people comes at the expense of white people. And we've seen this very dangerous rhetoric resulting in violence against BIPOC communities. 

And so people felt like something new was happening and it was really bad for their students. Christopher Rufo said, "The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think critical race theory. We [00:07:00] have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans." And I think that quote is just so powerful because it's not about CRT and it's not about DEI. It's really about controlling what people have access to and what is said in our culture.

Fighting Back Against The GOP’s War On College w. Bradford Vivian - The Majority Report - Air Date 2-8-24

EMMA VIGELAND - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: We hear constantly from the right wing that no one can disagree anymore. No one can disagree anymore on college campuses, like the pink haired, pronoun youth are creating this chilling effect and there's no more free speech anymore on university campuses. When and how did that narrative really begin to form, based on your research into this phenomenon?

BRADFORD VIVIAN: Terrific. Right. So there is a story to this. And I think for US society, what I describe as the language of campus misinformation, really kicks into high gear around 2017. And that's for [00:08:00] very strategic reasons. If listeners think of the things they might have been reading in op eds and clickbait media around that time, there were many, many stories about speakers on college campuses who had, quote unquote, conservative views or traditional views, who were being protested and shut down and there were mobs, quote unquote, of coddled undergraduate students irrationally reacting to the mere idea that somebody would express a dissenting viewpoint on college campuses.

So the way in which that was reported, this language of describing what's allegedly happening on campuses, which was very scary and frightening and seemed anti-free speech, became popularized around 2017. But what I think was underreported was the fact that this was a strategic reactionary movement that was trying to make relatively free, diverse, pluralistic college campuses, where a lot of disagreement and [00:09:00] competing viewpoints are tolerated, seem very ugly and confrontational and try and drive down public support, particularly for state funded higher education. And if you think about what those speakers would have been speaking about, these were conscious efforts to try and antagonize and create some sort of conflict. What was allegedly so controversial on college campuses were not, say, talks about biology or ancient archeology or obscure parts of history, all these sort of myriad different academic subjects, but they were always forms of speech that were about antagonizing marginalized groups on college campuses to create very intentionally a spectacle, a confrontation, for a bunch of provocateurs and, for the most part, propagandists to market themselves that way. And this has become unfortunately sort of legitimized with a lot of pop psychology.

EMMA VIGELAND - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Well, it's a cottage [00:10:00] industry, too. i'm just thinking about just a few off the top of my head of these grifters that have made a ton of money off of this kind of thing. Brett Weinstein left college because he couldn't say what he wanted to say about, what was it? He's a biologist -- 

BRADFORD VIVIAN: The day of absence and stuff like that.

EMMA VIGELAND - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Oh, yeah, it's, it's nonsense. But now he has his COVID misinformation podcast. He's cashed in. Charlie Kirk, his whole thing with Turning Point USA is going to college is thickened here a diversity of viewpoint, and it hasn't been effective, but it's made a lot of people wealthy.

For your money, who are some of the most egregious actors in this space, currently propagating this myth? 

BRADFORD VIVIAN: It falls into what I would describe as a few groups and I think, right, there's definitely a sort of easily-described grifter group like you're describing. The number of organizations out there, for example -- and this is in the interest of free speech, they can do this, but I'm just describing what they do -- Turning Point USA, for example, YAF, [00:11:00] traditionally conservative speakers organizations. They speak on college campuses all the time. It's a very slim minority of incidents where you'll get a protest or some sort of conflict, but they make a lot of money and they gain a lot of political capital by speaking on campus, and on those campuses saying they're not allowed to speak on college campuses anymore.

So I think we should just be honest about the duplicity of that sort of unconstructive take on what's allegedly happening on campuses. 

I also think a lot of egregious things are happening when hyper-partisan, as I described them, reactionary legislatures in different states take up these narratives as pretexts for why actually we allegedly have to have tighter state control over higher education. We have to put political litmus tests on to ensure a mandatory pro-and-con viewpoint is getting taught in every classroom, which is not the way free circulation of ideas should [00:12:00] take place. 

And then finally, there's a lot of outside organizations who their ideas are not part of the normal process of university research and teaching. I'm thinking of groups like Heterodox Academy here, and books like The Coddling of the American Mind by attorney Greg Lukianoff and, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. These have a lot of populist centrist appeal. It goes across the board. but these are groups and messages that are about criticizing institutions of higher education from outside those institutions to try and create a negative perception of them in public discourse. 

Wadie Said on the New McCarthyism - CounterSpin - Air Date 12-22-23

JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: The FBI, as you also point out, they're trying to enlist campus law enforcement on these crackdowns and on these lists. And again, it's a kind of authority versus authority, and we've seen campus law enforcement resist those efforts when it comes to immigration, for [00:13:00] example. So in other words, these tools that are being used to get onto campus and name people who, we're going to call violators of law, campus authorities have had an opportunity to say the degree to which they're gonna get federal law enforcement involved in what they're doing, and they've chosen against it other times. So there are tools they have to use if they want to resist this kind of encroachment. 

WADIE SAID: That's a really interesting point because I think in the context of immigration, there's an understanding on behalf of university leadership around the country, private and public universities that immigration and foreign students and being attractive as a place where foreigners would want to come and study is a critical interest of the American university system and how it operates and generates, I hate to use this horrible phrase, but generates revenue. Basically it's a critical component [00:14:00] in the way the American university markets itself.

