Todd Gitlin has a fine commentary on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s web site, on the current state of mind in the GOP. As The Chronicle tends to put its content behind the subscriber wall, here’s the whole thing
Congratulations to Rick Santorum for saying out loud what a lot of other right-wingers believe but haven’t quite had the temerity to say:
I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely … The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country…. 62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it.
The evidence for said indoctrination is nonexistent, so far as I can make out. Santorum declined to specify where he got the 62 percent figure. In a subsequent NYT op-ed piece, the sociologist Neil Gross roundly refuted Santorum’s general claim:
Contrary to conservative rhetoric, studies show that going to college does not make students substantially more liberal. The political scientist Mack Mariani and the higher education researcher Gordon Hewitt analyzed changes in student political attitudes between their freshman and senior years at 38 colleges and universities from 1999 to 2003. They found that on average, students shifted somewhat to the left — but that these changes were in line with shifts experienced by most Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 during the same period of time. In addition, they found that students were no more likely to move left at schools with more liberal faculties.
Similarly, the political scientists M. Kent Jennings and Laura Stoker analyzed data from a survey that tracked the political attitudes of about 1,000 high school students through their college years and into middle age. Their research found that the tendency of college graduates to be more liberal reflects to a large extent the fact that more liberal students are more likely to go to college in the first place.
Studies also show that attending college does not make you less religious. The sociologists Jeremy Uecker, Mark Regnerus and Margaret Vaaler examined data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and found that Americans who pursued bachelor’s degrees were more likely to retain their faith than those who did not, perhaps because life at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder can be rough in ways that chip away at religious belief and participation. They report that students “who did not attend college and two-year college students are much more likely — 61 and 54 percent more, respectively — than four-year college students to relinquish their religious affiliations.”
So what’s going on here? Why is it an article of right-wing faith that universities snatch the young out of their grasp and leave them throttled, brainwashed, gasping for air?
In the world according to Rick Santorum (and Sarah Palin, and Rush Limbaugh), the university-educated are the real One Percent who lord it over the Lord’s people. These fancy folks dare not call themselves by their true name—a French word, not accidentally, with one of those tricky accent marks over the initial é, and how appropriate for a concept so radically un-American. This élite is made up of secular zombies who smash sacred tablets, sneer at hard-working people, use fancy words, and otherwise try to convince the world that they are entitled to lounge around the ski slopes noshing on multigrain bread and Chilean sea bass while Joe the Plumber is busy whacking at government tentacles so that he can afford a decent steak.
It isn’t just that Santorum is a stick-figure stalking out of the pages of Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, as fresh a read now as when it was published nearly a half-century ago. Though a Catholic, he’s a throwback to a form of thought best identified with an austerity Calvinism that flies in the face of the last century and a half of American development which enshrined Americans as a people of plenty. The American dream, identified by James Truslow Adams in 1934 as the cardinal principle of the national faith, is premised on the glimmering promise of abundance, more and better abundance, to be harvested through higher education. I may be poor-to-middling, it promises, but my sacrifice has a mission. My children will better their lot. I will go to my grave knowing that I made it possible for them to surpass me. They will know more than I know, and bless ‘em for it. Thank God there are institutions of higher learning to give them professional standing, credentials of learning, and entry into a wider world all at once.
In the Santorum universe, such institutions do not shine with vitality. They turn out to be cesspools of faithlessness—indoctrination camps where true doctrine is crushed and replaced by death-culture moral relativism and the siren songs of reason that wrecked what was once religion’s proper dominion over the civilized earth. Santorum has heard the mob chant against “the One Percent” and he knows that the chorus of chanters is trying to pull off a monstrous bait-and-switch. They, the indoctrinated, want to turn the hard-working people against their true benefactors, the wealthy. They want to do this in order to divert said hard-working people (the steel workers, the Koch brothers) from the nature of their true oppressors—those smirky Katie Courics and slick Barack Obamas whose sneers mask their own privilege.
This is what happens when a political party is corralled by know-nothings proud of their rejection of science, joyously reason-defiant, and willing to vote for Ivy League graduates only when they can’t speak in whole sentences.
I am presently staring at Richard Hofstadter’s aforementioned book, which has been collecting dust in my bookcase for some years now. Looks like it needs a dust off, as it’s as relevant as ever.