Stupidity Is a Bigger Threat Than Socialism

And it’s not even close.

Conservative Republican opinion leaders, winners in life’s lottery, worship at the altar of free markets. In their minds, merit explains their relative success, not privilege. Acknowledging privilege would require them to admit markets are fallible, a thought that would consider a total reconsideration of themselves.

American exceptionalism is largely explained by blind devotion to free markets as if they are ordained by God. Literally. We are better than other countries because our markets are freer. Never mind our prison numbers, our opioid epidemic, our gun violence, our homeless crisis.

To conservative Republicans, taxes are always too high. The government uses its tax system to unfairly take what is rightly ours. Government, as if it consists of some insidious “others” instead of our neighbors, friends, and fellow citizens; is incompetent and wasteful. We know much better than the diabolical government what to do with our own damn money. Left to our own devices we would naturally fund private equivalents to Head Start, public libraries, Social Security, Medicare, and federal highways because they so obviously improve our quality of life.

Given that context, I probably shouldn’t be as exasperated as I am by the depressing quality of the initial 2020 campaign conversation about competing economic systems. Yes, through flawed messaging, some on the Left have contributed to the problem; but that’s no excuse for the Right’s complete unwillingness to talk about the crippling consequences of widening inequality on everyone and how it’s in our enlightened self interest to make greater (and proven) public investments in the common good.

Instead, deathly afraid their taxes will go up, those on the Right scream VENEZUELA and CUBA and demean Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as “just a 29 year old bartender”. As if the Left wants to replicate life in Venezuela. How is it that many of the most virulent anti-socialists are formally educated and yet seem completely unable to think about subtleties, nuances, and complexity?

To those virulent anti-socialists, there’s a huge middle ground between Milton Friedman and Maduro.

To the army of Presidential contenders, I don’t want to waste time talking about Venezuelan socialism. I want a critical conversation about how best to improve our economics and politics so that many more people experience the promise of our ideals. More specifically, I believe it’s in my enlightened self interest to make more investments in public schooling, in public libraries, in single payer health care, and in infrastructure. And by “more investments” I mean moderately higher taxes. Millions of others think similarly, enough to get elected.

And once gain, this is where the national conversation devolves to the point of embarrassment because my Conservative Republican friends predictably say, “Okay, go ahead and write a larger check to the Internal Revenue Service than you owe” as if the penalty for critical thinking about the status quo is having to compensate for the mindless purveyors of it.

An extra serving of ignorance in a conversation marked by mind boggling stupidity.


How Not To Indoctrinate Students

Excellent advice from David Gooblar’s Chronicle of Higher Education essay, “What is ‘Indoctrination’? And How Do We Avoid It in Class?

His answer. . . by modeling open-mindedness and intellectual humility.

Gooblar thinks we can guard against closed-mindedness if we:

“. . . admit when we’re wrong, discuss our failures, and let students know when we’re unsure about something.”

When researching my doctoral dissertation, I spent two months closely studying a master high school teacher with a PhD in Mesopotamian history. Most PhD’s in Mesopotamian history would fall FLAT on their face if required to teach high school, but not this one because he never flaunted his intellect. One time, I recall, he started a story about something he had recently read about Egyptian pyramids. “I recently read in a book, but I don’t know if it’s true, . . . ” With one simple phrase, he demystified textual authority. The take-away, reader beware, authors are flawed.

However, there’s more to the “indoctrination story” than Gooblar reveals. A year ago, I was teaching an interdisciplinary International Honors course to a dozen whip smart juniors and seniors at my liberal arts university. One session, when discussing economics, a winsome but exasperated senior said, “I’ve never had a single professor here say anything positive about capitalism.” And on a scale of “1 to 10” in terms of liberal, liberal arts campus cultures, I’d rate my university a 4.

I thought long and hard about that statement, but also the student’s seeming resistance to critically question obvious, albeit unintended, negative consequences of unfettered free-market capitalism. As a conservative surrounded mostly by liberal faculty and peers, did he feel compelled to overcompensate? “I’m planting my flag on the hill of free-market capitalism come hell or high water!”

No, I don’t think that’s what was happening. I also taught the same student writing four years earlier in a seminar where we got to know one another well. I was reminded in the Honors course of how close he was to his mother whom he talked about affectionately. When I probed a little about how he came to his pro-capitalism views, he talked about his mother’s passion for it and their numerous conversations about it from when he was little. His hesitance to question capitalism as an economic system didn’t have anything to do with peer relationships, it had everything to do with his love for his mother. To even question capitalism, let alone reject it like an increasing number of his peers, would’ve required him to reject his mother. Far too high a cost to pay.

When teaching anything remotely political, that is the educator’s dilemma—how to honor each student’s familial context while also challenging them to expand their worldview. Or more specifically, given our example, how to celebrate the beauty of a loving child-parent relationship, while simultaneously cultivating critical thinking about closely held, unquestioned assumptions learned from birth.

How do educators challenge students to thoughtfully confront their families ideological blindspots knowing their intellectual awakening will disrupt those cherished relationships?