So, like you said, universities, when faced with draconian immigration laws and calls for crackdowns on immigrants, they resist, universities resist, and university administrations resist. What we saw, I think it was two weeks ago, with the university presidents of Harvard, MIT, and Penn being called before a committee on the House, to testify about, on campus tumult and the issue of anti Semitism, and they were faced with representative Stefanik saying that Intifada is a call for genocide of Jews, and from the river to the sea is a call for the genocide of Jews, which to me is an a factual assertion at best and a malicious falsehood at worst. And when that occurred, none of the university presidents challenged her [00:15:00] on the facts and said, this is an outrageous assertion that you're making. 

So, for example, in the Palestinian context, the 1st Intifada from 1987 to 1993 was a largely peaceful uprising against what was then and still now the longest military occupation of modern time. So it's a kind of a moment of great pride in the Palestinian consciousness, and she was basically equating it to a call for genocide of Jews. And the issue of the phrase from the river to the sea is also intentionally misunderstood and misused for purposes that don't reflect the facts of what it stands for. And none of the university president said anything about that. They didn't say, well, actually your assertion is wrong. They just dithered and wound themselves up, which provided fodder to people like Representative Stefanik and those who share her position, that this was somehow endorsing calls for genocide, which is, of course, a kind of monstrous twisting of the facts.

And [00:16:00] it's on that note that I think university administration don't fully grasp or are scared to grasp, and I can't figure out which it is. In my mind, for example, my question was, "do these university presidents really not know what the term Intifada means?" It means shaking off in Arabic. Or loosely translated an uprising. Do they really not know that? Or do they know, and are they scared to engage? Either way, it's alarming. 

So, I think that in that context, there's a real deep fear that university administrators must have. In grappling with these issues that they don't, for example, in the context of, say, immigration.

JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: Just to pivot from that, I feel a certain sense of desperation in terms of anybody asking questions is supposed to shut up, and then you go on TikTok or any other social media and you see all kinds of people, not only young people, saying, [00:17:00] "I just don't believe what the media is telling me. I see the message they're trying to give me, but I'm just not buying it.": And the idea that questioning and dissenting should mean that you should go away doesn't read to people, it doesn't land in the same way as maybe some folks will think that it is. 

But I do think that it has to do with some people's understanding, including my own, of law. You think that there's a law. Surely this is against the law, and if we just apply the law... and I remember this from a conversation I had with Noura Erakat a couple of years ago, the importance of not equating law with justice, and of helping the public conversation understand that law and justice are not the same thing. But it's a difficult thing to interpret and understand. 

WADIE SAID: It is for sure. So, one thing I think that you mentioned that was [00:18:00] exceedingly important to my view is that you're seeing the call for a crackdown, you're seeing attempt that what has been deemed McCarthyite or a new type of McCarthyism, and you're seeing young people to not letting it deter them. They're not being deterred, which is, I think, a real point of hope, a point of departure from the past from the McCarthy era itself. And. I think that when you have, for example, wealthy billionaires, hedge fund managers, saying they want to know what students are saying so that they don't hire them, I think you're hearing the message from students that also they don't really care to work for people like that. So they're going to continue to advocate for the principles that matter to them as opposed to kowtowing, to people they think are. Not worthy of their time or energy anyway, to begin with. There's no meeting of the mind there. [00:19:00] 

And to feed it into the last point, and what you were talking about with Noura the law itself is clearly, in this context, the material support law, but other laws that kind of target Palestinians and pro Palestinian advocacy, like we've seen over 30 states with anti BDS laws, et cetera, is there is a reckoning that's taking place between what people in this country believe about what they think their freedom should be, what they think their rights should be, the First Amendment at the heart of it, and the laws that the government has passed. 

It was really interesting to me that very early on in this current Israeli assault on Gaza, when the calls for the 1st, and a poll came out within a couple of weeks, when the 1st poll came out that said the majority of Americans support a ceasefire and, almost no one in Congress has called for it at this point. And Pramila Jayapal, the leader of the progressive caucus in Congress, [00:20:00] mentioned something, she said, the American people are not where Congress is on this issue, or she maybe said it the other way around, congress is not where the American people are. 

It's very interesting because you see popular support for a ceasefire continues to grow. The latest polls were, for example, that the handling of this current war, assault on Gaza, the 5th major one in the last 15 years, by the way, people are overwhelmingly unhappy with the Biden administration's response, and the Biden administration doesn't seem to understand why. So, the issue of justice and what is right and what is the country we should be standing for still incredibly contested despite government and certain political leaders on certain business leaders taking the opposite stand, and people are standing up for them, which is, I think, giving those of us who are deeply concerned and highly alarmed at what's going on in Gaza, and the [00:21:00] Middle East, more generally, a source of hope.

The Education Myth - How American Changed It's Relationship With School w. Jon Shelton - The Majority Report - Air Date 8-20-23

JON SHELTON: I'm a historian who does primarily late 20th century, and when I undertook this book, I was trying to understand how it was that Americans think about education over time, because I think there's something really important how Americans think about it recently, and what we expect it to do, and how that's led to some disastrous political consequences—I'm sure we'll get into that. 

But to answer that question, I had to go all the way back to the nation's founding and think about what it was that people, Americans at the nation's founding expected the education system to do, and, it's not that I was surprised, but when I studied this systematically, it was pretty clear to me that for the vast majority of American history, Americans didn't see education in terms of helping people get jobs. It was about everything but that. So, you go back to Thomas Jefferson in the 1770s, and let's not romanticize Jefferson. He only saw white people as being capable of, being citizens in a democracy, but he argued for a public education system in Virginia because he said, [00:22:00] Americans needed to be able to understand power and, in a new democracy, understand corruption and its many forms in order to ensure democracy continued. 

