Home > Essays > Russ Douthat’s Recent Column Calling for Conservative Control of Public Education Reinforces Mistaken Belief that Conservatives Are Open Minded

Russ Douthat’s Recent Column Calling for Conservative Control of Public Education Reinforces Mistaken Belief that Conservatives Are Open Minded

July 21, 2021

Russ Douthat, the NYTimes “conservative” columnist, is one of many pundits who haven’t absorbed the reality that Donald Trump has taken over the GOP and, in doing so, completely erased any desire to accomplish things that take time, require any kind of bi-partisanship, and promote any kind of open-mindedness. True Conservatives, the ones who used to control the GOP, had principles. They favored a Republican form of government where powers were shared between the federal and state levels and the power of the central government was limited to national defense and the assurance that justice is assured. They believed in freedom and individual rights, especially freedom of thought. They believed that politics was premised on the “art of the possible”, where coalition building was necessary to proceed and the attainment of a utopian vision was impossible. Those True Conservatives are not in power any longer. Instead, the GOP is now controlled by Trump Conservatives who are only interested in power for its own sake and the promotion of a public that believes and acts on their views and their views only. Trump Conservatives seek dominance at the expense of individual freedom… and when the media refers to the GOP as a “conservative” party it is misleading the public. 

In his column “How Conservatives Can Reshape Education“, Ross Douthat reviews the recent history from HIS perspective as a True Conservative and asserts that the ultimate decisions about what gets taught are the classroom teachers and goes on to contend that “…the key deciders are establishment liberals, in negotiation with activists to their left“.

As readers of this blog know, I see things differently. The ideas promoted by the “liberal establishment” MAY dominate the teacher education curriculum, but teachers in MOST public schools are driven to teach to the standardized tests that have bi-partisan support as the “gold standard” metric for schooling.  As a result of this need to improve on test scores above all else combined with the need to integrate technology in classrooms, fewer and fewer teacher education programs are steeped in the theories of John Dewey and more and more are based on the theories of Thorndike.  And it is astonishing to me that columnists like Mr. Douthat do not understand that each and every public school in America is run by an elected school board. As a result, the operating philosophies in the Deep South are rooted in markedly different values that those in the Northeast… and within the Northeast itself there is a wide range of ideas about what should be taught in classrooms. Like his True Conservative colleagues and Trump Conservative counterparts, though, Mr. Douthat believes in a narrative whereby a “liberal establishment” controls “government schools” and wants to brainwash children to believe leftist ideas like Critical Race Theory and the elimination of “merit based” entry to elite high schools and colleges that are based on standardized test scores. curricula that will water down the rigorous thought.

Mr. Douthat’s big idea idea about how conservatives can reshape education is completely untethered from the reality of a GOP dominated by Trump Conservatives: 

What if conservatives used the power of the purse to build instead and prove that their vision of academia is possible? Let DeSantis establish a new teachers college in Florida, with not just curricular but also hiring and admissions decisions supervised by a panel appointed by both political parties in the legislature. Or let the next Republican president create a group of national public universities with a similar structure, with governing boards appointed by Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, a core curriculum established by bipartisan academic appointees, admissions officers appointed by the same.

In what world are Trump Conservatives interested in improving “government schools?” In what world would Governor DeSantis or (ulp) President DeSantis make any effort to do anything that involves true bipartisanship? In what world would either True Conservatives of Trump Conservatives want to centralize universities and have them adopt a universal “core curriculum”?  And last, but clearly not least, in what world is there NOT bipartisan support for holding schools accountable based on test scores? 


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