A reminder of the value of education (Journal Record)

By Arnold Hamilton

Is a second American Know-Nothing Party in the offing?

It’s not an idle thought given the release this week of a Pew Research Center poll that found nearly six in 10 Republicans and GOP-leaning independents think colleges and universities are bad for the country.

Not long ago, it was an article of American faith that higher education was a golden ticket, an invaluable step in becoming all one’s creator intended. It also was enshrined in public policy – tax dollars steered to colleges and universities, the federal treasury backed low-cost student loans, and the GI Bill offered a brighter career future for returning war heroes.

Now, higher education is the only institution viewed in more partisan terms than – gasp! – the news media.
Pew’s June 8-18 survey found 58 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents nationally believe “colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country.” Conversely, 72 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents regard higher ed positively.

That’s an even slightly wider gap than Republican-Democratic perceptions of the lightning-rod news media – Republicans 85 percent negative, Democrats 44 percent positive.

Before we go too far, it’s important to note the 1800s Know-Nothing Party wasn’t driven by anti-intellectualism. Its proper name was the American Party, and it was primarily anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant.

But the Know-Nothing moniker seems apt for those who now regard higher ed as villainous in an era when economic globalization demands an increasingly higher-educated and higher-skilled workforce.

Yet, for a half-century, well-heeled, far-right ideologues (think: Koch brothers) have targeted colleges and universities, viewing them as the provinces of latte-sipping, pointy-headed liberal professors who, in effect, operate leftist indoctrination camps.

They’ve even established and underwritten so-called “think tanks” – replete with good government-sounding names like the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation – whose missions all-too-often are to disparage public education.

And they’ve helped ignite free-speech dust-ups by financing campus appearances by uber right polemicists like Milo Yiannopoulos, Charles Murray and Ann Coulter – a thinly veiled effort to further burnish a narrative of liberal, ivory tower intolerance.

The scheming has borne fruit.

It wasn’t long ago that former Republican Gov. Frank Keating promoted his four-by-four college preparedness plan for Oklahoma high school students. Or that current GOP Gov. Mary Fallin unveiled a campaign to increase by 67 percent the number of college degrees and certificates earned in Oklahoma by 2030.

Today, however, Oklahoma not only leads the nation in cuts to K-12 funding, but also to higher education – down nearly 18 percent in the last five years, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute. These cuts send the unmistakable message that Oklahoma’s current policymakers and elected leaders don’t value common or higher education, despite lip service to the contrary.

As Oklahoma K-12 teachers increasingly flee to better-paying jobs in other states and as common ed class sizes explode, less public and media attention is often afforded the plight of public colleges and universities. But tighter higher ed budgets also hurt Oklahoma families, left to absorb higher tuition and back-breaking student loan debt, and to navigate murky post-graduation job prospects in a languishing economy.

Interestingly, the Pew survey of 2,504 adults nationally found nearly three-quarters of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents from all age groups gave colleges and universities positive ratings. By contrast, only younger (ages 18-29) Republicans and Republican-leaning independents viewed higher ed positively (52 percent); support among Republicans dwindled by age: 39 percent among 30- to 49-year-olds, 29 percent for 50-64 and 27 percent for 65-plus.

The world’s greatest 20th-century economy was fueled by the shared value in education – from kindergarten to university. The Know-Nothings need to be reminded of that fact.



Margaret (Maggie) den Harder obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Theology from Seattle Pacific University and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Oklahoma. Originally from the Pacific Northwest area of Washington state, Maggie has called Tulsa home for the past 8 years. Since living in Tulsa, Maggie has worked in the legal field, higher education administration, and the nonprofit sector as well as actively volunteering in the community. Maggie also recently spent time at the City of Tulsa as a consultant and wrote the content for Resilient Tulsa, an action-oriented strategy designed to better equity in Tulsa. Through her work, community involvement, and personal experiences, Maggie is interested in the intersection of the law and mental health and addiction treatment issues, preventative and diversion programs, and maternal mental health, particularly post-partum depression and post-partum psychosis. While working at Oklahoma Policy Institute as a research intern, Maggie further developed an interest in family dynamics and stability, economic security-related stress, and intergenerational trauma.

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