Going to the 19th century, you've got education reformers like Horace Mann pushing for education in order to, again, help Americans be citizens in a democracy. Mann was really thinking a little bit more about reigning in some of the impulses of democracy, but the point was he wasn't pushing for education and job training. And then, you can take this into, after the civil war, when freedmen and freed women in the, during the reconstruction era in the South, we're pushing for public education, but again, not because of that connection to job skills, but because they understood full quality of citizenship as connected to education and being good citizens. 

And you can go into the 20th century. Some of your listeners might be familiar with this presidential commission in the 1940s called the Truman Commission, which was obviously convened by President Truman. The Truman Commission is a fascinating thing to read because this commission essentially argued for two years of [00:23:00] tuition free higher education, but not because Americans needed job skills, because in the context of an increasingly complex world, Americans needed to be trained as citizens, they needed to be able to think broadly and understand that context.

So it's only very recently, comparatively speaking, relatively speaking that Americans have seen education primarily in terms of job training. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: And what I find fascinating about that brief history of the promotion of education as tied to the civic knowledge, people as citizens, is that it crosses over different periods in terms of technology and industry. Look, to become educated in Jefferson's time, the idea of it being a vocational investment would be absurd. You go and you apprentice, and I think that's arguable, well into the late 19th century. And then to see Truman, when we're certainly deep, [00:24:00] deep into the industrial revolution and past essentially, the idea that still you don't go to school to increase your earning potential, you go because there's an inherent value to society to have educated citizens. That's what I think is really fascinating about that broad stroke of history. 

JON SHELTON: Yeah, Sam, and that's such an important point because, if you take the flip side to that, which is, how is it that Americans thought about economic opportunity and economic security. And the way they thought about it, especially after the in the context of the Industrial Revolution and more and more working people effectively losing their economic independence, —having to work for wages in the marketplace and really having their economic fortunes dictated by increasingly wealthy employers—is the primary means that working people used to fight for a better future, it wasn't to, argue to their kids to go out and get a good education, it was "let's [00:25:00] organize unions." It's "let's push for minimum wage laws and maximum hour laws and child labor protections," which, up until very recently I thought was a settled question in this country, but apparently it's not.

Then that all culminates in the 1930s with the New Deal, where you have the institutionalization of many of these calls from working people, things like the Wagner Act, which enshrined workers rights to organize and collectively bargain and go on strike, which people at the time called labor's Magna Carta, social security. And then, in the 1940s, in the context of World War II, FDR even calls for an economic bill of rights, a second bill of rights, kind of crystallizing a lot of these things that working people have been pushing for. It was deeply popular. And that really framed the conversation in American politics after World War II for the next 30 or 40 years.

And I think, to a large extent, Americans have forgotten that. I don't want to romanticize that era by any means. We know that there's a lot of racial inequality that continues to exist, which is why the civil rights movement is there. It's a kind of breadwinner model that disadvantages is [00:26:00] women in the labor markets. But at the end of the day, the premise of American politics during those years was to try and secure and expand as many economic and social rights for Americans as possible. And that's really what we've lost in the past few decades. 

Resistance to Change in Higher Ed - with Dr. Brian Rosenberg - The EdUp Experience Podcast - Air Date 11-7-23

JOE ALLUSTIO - HOST, THE EDUP EXPERIENCE: And this raises what you define as a dilemma. And you say, "we've created a system in the United States in which we expect colleges and universities, especially those that are private, but increasingly those that are public as well, to come up with their own sources of funding. In essence, to act like businesses, even if they are nonprofit businesses, then we blame them for acting like businesses and call them greedy or duplicitous. We speak of higher education as a public good, fund it as a private good, and then blame it for developing strategies for maximizing revenue in an increasingly competitive environment." We're just getting hit from all sides, so how do you, as a leader, how would you recommend a president navigate a [00:27:00] situation like this, where you have this need for change, but then you have this dilemma that you describe here?

How do you press forward? 

DR. BRIAN ROSENBERG: Yeah I wish I had really easy answers and I would be the first to acknowledge that the book is much better at diagnosing the problem than at prescribing the cure, but I think that there are certain things that, if one studies change, presidents and other leaders within higher education simply have to acknowledge. 

One is that transformational change is not going to come through trying to build consensus. Every person who writes about change, everyone who studies change says the same thing, which is that more or less consensus is the enemy of innovation. This doesn't mean that you don't engage people in the process. It doesn't mean that you don't try to socialize some of these ideas, but typically what colleges do is look to engage as many people as possible, as many [00:28:00] constituencies as possible in the process of developing strategic plans and the process of change. And what you end up with is something that is the least objectionable to the largest number of people. 

The system that we have in higher education was designed to allow for very slow, very incremental change. In effect, it's a system designed to prevent dramatic change. And for much of the history of higher education, that has more or less worked, in the sense that colleges and universities tend to be institutions that have been around for a long time. And in part it's because they haven't zigged and zagged with every change in the job market or change in politics, but the question that I think everyone has to confront right now is, is that system really suited to this moment? 

That is, is a system that's designed to allow for very slow change [00:29:00] suited to a moment where the industry is under what I would describe as unprecedented financial pressure, unprecedented loss of public confidence, demographic problems, very much more diverse population and student body. Is that system, which is designed to move things along at a pretty glacial pace, is that system suited to the moment in which we are living right now? 

