Earlier this week, President Obama called once again for all American children to have the opportunity to attend college. This isn’t a new idea for him; it’s one he’s touted in some form since his 2008 campaign, but one to which he’s returned repeatedly since last month’s State of the Union address.
For Obama–for a hell of a lot of other people–education offers freedom.
Unfortunately, in the world where Rick Santorum spins, a world where other people’s sex lives pose a clear and present danger to his own, freedom = slavery to “liberal” ideology, to thoughts that are critical of this country, her leaders, her practices. In a speech in Michigan on Friday, Santorum told an enthusiastic [geriatric] audience that:
President Obama once said that he wants everyone in America to go to college. What a snob. There are good, decent men and women who work hard every day and put their skills to the test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor. That’s why [Obama] wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.
Yes, that’s right: America needs some of its children not to go to college so that those children can “work hard every day”–which, apparently, people with college degrees–people like Santorum!–do not do. Yup. We just sit around not fixing shit and watching the world go to hell as we stare at our degrees and drink pinot and sing the Marseilles. Man, Rick: you nailed it.
But let’s be clear: for the Vest, giving all Americans–read: black, white, latino, asian, rich, poor, southern, northern, first-generation, seventh generation, christian, muslim, atheist, jew, woman, man, gay, hetero, transgender, bi–the same chance to access higher education is akin to packing these young minds into the rhetorical Amistad and shipping them off to Marxistville. Learning = indoctrination in what Santorum sees as multicultural bullshit, gender equality, and the notion that no idea should be swallowed hook, line, and sinker without critical reflection and inquiry.
You fear ideas, man? You fear exposure to ideas? What does that say about the strength of your own convictions? Oh, that’s right: we’re not talking about what you believe–for you, it’s a given that those ideas are “correct,” grounded in your god’s law or whatever. For you, any idea that doesn’t match your Opus Dei-inscribed view of life, the universe, and everything is “liberal” and therefore dangerous and wrong.
Also, Rick, my love, you have a very strange understanding of how “teaching” works. I can assure you, as one of those “liberal” professors for whom you express so much contempt, that exposing my students to ideas, to perspectives that are unlike their own, does not automatically cause them to adopt those ideas. Far from it. Students are not obedient little sponges, darlin’–they come in just as resistant, just as married to the ideas they consider their own as any adult. If anything, I think, they are a weird paradox at 18, 19 years old: on the one hand, they’re open and pliant and more receptive to experience than ever before. But on the other, they recognize that openness, this newfound desire to be more than they are and they resist that, push back against their own wills with everything they’ve got; not all the time, not in every instance, but often enough so that their own identity–the one they’ve spend their adolescence and late teen years constructing carefully, so carefully–is not corrupted.
They’re smart, Rick; they’re so much fucking smarter than you give them credit for. And yeah, sometimes they change their minds but they’re the ones that do the changing, not me or any of my colleagues [not all of whom are the liberal bastions of idiomatic thought you seem to imagine].
And that’s what you’re really afraid of, isn’t it, Rick? Of your kids changing their own minds. Having thoughts that you didn’t plant in there with the spade of the Bible. It’s called growing up, man: it’s called becoming a human being. It has less to do with what job the kids end up getting, whether they’re on Wall Street or own a business on Main Street or care for kids with cancer or create their own comic series. It has much more to do with the way that the kids see the world, the epistemology that they fashion for themselves to help them make sense of their own existence and I know I’ve lost you now, baby, because I used the word “epistemology” and if you’re not careful, I’ll point right back to Foucault and that would REALLY piss you off, wouldn’t it, me citing the ideas of a gay French dude, right?
So, Rick, let me bring it back to a place that maybe you can understand, one where you won’t be smelling poppers and dreaming of Donna Summer as you read my text. I used to work for an amazing woman, a university president [stay with me, Vest: take a deep breath] who didn’t just believe that, as our university’s slogan said, “Education Offers Freedom,” she embodied this ideal. Both of her parents and her grandparents: all college graduates. Her parents: both teachers who moved from Chicago back to the South in the 1950s, going back to their family’s roots–to the roots of slavery–to teach those who hadn’t gotten out, not yet. She and her husband: both teachers early in their careers. She: president of a for-profit university [hey, you like that idea, right?] with an on-campus presence that encouraged students, faculty, and staff alike to come to her with concerns, questions, comments. She embodied the potential of education in her DNA, in her everyday actions, and in the genuine love and concern she felt for all of the students, even those she met only in passing, or only on graduation day when she handed them their diploma.
Rick, this woman’s life illustrates the truth of the axiom that education can offer freedom: from poverty, from circumstance, from history, and yes, from ignorance, from fear, from derision. But the key word here is CAN; education isn’t a magic bullet, it’s not the universal means of escape from the dominant ideology. It’s a tool, man, a tool to which all those who want it should have access. This is what the President means when he says that everyone should be able to go to college: everyone should have the chance to see if education is the key to their lock, an answer–never the only answer–to some of their questions.
Your fear precedes you, sir. Your desire to consign others to ignorance all in the name of “freedom” is repugnant and will only hasten your obsolesce as a political and cultural force.