Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Ignorance is bliss?

A majority of Republicans now tell Pew Research pollsters that colleges and universities have a negative impact on the U.S. That's a big change from just two years ago, and it's most pronounced among people who identify themselves as conservative.

Now why would they think that? What is the negative impact we purportedly have? I suppose the place to start in trying to figure that out is what we actually do.

First, obviously, we educate young people. What does "educate" mean? It actually has several components, which I will get to.

Second, we do research. We work to increase human understanding of the universe, including humans and human society. We do this based on standards for observation and inference, upon which there is a substantial area of broad agreement but considerable disputation around the edges. These vary somewhat among disciplines, some of which allow for a substantial values component in their discourse, others of which at least pretend to have little or none.

Our standards for observation and inference have a lot to do with the nature of the education we provide. Students do memorize facts. They also learn methods of inference and critical thinking. They learn how to distinguish categories -- what is, what ought to be, what is beautiful -- and to talk about each of these in the manner proper to its nature. They learn skills for learning. They learn logic, critical reading, methods of discourse and argumentation. Colleges and universities produce people with the knowledge and skills to expand scientific knowledge, manage enterprises, develop technology, solve problems. Without colleges and universities, we would be living like people in the 15th Century. We wouldn't have modern medicine, or telecommunications. Colleges and universities also train actors, musicians, film makers, chefs, architects, public policy makers, and engineers.

So what is bad about them? Let's go back to those categories -- the true, the good, the beautiful.

Being a conservative Republican nowadays requires believing some things that are objectively not true. Most notably, it requires believing that human activity is not causing the climate to change. It is people working in universities who are determining that yes, that is really happening. (Also, there's that little question of evolution and the history of the universe.) People in universities, including in schools of public health such as where I work, also figure out that people can be harmed or helped by features of their physical and social environment, which provides the rationale for policies such as pollution control, early childhood education, expanded health care access, and yes, gun safety policies. Note that conservatives have literally forbidden federal funding of research in the latter field -- truth that is contrary to ideology is not to be discovered.

I could go on with this but the bottom line is, reality has a well-known liberal bias. We study reality, and that's bad.

But the good and the beautiful matter as well. It was not always the case, but universities nowadays strive to be inclusive and celebratory of diversity. We encourage open debate and dissent. Now, lately there have been some highly publicized controversies -- in fact they are very few and far between -- about invitations to particular speakers who some members of a university community find offensive. These happen to be people called "conservative," which in these instances means racist and/or misogynist. Whether allowing these people to speak or not is proper is a debate I will defer. The point here is that racism and other forms of bigotry and exclusion are not generally condoned in colleges and universities, but they are condoned among conservative Republicans. So we have a disagreement over the good.

Finally there is that question of the beautiful. I expect that many people who consider themselves conservatives also have a feeling that people with college educations look down on their culture. This isn't actually true, for the most part. Some well-to-do people are snobbish, of course. And there are no doubt differences in artistic, culinary or sartorial preference among people of differing levels of education. But I can assure you that working class and low income people are just as valued and respected as wealthier people, if not more so, here in the school of public health and elsewhere in the university. We really are working to make life better for everyone, especially those in most need. And please don't confuse us with politicians.


Anonymous said...

Orwell's 1984 coming true, but 30 years later and not exactly in the way he imagined. Our media is flooding the lanes of news immediacy with gibberish and slander. It's just too many logs coming into the mill to stop. Blowing up Fox's buildings would be a good start but highly impractical.

Anonymous said...

"The point here is that racism and other forms of bigotry and exclusion are not generally condoned in colleges and universities, but they are condoned among conservative Republicans."

Great example of a strawman argument. Great way to dismiss others you don't agree with.

Cervantes said...

That is not a "strawman" argument. You obviously don't know what the term means. And no, I don't agree with racists and other kinds of bigots. That is a straightforward assertion.

Anonymous said...