JOE ALLUSTIO - HOST, THE EDUP EXPERIENCE: I love this because I I personally feel like higher ed, it creates this, and I've written about it before, it's an assimilation culture. Where, if you believe you're a change maker and you try to create change, the structures exist to sap the energy from you almost. And if you're trying to do something yourself or your, there's so many layers that you have to break through that by the time you get the, at some point during that change, you have this moment where you go, [00:30:00] is this really worth it? And it's at that moment that you assimilate to the culture of higher education. Because a lot of times you'll go, "No, it's just not worth it. I'm going to leave that alone. It's not important right now. But could it help students? Could it make the business move faster?" it's like breaking through layer after layer. There's another brick wall there behind you. And you eventually assimilate to these 

How have you found that people who want to create change can stay focused on creating change without getting wins all the time? Because it does sap your innovative spirit. 

DR. BRIAN ROSENBERG: Yeah, well, first of all, you're exactly right, and the story with which I begin the book is essentially a story of exactly what you described—of pushing for a particular, at least a particular discussion and deciding after meeting a lot of resistance, and I literally say that we just decided it's not worth it. Too much energy, too little likelihood of success, too many other things to do. [00:31:00] And that is a very, very widespread experience within higher education. 

What I, and this gets to the earlier question about what I'd recommend to leaders, I think what you need to do is to give those people, and they exist on every campus, the people who do want to do things differently, who do want to come up with innovative ideas, try to give them some freedom to operate within some limited space without running into those walls. In change theory, it's sometimes called an ambidextrous organization. That is, one part of the organization, the main part, just goes on with business as usual. You don't ask everybody all of a sudden to change. 

But you have this other part off to the side. It can be very small. It could be an individual. It could be a small team. It could be a small group and you tell them run with your idea. Maybe you run an experimental course or an [00:32:00] experimental program, or you try teaching something in a different way. You don't try to convince 150 faculty members to do it that way, you just tell five faculty members, "okay, give that a shot. I'm not gonna I'm not going to stand in your way. I'm going to give you some funding to do that. Let's see if it works."

There is some evidence, based on research done mostly in Europe, that ideas that start in what we would call honors colleges where they do things differently and where people are given a lot of freedom, can then seep back into the main institution and change the way things are done.

What I would do with those people, if I were a leader is just give them as much freedom as possible to pursue their ideas without having to try to convince everyone at a faculty meeting that that's the way we should do things. And only after the ideas have proven to be successful, only after this evidence that, this might actually work, this might actually be interesting, do you then [00:33:00] widen the circle. I think too often we try to start with very large groups. 

So if you think about the way strategic plans are done, you'll get a call from the institution that goes out to everybody, alumni, faculty, students, "We're developing a new strategic plan. Send us your ideas." To me, that's the inverse of the way you should do it. That is, you should bring together a group of people who are the most open to change, who are the most creative, and have them work on really innovative ideas. And then you take the best ones, and you try gradually to sell those to the rest of the community. So you need to get those impediments out of the way of those people in whatever way that you can so that they don't finally say "it's not worth it."

Fighting Back Against The GOP’s War On College w. Bradford Vivian Part 2 - The Majority Report - Air Date 2-8-24

EMMA VIGELAND - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: I want to return to the William F. Buckley example that you give, because, as with most things in conservatism, what is new is old, and what is old is new again. The tropes are pretty easy to [00:34:00] identify once you cover this as much as I do, at least. The fact that this is a similar exploitation of the cultural anxiety that he engaged in. Do you mind drawing some parallels to campuses in the fifties and in the sixties at this time, and what's happening today? 

BRADFORD VIVIAN: Absolutely. Well, I think a lot of the crux of -- and I use the word "reactionary" because I think it's a little bit more specific, and I think a lot of self-described conservative politics about college campuses is really what I call reactionary, in a pretty standard political science definition there, is a movement that wants to say, okay, we've had enough change. We've had enough expansions of rights and culture has become open enough. And now we have to start putting limits on that or roll it back. They're reacting to change in a backward-looking notion. 

So I think we're in an era then of what I call ongoing [00:35:00] desegregation. We're not in a post-segregation era with respect to publicly-funded education and even private Ivy League education. A lot of what was going on in Buckley's time, if we think about his idea that college campuses are too liberal, that just doesn't live up to an understanding, basically, of what college campuses were like at that time. In the 50s, 60s, only until recently, there was a change where college campuses, very historically recently in the US, used to be primarily reserved for cultural and economic elites. Primarily women, people of color were largely systemically barred from those communities. And we can go on down the list. In Buckley's time, college meant more like almost exclusively Ivy League or distinguished state institutions.

And so I think, interestingly, the parallel is that we have a lot of messages now about saying, well, college campuses have [00:36:00] become too diverse and so forth. When you just start to get those percentages, we're really just within a generation or two where there are significant amounts on many university campuses of people of color, of people openly identifying as being from the LGBTQ community, international student populations.

The irony is then that a lot of these messages are reactionary, as I described them, because they sound like those things that people like Buckley and all kinds of radio hosts and ideologues were saying to resist desegregation in the 50s and 60s. And now we're in an era where we're truly, historically speaking, just starting to get something like a more authentically diverse representative, and fact-based for that reason, free speech, all these different people, these communities. We're approaching something like a more diverse meritocracy and trying to attain it. And that's [00:37:00] where I think the reactionary kickback comes from and why it seems so reminiscent of some of those pro-segregationist ideas from the 50s and 60s to keep university education exclusive and out of reach for many people.

EMMA VIGELAND - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: You can see that in the two Supreme Court decisions that we just saw, the overturning of Biden's student debt cancellation and the affirmative action one. We want to keep these universities as institutions of capitalistic reproduction, as opposed to ones that are more emancipatory or allow for more diverse opinions and diverse people to have success. It's re-stratifying those lines. 

