State interference in education - America's "Gleichschaltung"

Almost immediately after Hitler took power in Germany, the Nazis announced a policy of "Gleichschaltung" - the "bringing into line" of all facets of public life in accordance with Nazi ideology and policy. Labor, political activity, civic institutions and, importantly, education were subordinated to the Nazi state and its aims. The goals behind this policy, closely related, were to make the state all powerful and to crush individual - i.e., dissident - thought and activity.

I don't need to say that the US is not Nazi Germany. This is obvious. Which raises the question of why we are now seeing moves to enforce a kind of "Gleichschaltung" within the American higher educational system:
The proposal, which passed the House this fall on voice vote, would create an advisory board of political appointees to keep tabs on federally financed international studies programs at colleges and universities. The bill could affect any university, including those in Oregon, that requests funding under Title VI of the higher education act.

"This vehicle could be a disaster for American education," said Gilbert Merkx, vice provost for international affairs at Duke University. He and others are concerned that the board will politicize decisions regarding which universities receive financial support for their research.

Critics say the oversight is necessary to restore ideological balance in the programs, which were created by the federal government in 1958 to develop expert knowledge about regions of the world. The programs are charged with training specialists for government, industry and education in areas as diverse as China's economy, Africa's cultures and languages such as Dari and Pashto.

Opponents of the board, including groups that represent the majority of U.S. colleges and universities and the American Association of University Professors, say the legislation opens the door for politics to influence what and how professors teach.

The bill charges the seven-member board with advising the secretary of education and Congress on ways to improve international studies to better meet national security needs and to encourage students to work for the government.

The education secretary, a Cabinet member, would appoint three members to the board -- two of whom must represent agencies responsible for national security, such as the Department of Homeland Security. The House speaker and Senate president pro tem each would appoint two members, upon the recommendation of the majority and minority leaders in each chamber.

"It will be a creature of the administration, whichever administration it is," said Jon Mandaville, a Porrtland
[sic] State University history professor.
One of the main proponents of this intellectual commissariat is Stanley Kurtz, a member of the Hoover Institute at Stanford University whose articles are frequently cited on Daniel Pipes' McCarthyist-style CampusWatch website.

Kurtz has the curious notion that the federal government should restrict academic freedom in order to promote it:
"Unless steps are taken to balance university faculties with members who both support and oppose American foreign policy, the very purpose of free speech and academic freedom will have been defeated," Kurtz testified to a House committee.
It is difficult to know what to make of this gibberish. Does Kurtz think that the "purpose" of free speech is simply to endorse official US policy or that the "purpose" of academic freedom is to invent intellectual justifications for whatever cockeyed scheme certain elected officials would like to implement? What happens if we go to the trouble of "balancing" university faculties - and then our hand-picked yes-men change their minds? Would they be fired? Should we really be afraid of having independent institutions within the US which criticize and oppose official policy? What of the possibility that Kurtz's ideas and preferred policies - what he likes to call "American foreign policy" - already receive a fair hearing on America's campuses but simply cannot withstand critical scrutiny? And why should we expect America's institutions of higher learning to conform to the official US line? Might it not be a good idea for American officials - for once - to begin listening to what region-studies experts have to say?

In fact, Kurtz and his fellow would-be commissars (e.g., Daniel Pipes, David Horowitz) are interested in other things than "ideological diversity". One thing they are interested in is defending Israel. Over the past two decades, academics in the US, Palestine, and Israel have turned a very bright light on the foundation of the state of Israel and its policies in the Middle East. The ethnic cleansing of 1947-48, Israel's wars of aggression in the region, and its long-term deliberate mistreatment and oppression of the Palestinians (among other things) are all getting more and more serious attention. We are beginning, in other words, to get a history of the Israel-Palestine conflict, rather than the generally accepted myths that have dominated discourse concerning Israel and the Middle East over the past 50 years. American universities are seen as the source of agitation on behalf of Palestinian rights within the US (including on the part of far-rightist Israelis like Sharansky). For ideological devotees like Kurtz and Pipes, this is a very troubling development - one, apparently, which calls for measures bordering on the fascist.

But preventative enforced ignorance is only part of the equation. There is also a "positive" component to this scheme. Kurtz and others are also interested in producing reasonably adequate - functional - administrators of what he might call the "democratic American empire".

It is possible to see how Kurtz's proposed intellectual commissariat - which would help ensure the education of administrators who were both competent in the necessary skills and ideologically sound - fits into his vision of American empire in his essay "Democratic Imperialism: A Blueprint":
There are at least two possible solutions to the problem of Arab nationalist reaction - the Iraqi immigrant returnees and what we might call "blended rule" (a combination of direct and indirect rule).

It will take time to educate and train a modernizing and liberal elite.

As a way to encourage democratization, an extended American occupation of Iraq would be just policy. Would a long-term occupation also be wise policy? That is the more difficult question. Since democratization will be more lengthy and difficult in Iraq than in postwar Japan, America will have to marshal its will and resources for a stressful and challenging enterprise. If the Iraqi returnees turn out to be poor democratizers, or if America finds it difficult to exercise great and lasting influence without quite seeming to do so, the chances of an Arab nationalist reaction or internal American divisions are high.
Thus, Kurtz's autocratic vision has two goals. One is to educate New American Students to supply the intellectual and "moral" guidance for the Iraqi colony and train the "liberalizing elite" that will "civilize" the country (and whatever other states the US might choose to bring into its empire at a later time). The other is aimed at the domestic US situation - the prevention of "internal American divisions" by ensuring that the people most likely to lead any real dissidence are effectively silenced by being made jobless.

(An aside: Kurtz's deep intellectual dishonesty is also made clear numerous times in his essay, but I will mention only two here. Although Kurtz's main thesis is that the British imperial project laid the foundations of democracy in the later independent India, he never once (in over 7,000 words) mentions Pakistan. Of course, Pakistan was also part of the British-controlled India, but Kurtz's analysis seemingly isn't powerful enough to take this inconvenient fact into consideration. Hello, Mr. Kurtz? How does the history of the undemocratic - and increasingly problematic - Pakistan since its independence fit into your rosy vision of the successful "democratic imperialism"?)

Opponents of America's move towards empire often do not grasp what its proponents have long understood - that situations are not unchangeable and that people can be led. People like Kurtz know this, and they know that the surest means of effecting a radical kind of change (over the long term, to be sure, but this is how they see things in any event) is through education. This new assault on academic freedom must be seen as part of the larger "Gleichschaltung" which is going on in American society and which is already visible in the realms of politics (e.g., the redistricting debacle in Texas), media consolidation, and finance (tax cuts that greatly favor the wealthy over the poor) - all of which are deliberate far-right projects to maintain a long-term/permanent hold on power and reshape American society to serve their interests and aims. Yet, in the long run, the attack against education may turn out to be the most important. For while the others are aimed at establishing and strengthening the aristocracy of the American empire, only control of education will ensure that it works.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?