I think it's pretty fair to say that misrepresenting the views of others qualifies. And that's what you seem to do with conservative Republicans. About half the country are Republicans. They're your neighbor, your grocer, your florist. Probably not your government worker, unionist or educator, but you get the point.

All of these epithets used by the radical left to denigrate those with whom they disagree politically have little meaning anymore.

No one believes the boy who cried wolf after a few thousand times of false accusations.

Cervantes said...

It is an incontrovertible fact that racism is an element in modern American conservatism. Doesn't account for all of it, and not everybody who self-labels as conservative is exceptionally racist, but it's a big part of it. That isn't a "false accusation," or an "epithet" I use to denigrate people I disagree with politically. It is a fact. As in reality. Truth. For example this. You know, research, scholarship.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the link.

I have not read this article previously and will give it my attention.

What I know about Professor Tesler is that he thinks *everything* comes down to race.

Anonymous said...

I am Anonymous 1 (first comment, above). I appreciate your patience with Anonymous (2nd, 4th and 6th comments, above), Cervantes.

Anonymous said...

Ok, Here's the problem with all of this, and I'm not just singling out Tesler.

"Racism", is not well defined. Any objective definition would involve making decisions based upon race. I think he attempts this by using the term "Old Fashioned Racism" in an effort to distance himself from the bat-shit crazies that sling it around for all kinds of reasons and dilute the term.

Secondly, this seems to be applied only to one race and not others. I know, I know...the left tried for 'fix' this with a new rule about power and it's all bullshit.

Bottom line is, you make decisions by race, you're a racist. I'm not saying that whites don't practice this. I'm saying that EVERYONE does it and liberals turn their heads when black and other minorities do it.

This is the main reason why I (and so many others) don't give a shit when someone screams 'racism'. We all would care more if you'd just stop the bullshit.

Anonymous said...

"...if you'd just stop the bullshit." I am saddened by Anonymous 1's response, above. It is impossible to talk to someone like Anonymous 1 and make any dent. It's pointless; his views are solidified, he cannot see another point of view in any meaningful way. He is angry and feels like a victim. He doesn't understand that racism against African-Americans (and others) is institutionalized in the U.S. system. All the founding fathers knew slavery was wrong but they just couldn't help themselves...Washington had hundreds, Jefferson between one and two hundred, including his "other" wife, Sally Hemings, with whom he sired at least four children and whose quarters at Monticello--next to his bedroom--were just "discovered!" But racist caucasians still want to believe in the threat of the violent, lustful African-American--despite the fact that it was the slave owners who were, quite literally, the motherfuckers.

Anonymous 2 doesn't know what it's like to be killed by a white cop, only to have the white cop exonerated the victim is dead and can't tell what happened--and might not be believed if he could. He doesn't even know what it's like to go into a store and be watched and questioned because his skin is brown. He thinks racism is "equal all around"--and it's not. But you can't tell him that because his victimization-tinged views are based on an unconscious, institutionalized presumption of caucasian entitlement. There's nothing you can say to him; he doesn't know how African-Americans live and what they go through from day 1. He doesn't have to stay stock-still at a traffic stop so that he doesn't become another "accident." And you can't explain any of this to him. This is why we're in such a terrible situation, whether the question is policing, health care, or any other subject. Our country was built by enslaved African-Americans, even in the north--see, for example, the African-American museum in New York City that was built to commemorate the mass grave of mostly enslaved people. But the caucasian, mostly male politicians don't know how the African-Americans live--much less what it's like to be one.

I know this post is wasted on Anonymous 2. He tries but he's just too damn angry and stuck in one perspective--which is his internal prison. And he's not alone, I know that. That's the problem. But because there are a lot of people who may think as you do does not justify your perspective. Remember Copernicus and Galileo. People believe all kinds of crap.

Anonymous said...

I get it. However, this didn't come out of nowhere.