And you talk about this in the context of even the war on education more broadly with the anti-CRT stuff. And I would put Don't Say Gay in there as well and that kind of legislation. 

Can you talk about how [00:38:00] rapidly the war on colleges and universities, the free speech stuff trickled into legislation about public education, broadly down to kids in kindergarten and K through 12.

BRADFORD VIVIAN: Absolutely. It was quite rapid. So as I mentioned, I started being concerned about hearing all these messages about what's allegedly happening on campuses. And then it just not resembling the profession as I understood it very much at all. That was in about 2017, 2018, as I mentioned.

And when I was revising the book and it was going to press last year, I have notes in there about things that were just starting to happen in the Florida legislature under Ron DeSantis. But really we're living -- and that's why I say it's an ongoing struggle to fully desegregate campuses. You've had a lot of activity for several years now. There is a crisis of free speech and academic freedom in publicly-funded education. And the crisis is not coddled undergraduate [00:39:00] students, it's increasing political interference with what should be free, relatively self-governing academic affairs. And so I mentioned in the book for years now, the Goldwater Institute, a hyper partisan think tank has been marketing in political circles, politically marketing all kinds of draft legislation that now not only in Florida, it's also being adopted throughout numerous state legislatures. And I think it's very important for listeners to understand that, as you mentioned, the K through 12 education, you have these broad slogans now, the idea that students in K through 12 are being ideologically indoctrinated, there's no teaching going on, or that they're digesting critical race theory, or it's being forced upon them. Or that they're being sexualized by teaching about the full spectrum of gender and sexual diversity and humanity from a fact-based perspective. All these claims were first beta tested about college [00:40:00] campuses. So the disturbing thing for democracy, as well as K through 12 education, is that when you have these anti-university messages, they become a good engine for generating these political pretexts.

And now we have a historically significant wave of outright state censorship in these state legislatures. My objection to them is not because it's primarily from one political party. My objection to them is because it's anti-democratic, it's anti-academic, it puts a brake on basic liberties. 

And so there you have really a crisis now in what, if you look at what a lot of scholars describe as K through 12 education in addition to higher education, these are some of the most democratic spaces in the country, because they're governed by locally elected officials. You can go to your school board. But just like on college campuses, now we have provocateurs and propagandists trying to [00:41:00] gum up the works of what's in US culture, one of our, relatively speaking, more open and self governing forms of institutional decision making.

How to Dismantle the Anti-DEI Machine Part 2 - At Liberty Podcast - Air Date 2-9-24

KENDALL CIESEMIER - HOST, AT LIBERTY: For anti DEI dissenters, identity neutral practices are purported as the best solution, the antidote to racial inequity in our society and the most fair means of institutional decision making, as educational institutions continue to be among the fiercest battlegrounds for the anti DEI movement. Leah explained why protecting identity conscious practices is crucial at this time. 

LEAH WATSON: Research has shown, academic scholarship has shown for decades that racial colorblindness does not work. it's simply a mask to construe the perpetuation of our current systems of oppression. This is the exact type of instruction that our plaintiffs in Florida are teaching their students that have been recognized as foundational in their disciplines. And now, not [00:42:00] only has this research been challenged by conservatives without cause, they're seeking to eliminate any efforts to implement and to build upon the understandings that we have. 

Studies have shown that culturally responsive teaching methods benefit all students. They increase engagement, they increase attendance, they increase retention of material, students score better on tests because they can connect what they're learning to the world. These benefits are felt by BIPOC students, or the students whose identity is being featured as a way of bringing them into the learning, but also for white students as well.

And the benefits aren't limited to just academic achievement, but also how students relate to each other and are able to Identify and understand and appreciate each other's differences and collaborate together. Those benefits are something that's really important. And the Supreme Court has recognized that our schools are nurseries of democracy. They are supposed [00:43:00] to teach students not only academics, but prepare them for life in a multicultural society. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER - HOST, AT LIBERTY: Efforts to thwart these crucial DEI practices are so steeped in politics, and with the presidential election fast approaching, it's important to consider what implications the anti DEI machine could have. From presidential competitors Donald Trump and Nikki Haley, to race dropouts Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy, anti DEI is a cornerstone of Republican campaign strategy, and one that we should all keep a close watch over as the race continues. 

ALVIN TILLERY: It's all a political tool. The reason they've captured the courts and all of these things is because they believe that white grievance politics will carry the election for them. That's how they set strategy. And it's fundamentally backward because we know that in the modern day, I'm gonna let you in on a little secret, most white people don't hold overtly racist ideals. And so [00:44:00] that's both heartening and scary, because part of the reason the Republicans are committed to more authoritarian tendencies is because they know that they can't win fair and free elections anymore, because nobody likes their ideas.

And so you might say, like, "why did Ron DeSantis tank?" Ron DeSantis tanked in part Because this stance about DEI and anti wokeness is wildly unpopular. It's not surprising that Nikki Haley doesn't want to say that slavery was the cause of the Civil War, she went to a white segregation academy. 

But here's the other side of the coin. Right now, I watch Mr. Biden struggling for re election with Black voters, talking about Bidenomics and all of these things that he believes should be, you know, "Oh, I'm going to reduce the fees that you pay for overdraft at Chase." Oh yeah, that's going to get Black folks standing five hours at the polls in Atlanta for you.

