The politics of American anti-intellectualism
23 Mar 2010

The politics of American anti-intellectualism

Nothing is more political than education. The

23 Mar 2010

Nothing is more political than education.

The Texas State Board of Education reminded us of the phenomenon this month, rewriting textbook guidelines to match their conservative, theological worldviews. Not since the Kansas Board of Education voted to restrict the teaching of evolution has an entire state backlashed so strongly against science and reason.

In an editorial on the board’s actions, the Houston Chronicle wrote:

In its revamp of the state’s social studies curriculum, a majority of the board has consistently voted to reshape our history. Instead of the messy, complicated past, the extremist members prefer a simple story of triumphant Christian soldiers.

Last week the board voted to remove Thomas Jefferson — Thomas Jefferson! — from a list of Enlightenment thinkers who changed the world. The Enlightenment, with its emphasis on reason over tradition, doesn’t sit well with the board.

From the Wall Street Journal:

As Don McLeroy, one of the leaders of the board’s conservative faction, put it in last year’s debate over evolution, “somebody’s got to stand up to experts.”

Indeed, outrage against the conspiracy of intellectuals seemed to lurk just below the surface during last week’s deliberations, breaking into the open during moments of rancor. “I see no need, frankly, to compromise with liberal professors from academia,” railed board member Terri Leo when someone challenged the move to nix the word “capitalism.” “That’s part of the problem of how we end up with distorted and liberal biased textbooks is because that’s who’s writing them.”

Are the actions of Texas and Kansas anomalies, or is there a larger movement at play?

Mostly white, undereducated, and underemployed, the Tea Party movement has become the poster child for American anti-intellectualism. Whereas the group’s members fared well in the industrial era, they find themselves unable to compete in a global economy powered by ideas. Simply put, they have few new skills to offer, and nobody wants to hire them.

The world is changing around them, and they are frightened. They do not understand the changes, and they do not want to change themselves. Worse yet, they do not want to understand what is going on. We see this in the surge in popularity of radical commentators (i.e., Glenn Beck) who provide simplistic narratives of the world that often have little or no connection to reality. They redirect their fear of what they do not know or understand and transform it into anger.

In January, the conservative columnist David Brooks lamented American anti-intellectualism and the backlash against educated people:

The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise. The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.

The story is the same in foreign affairs. The educated class is internationalist, so isolationist sentiment is now at an all-time high, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The educated class believes in multilateral action, so the number of Americans who believe we should “go our own way” has risen sharply.

What will you do when anti-intellectual politics comes to your school?

Leave a comment
More Posts
  1. pce March 23rd, 2010 10:39AM

    Nicely compiled and worded, John!

  2. just an anon January 5th, 2011 7:34PM

    “The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting. ”
    These two i do not believe to be compleatly correct statements since you are making the assumption that everyone in the educated class hold the same views as you. Abortion generaly has a morality argument to it rather then facts so being educated vs not educated really has no place in such a debate. I in specific do not like the assumption that all of the educated class is for gun control. Many of the people who are against gun control are doing it in support of the second ammendment besides the fact that there is always the problem you will find with gun control that the criminals are going to do as they always do and compleatly ignore such laws which means any such law is just going to hurt the innocent populace and prevent them from being able to effectivly defend themselves. Besides the facts that statistics show that areas with high amounts of guns tend to have the lowest crime rates so trying to control and limit guns is going to have adverse effects on the crime rate. Quite simply if you were a criminal would you really want try to rob someone passing by knowing that everyone walking around the streets has a gun on them and can defend themselves?

  3. John Moravec January 8th, 2011 3:37PM

    Especially in light of today’s terrorist shooting, that is a senseless and cowardly comment, “just an anon.” Shame on you.

  4. John Satterfield March 9th, 2011 12:54PM

    I find it distressing that one is branded by one’s politics as ignorant, boring or anti-intellectual. I am a conservative republican that supports the Tea Pary movement. I have an IQ over 135, an electrical engineering degree and an MBA. I am pro life and believe in God.

    What I do find distressing is that those on the left feel compelled to belittle those on the right by denegration and insults. I grew up believing that intellectuals are those individuals that use knowledge, logic and reason to reach conclusions. Not cheap emotionalism based on political demagoguery.

  5. John Moravec March 10th, 2011 2:44AM

    What does any of this have to do with abortion and beliefs in the supernatural?

    I wish that people like the board in Texas would use knowledge, logic, and reason to establish educational policies instead of knee-jerk reactions to their emotions and bizarre political demagoguery.


  1. The Right Wing Celebration of ‘Dumbassery’ and the Danger it Presents to America | Musings of a Parky Pundit
  2. On the Politics of Fear | Being Latino Online Magazine
  3. On the characteristics of anti-intellectualism | Being Latino Online Magazine