Is it 'racist' to offer up a reason that might explain some of this without being a 'bigot'? Are facts out of line? This is from the Department of Justice
Are you mature enough to see through your victimization as to why someone might feel that way (right or wrong) or are you just going to blame the messenger?

Based on available data from 1980 to 2008—

Blacks were disproportionately represented as both homicide
victims and offenders. The victimization rate for blacks (27.8
per 100,000) was 6 times higher than the rate for whites (4.5 per
100,000). The offending rate for blacks (34.4 per 100,000) was almost
8 times higher than the rate for whites (4.5 per 100,000)

Males represented 77% of homicide victims and nearly 90% of
off enders. The victimization rate for males (11.6 per 100,000)
was 3 times higher than the rate for females (3.4 per 100,000).
The off ending rate for males (15.1 per 100,000) was almost 9
times higher than the rate for females (1.7 per 100,000).

Approximately a third (34%) of murder victims and almost half
(49%) of the offenders were under age 25. For both victims and
off enders, the rate per 100,000 peaked in the 18 to 24 year-old
age group at 17.1 victims per 100,000 and 29.3 offenders per

Anonymous said...

A major reason for the high rates are socioeconomic. Give people education and jobs with equal opportunity and they'll do really well.

Did it ever occur to you that you can't import humans for 200 years, murder and rape their families, continue with lynchings for another century, and expect everything to just be okay? And that's AFTER you imported 20,000,000 in ships (half of them died in transit) in unspeakable conditions. Broke up their families...treated them worse than animals...and they still live in fear from the police (protectors!).

Why do you blame the victims?

Anonymous said...

I'm with ya'.

I was just attempting to explain why other people might feel the way they do. It didn't just come out of nowhere and it's not just 'hate'. It's a generalization taht is learned.

And you have offered up no solution(s), just whining about 'fairness' of outcomes.

If you're interested in having victims, then our discussion is over. If you're interested in solutions, there are some hard facts that you and the left will have to swallow first. One of the biggest is that not all cultures are equal. Some cultures are superior to others.

For instance, I believe that many Asian cultures are superior. They seem to value education more and are more sensitive to how their extended families view them. They have an astounding work ethic. When's the last time you saw an Asian panhandling on the street corner?

So, if you want good jobs, you have to have some education. Horse before the cart.

Another hard fact is no one has more control over their own destiny in the US, regardless of their race or station in life, than the individual.


This is not taught to minorities. They listen to the voices who tell them they are victims (just as you have done above) and it's someone else's fault that they are not successful. That's really not helpful.

I think everyone would like to see more opportunity (not guaranteed outcomes)for minorities, including me. What I don't think is helpful is the soft bigotry of low expectations.

I will get off this subject now because it was not the subject of Cervante's post. However, I understand your viewpoint even though I thoroughly disagree.

Anonymous said...

Yes, agreed that we've gotten off the post of the topic.

I appreciated your response. We all have our biases and I know mine comes from being friends from adolescence with a very unusual family of African-American superachievers. Despite their prominence in American culture, I saw very early on the difference between my own caucasian quotidian experience--no matter where I was, in schools, stores, universities, festivals, on the street, anywhere--and theirs. I saw first hand how different friends of mine were treated simply because of the color of their skin, and how they were denied opportunities--but rose above it all, regardless, because of their formidable talent and work. It permanently changed my view of African-Americans and the stereotype of them as people who see themselves as victims. There are so many members of minorities who see themselves as capable, strong, worthy people, and others who don't. And it's the same with caucasians.

Predictable, I do disagree with your view that some Asian cultures, for instance, are "superior"--but I agree that education is stressed in some Asian cultures in a way that it is not in ours. I just don't have a monolithic view of all members of any culture, nation, or ethnic group. To me, people are--and act like--individuals. I think we agree that the playing field needs to be leveled.

Smith said...

Great podcast from "The Nation" that should put to rest any doubt that racism--yes, racism--had a lot to do with Trump's election.