The three things that my polling, and I'll share it [00:45:00] with you, show that Black people want the president to talk about are people getting shot, CRT bans, and DEI bans. For Black people, these are economic issues. I can't educate my kids to get into a good school and they can't be themselves. Mr. Biden is been not talking about any of this stuff. I'm not saying that he could win the fealty back of young people necessarily, but at some point, you've got to go negative against the other side and start saying what they're clearly going to do. And if you start messaging on that and get away from Bidenomics, whatever that is, you're going to have a chance.

KENDALL CIESEMIER - HOST, AT LIBERTY: All of this can seem really overwhelming. But the good news is that people like you and me actually have a role to play here. I asked Leah what we could do to help support her and her team in this effort, and what we could do ourselves. [00:46:00] 

LEAH WATSON: The efforts can honestly feel overwhelming sometimes, but I do think that there are a few things that anyone can do to stand up against what is happening right now, and it's very important to take action right now.

The first is to have conversations, talk about how you want students to learn about racism and sexism. How you want to have anti racist trainings in your office because you don't want to perpetuate systems of oppression. And so having those discussions to just counter the view, because the opposition is so loud with this vocal minority, it can feel like they have the majority of people and that's not true. And that hasn't ever been supported by polling that has been done or research that has been done. 

I think another thing is continuing to hold a line. If you are a business owner and your business has a DEI program, keep it. There's a huge chilling effect because of the threat of litigation, high profile litigation that's been filed, and then the conservatives are saying that [00:47:00] DEI is dead or DEI is illegal. They're making representations far broader than any court has made, and so continuing to maintain the programs that are in place now, voice your support for programs that are in place now is really important. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER - HOST, AT LIBERTY: Another thing that comes to mind is showing up at those contentious school board meetings and offering the opposite perspective. I think the last time that there was a school board election in my hometown, all of this subject matter came up. It was really interesting to see it hit my small suburb of Chicago, which just speaks to the fact that it's happening everywhere, and people did actually show up and counter the folks who were trying to ban some of this subject matter from being taught in schools. So we can actually show up in opposition or show up in even positive support for the expansion of culturally responsive education in our towns and communities. 

A Manifesto for Higher Education for Good with Laura Czerniewicz & Catherine Cronin - Virtually Connecting & Equity Unbound - Air Date 8-21-23

CATHERINE CRONIN: We [00:48:00] didn't want it to be glib hope. It is rooted in the actual and in theory and so on, but the whole goal is hope because we were inspired by work in climate justice, like Mary Robinson's work and social justice that doesn't just diagnose what's wrong, but really looks to paths towards hopeful futures. We're really inspired by those kinds of works and we wanted the book to be in that party, in that kind of literature.

We end the introduction and we send the book to its life once it finds readers as really a reflection on hope and hope in all its different guises as bomb, as antidote, as continual one of my favorite quotes again, "hope is invented every day" from James Baldwin.

And our last slide is from one of the authors of the book. This is Sherri Spelic who contributed a chapter that consists of a small collection of poems. 


CATHERINE CRONIN: Please, Laura. Yeah. 

LAURA CZERNIEWICZ: If my students and I [00:49:00] build anything, we must build imaginations. If my students and I build a city of care, a province of justice, a nation of acceptance, we are never done and always beginning.

BONUS Resistance to Change in Higher Ed Part 2 - with Dr. Brian Rosenberg - The EdUp Experience Podcast - Air Date 11-7-23

JOE ALLUSTIO - HOST, THE EDUP EXPERIENCE: Maybe we could talk about some of the impediments that you mentioned in your book, and kind of at the top of your list is 'ineffective pedagogy'. And you talk a lot about self-directed learning. And maybe you could tell listeners a little bit about this idea of how the current model just doesn't scale. It just gets more expensive and it's affordable to fewer people, and somehow we need to harness this self-directed learning, this sort of active learning that you talk about. Maybe you could share a little bit more, some of your thoughts about ineffective pedagogy and what you see as some potential solutions to it. 

DR. BRIAN ROSENBERG: Right. So, you know, as far as the ineffective pedagogy goes, you know, there is evidence based upon years and [00:50:00] years of research that people learn better by doing things than by listening to things, that engaged learning, active learning sticks more than sitting in a lecture hall and listening to someone talk to you. This is not to say that some lectures aren't brilliant. They can be works of art. They can be enjoyable, but ultimately the question is not how good is the lecture, but how much of the knowledge that is communicated in a lecture sticks. And there's a lot of evidence that if you're just a passive listener, it doesn't stick as well as if you are doing something.

And yet, we still consume an enormous amount of time and cost in higher education by simply sitting and delivering information to rooms full of students. And technology could do that in different ways and more efficient ways now so that that really valuable face to face time could be used for much more active, higher levels of learning.[00:51:00] 

Uh, but let's grant for a second. Look, I was a president of a really good liberal arts college for 17 years. If I could take the Macalester model and recreate it for every student across the world, I'd say, Sure, you know, it's great. You know, a smart faculty member in a room with a small number of students. But the simple reality is that that's a fantasy. That model is really, really expensive. And so it is not scalable to the extent that we need higher education now to be scalable at a cost that people can afford. And this was really brought home to me through this work that I'm doing in Africa.

Right now, in Africa, 9 percent of the students who graduate from high school go on to a college or university. It's the lowest percentage in the world. And if you wanted to increase that percentage by building American- or European-style universities, it would be simply impossible. There aren't enough [00:52:00] PhDs. It's too costly to build campuses and the resulting product would be much, much more expensive than even the middle class in Africa, which is small, could afford. 

