BY SAMUEL ABRAMS
Surveys and reports showing that only small numbers of conservatives and Republicans believe higher education has a positive effect on the country regularly make national news. The explicit rationale for these sentiments is not entirely clear, but there are numerous possible causes including the high cost of a degree and a college degree’s value vis-à-vis vocational and other training programs. Others understandably wonder whether or not higher education is protecting speech and seeding the progressive push toward cancel culture and critical race theory — both dangerously destructive movements which have dominated national discourse outside of collegiate campuses.
However, I firmly believe that those on the right should not give up on any level of our education system; our educational system and its institutions anchor our nation and help teach and propagate our values. These institutions must be renewed and reinvigorated and not ceded to the seemingly growing woke and progressive waves corrupting the free exchange of ideas and our core ideas about learning.
New survey data from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) further confirms this trend for higher education and adds to the story by providing insight on the public K-12 universe. The numbers paint a further damning picture where conservatives are appreciably less supportive of our elementary and secondary education system as well.
Specifically, ACTA surveyed a large number of Illinois residents about their attitudes toward higher education and the public college and university system. 61 percent thought the higher education system does a good (49 percent) or excellent (13 percent) job educating students, compared to 24 percent who think that the job has been not so good (15 percent) or poor (9 percent).
Breaking this down ideologically, it becomes immediately clear that those on the left are far more positive than those on the right, a consistent trend for the past few years. In this case, 75 percent of liberals are positive on the state’s schools compared to 64 percent of moderates. Just 41 percent of conservative identifiers are positive, with the plurality of 46 percent being negative on higher education in the state of Illinois.
Turning to K-12, the overall sentiments are even worse than higher education; just 44 percent think the K-12 system in the state is good (38 percent) or excellent (6 percent). The plurality, 48 percent, think the state does a not so good (29 percent) or a poor (19 percent) job with K-12 education.
When considering ideology for K-12, conservative-identifying respondents are quite negative. Just 34 percent think the state does a good or excellent job with its primary and secondary students, compared to 61 percent who assert the state does a not so good or poor job. Liberals are more positive, with 50 percent being on the good or excellent column compared to 42 percent in the poor job column. Moderates are evenly split at both 45 percent positive and negative, respectively. There is no question that those on the right simply see K-12 far more negatively than the rest of the polity.
Conservatives are simply not happy with the state of public primary, secondary, or higher education whatsoever. These sentiments are understandable given the illiberal, anti-intellectual, and intolerant impulses strongly rallying against real debate and discourse. Moreover, given the ostensibly endless stories of “diversity training” with anti-racist rhetoric coupled with countless examples of political indoctrination nationwide attempting to shut down viewpoint diversity, having negative perceptions of our education system is absolutely warranted.
Nevertheless, it’s a mistake for conservatives to turn away from our public education system. While there is value to vocational programs, it should not be forgotten that K-12 schools anchor communities, create connections and social capital, and have historically passed American values on to new generations Americans while teaching them how to be citizens. Institutions of higher education teach students how to think, innovate, and engage in discourse, thereby producing both philosophical and practical innovations which benefit the nation and the world.
So while numerous stories will undoubtedly continue to surface about the negative facets of our education system, conservatives should not walk away and denounce this critical public institution. Gen Z has already shown they open their hearts and minds toward politics. Having grown up in a social media world, they want a real diversity of ideas and views and do not want to silence debate. Conservatives should embrace this generation and help push to properly renew our public education system for it will profoundly shape the future of the nation and our values.
When states like California push Marxist theory around race and ethnic studies initiatives, the resistance should be sound and swift. However, despite their disappointment with the current state of the public education system, conservatives should not retreat or abandon one of our nation’s greatest institutions.