So the question is, how do you take something that is unaffordable and make it into something that is more affordable and accessible? Now, an easy answer, is just slap everything online. But the problem with slapping everything online is that most of those purely online universities right now are not very good. The completion rates are awful. If the students are sitting and passively listening to something on a computer, it's even worse than sitting and passively listening to something in a classroom. And so, and now I'm quoting, Fred Swaniker, who founded the African Leadership University, 'if you're in a place like Africa, you don't build the university around scarcity, which is faculty, you build it around abundance, which is students and you ask yourself how much can a student [00:53:00] accomplish by taking control of their own education'.

I don't know that we fully know the answer. People have been writing about self-directed learning for centuries. John Dewey was writing about self-directed learning well over 100 years ago. And the reality is that there is some evidence that people can accomplish a lot with the right guidance and direction without necessarily needing someone with a PhD sitting in the front of a room and talking to them.

So, to me, as I think about potentially reducing the cost of education, figuring out how much students can take control of their own learning, with guidance, you don't just leave them on their own, and not necessarily be dependent upon a large cadre of traditional faculty members, ultimately, that's the only way to lower the cost. At every college and university in the country, roughly two [00:54:00] thirds of the budget goes to pay for people, right? And so when people talk about lowering the cost, it's not going to be fixed by printing on 2 sides of paper or by reducing shared insurance co-ops. You have to go to where the expenses are. The expenses are people and facilities. 

And so the only way to change the cost structure to bend the cost curve is to look at those 2 big areas, which means you can't continue to rely on traditional, very, very, very expensive campuses, and you can't continue to rely on very, very low student faculty ratios with people who are very highly trained with PhDs, graduate degrees. It's just, for the schools that continue to can continue to afford that, you know, Harvard is going to do that until the end of time because they can afford it. And, you know, good for them. They can do that. But the vast majority of schools are not in that situation, and so they need to [00:55:00] explore other models. And I think to me the experiential student-centered model is one that is promising and that has not been yet fully explored.

BONUS The Education Myth - How American Changed It's Relationship With School w. Jon Shelton Part 2 - The Majority Report - Air Date 8-20-23

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Yeah, you mentioned the Vietnam War. I didn't want to pass through that before asking you about this. How conscious was the threat of kind of like an educated citizenry that was standing up to, especially young people, powerful actors in government? Because it seems to me that, yes, obviously, the shift of education being to make citizenry versus to make workers is, you lay that out so well. But the conjoining political factors, too, of consciousness and social movements, also I feel like it has a story here.

JON SHELTON: Yeah, so that's such a great question. And I don't write extensively about this in the book, but there's a moment in the 1970s, it sounds like tinfoil hat stuff, like political conspiracy, but all you have to do is kind of just go and read it. There's literally a [00:56:00] report by the Trilateral Commission in the 1970s, which is this commission that's put together by all these political elites, David Rockefeller, you know, from the Rockefeller family connected to banking interests, and this is 1974-75, Carter's, uh, Zbigniew Brzezinski was a member of the Trilateral Commission and became a big part of the Carter administration. And again, it sounds tinfoil hat, I hesitate almost almost to bring it up. But effectively, what the Trilateral Commission argues is that for the stability of the West, the Western democracies, basically they had to tamp down the democratic aspirations that young people were pushing for. And it's not an accident that you see the party, the Democratic party in particular, move in that direction.

So, in 1976, Humphrey Hawkins, which was a bill that was co-sponsored by Hubert Humphrey, this liberal Mid-Westerner, and Augustus Hawkins, founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, who represented [00:57:00] Watts, they were basically saying we need a jobs guarantee. There's high unemployment. We've got to do something for working people. 

Coretta Scott King actually organized to, um, you know, [she] sort of led the effort to mobilize grassroots support. She called it Martin's legacy. There were hundreds of demonstrations across the United States. And Carter, who was again, you know, kind of, I think, influenced by this line of thinking and just sort of looking at the direction the Democratic party was going, literally says in 1978, in the State of the Union address, we need to accept that government can't do everything. It can't give people a job. We people need to lower their expectations. And, you know, so there is a direct moment in the 1970s when the Democratic Party kind of moves pretty explicitly in that direction. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: But like, you know, that period of time and we've, you know, over the years interviewed so many people, from Lily Geismar, who is really focused on this era quite a bit... 

JON SHELTON: Her book is incredible, by the way. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: And, um, and both of them actually, I mean, and [00:58:00] having grown up in Massachusetts around that time, you know, and seen some of this. But this is such a big jump in the course of, like, six years, right? I mean, you know, six-eight years. And, yeah, the education thing fits in with this push for neoliberalism, which had been growing since Mont Pelerin and in the late forties. And, we see, Milton Friedman gets sent out down to Chile and gets a chance to do a dry run here, of this, and this push for education, so the people understand how it fits into the neoliberal framework. It is just providing juice for someone to enter the marketplace, essentially, energy within the marketplace. It's like the marketplace is going to settle it out. The input is not going to be structurally touching the marketplace at all, it's just that we're going to train people for the marketplace better. And that's where this twist on education comes. And we get a guy like [00:59:00] Carter, who had some positive aspects, but also very anti-union, coming from the South, and education just almost like on a dime starts to become a commodity that has like a dollar value that you can place upon it in the marketplace, as opposed to an important thing for society to maintain for the stability of the society just broadly speaking.

Final comments on the tradeoffs we make when we allow culture wars to dominate the education debate

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with the At Liberty podcast, explaining the efforts of the ACLU to defend against educational gag orders and censorship. The Majority Report dove into some of the myths about the reaction to speakers at colleges and the grifters who profit from them. CounterSpin that looked at the new McCarthyism around criticism of Israel on campus. The Majority Report explored the history of education in the US. The EdUp Experience podcast described a theory of change universities should [01:00:00] engage in to innovate. The Majority Report explained to the historical conservative perspective on universities, going back to William F. Buckley. The At Liberty podcast bluntly explained to the benefits of DEI programs and why Republicans oppose them. And Virtually Connecting & Equity Unbound closed out the show with a call for the building of better educational systems to never be done. 

That's what everybody heard, but members also heard bonus clips from the EdUp Experience describing a promising but untested educational method. And The Majority Report discussing the importance of education for democracy. To hear that and have all of our bonus contents delivered seamlessly to the new members-only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support, or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information 

Now to wrap up, I want to draw attention to [01:01:00] one example of what gets overlooked while we're being distracted by nonsense attacks on education. As part of our research for today's episode, I came across a Slate article written by a college professor lamenting the very obvious drop in reading skills exhibited by students over just the past few years. This is undoubtedly from a variety of factors, the article points out. Some that come to mind quickly and others that don't: growing up with the ever-present distraction of phones is almost certainly a culprit as is some of the learning loss from COVID. But the writer pointed out that college students starting a few years ago were the first cohort to have been raised entirely in the No Child Left Behind and Common Core standards era that completely incentivized 'teaching to the test' more than anything, which has consistently been criticized by child education experts. You can go back more than a decade to hear episodes that we had done on that topic. 

When I [01:02:00] started this podcast, after the turn of the century, you know, back in the mid aughts, that was the entirety of the debate over education. George W. Bush's plan to test our way to learning, and then the Obama era changes that didn't change nearly enough. So, for anyone who's been paying attention for that long, it shouldn't be a surprise that kids are falling behind what used to be considered standard not too long ago. 

But there's one thing that's also been going on in the background specifically related to reading. Now, I grew up when phonics was the standard teaching method for reading. And I didn't even know until this week that it has gone in and out of fashion over time. The Slate article mentioned another teaching style that has risen in popularity recently that de-emphasizes the skill of sounding out words, which critics argue is the fundamental skill required to be able to read any new word that one hasn't previously [01:03:00] learned. And to be clear, you know, that teaching concept was definitely recommended by people who thought they were helping. There's no evil scheme to stop kids from reading, but that was a change that was made, not everywhere, but in many places, which may have been missed by, you know, people in the general public due to other distractions.

I also read an article about all of this in the New York Times, and this paragraph sums up the problem pretty well. "It may not inspire political campaign ads, the way Critical Race Theory does, but the debate over how to teach children to read, perhaps the fundamental skill of all schooling, has been just as consuming for some parents, educators and policy makers." So, I'm taking this as a reminder, and I think you all should to, that boiled way down to the essence, when you say yes to one thing, you are inevitably saying no to everything else. Meaning when you choose to focus on [01:04:00] something there's a trade-off happening, that means your focus cannot simultaneously be on something else. 

When Critical Race Theory becomes the all encompassing debate regarding education in the US it will inevitably push other issues out of the way. And meanwhile, as we've spent the last decade or so, getting pulled into culture war nonsense, the real discussions about how best to educate children and young adults has gotten pushed to the periphery. Obviously, there are people working hard, deep in the weeds on these problems. And there are even people who have strong feelings about both CRT and reading phonics. It's not that an individual can't be aware of more than one thing at a time. But the media attention leads to political attention, which results in school boards, getting yelled at by parents for, you know, creating trans safe bathrooms or history curriculums that tell more of the real story of the US. 

So, that's where all the attention goes. It sucks [01:05:00] up all the air in the room. And as much as we may wish that we could all stay focused on implementing the best educational practices as well, when we get sucked into the world of culture wars, the actual nuts and bolts of educational standards are going to naturally be pushed to the side. And then the people left fighting those battles, ignored and fighting for attention against the tidal wave of culture wars, are going to be the people most personally impacted by it. And so a lot of the people are actually dyslexic. People are parents of dyslexic children who've been like leading the fight against this new form of reading, because it's so profoundly negatively impacts them personally. But because the general population is distracted away from actual, you know, education standards and methods, they end up being sort of [01:06:00] left on their own, trying to fight that battle. Whereas, I like to imagine, you know, living in a healthy society where we have conversations and debates about things that actually matter, a lot more people could be aware of an issue like slipping reading proficiency and the underlying causes for that. And we may think that's the thing that we need to take action on. That's the thing we should show up to school board meetings to talk about, not how we build our bathrooms and whether or not White kids are being made to feel bad by the reality of our history.

As always keep the comments coming in. I would love to hear your thoughts or questions about this or anything else. You can leave me a voicemail or send us a text to 202-999-3991 or simply email me to [email protected]. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to our Ttranscriptionist Trio, Ken, Brian, and Ben, for their [01:07:00] volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who already support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships. You can join them by signing up today at bestoftheleft.com/support, through our Patrion page, or from right inside the Apple podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good and very often funny bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content, no ads, and chapter markers in all of our regular episodes all through your regular podcast player. You'll find that link in the show notes, along with a link to join our Discord community, where you can also continue the discussion. 

So, coming to you from far outside, the conventional wisdom of Washington DC, my name is Jay and this has been the Best of the Left podcast, coming to twice weekly thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com.

Showing 1 reaction

  • Jay Tomlinson
    published this page in Transcripts 2024-02-17 05:50:53 -0500
Sign up for activism updates