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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Progressives attack — education suffers

The American Right isn’t the only one degrading the nation’s education system.


Hamline University Old Main is pictured.

American progressives have long derided the right for its attacks on education and schools; however, it is long past time for the American left to look at itself in the mirror and realize its own hubris. This is not to let the hard right off the hook when it comes to education, but it is necessary for the left not to lose sight of its own failures.

It is easy to see the Democrats engaging in the same culture war nonsense that they are so quick to condemn on the other side of the aisle. Cancel culture plays a big part in the ideological left’s attack on education. Progressives have long attacked academic freedom under the illusion of protection from hostile environments and political incorrectness. In 2023, Hamline University terminated an adjunct professor for showing a 14th century painting of the Prophet Muhammad in her art history course despite multiple warnings and a chance to opt out of that specific part of the lecture. In 2021, MIT canceled a lecture by a prestigious geophysics professor due to opinions he had previously expressed against affirmative action. Finally, the University of Central Florida fired a tenured professor for creating a hostile environment, likely reflecting concerns about the professor’s Twitter posts concerning “Black privilege” despite free speech concerns. The fact that UCF then had to apologize to the professor in question shows that the premature actions to cancel them were misleading and bowing to progressive pressure.

Education and history do not exist in a vacuum and there is rarely an absolute moral good or bad when engaging in complex discussions about the human experience. Boiling down complicated topics and debates into safe spaces and trigger warnings does a great disservice to education which should seek to engage and prompt students with tough questions that they will experience during their lives. Canceling speakers and educators who bring up these difficult topics simply because they are coming from an opposing viewpoint that offends us is not only reductive but also a cheap way to get out of an uncomfortable and difficult situation.

But Progressives’ attacks on education do not stop at colleges and universities and they have started seeping into high school curriculums. In California, policymakers have mandated ethnic studies for all high school students who graduate starting in 2030. Some school districts have used this as an excuse to teach a disguised history class with heavy ideological overtones; ethnic studies classes in California have been caught teaching factually incorrect lessons concerning Israel and Palestine and other heavily debated topics. In Virginia, school officials tried to increase diversity in its elite schools by simply dropping standardized testing requirements instead of investing in underserved children at earlier grade levels and equalizing the competition.  

A culture of cancelation and constant language policing is not going to solve the issues plaguing America’s education system. The American Left has identified many pressing issues that need to be solved, including racial disparities in learning and equal access to education. Studies find that racial gaps in reading and math between white children and Children of Color begin as soon as kindergarten. However, the answers to these problems cannot be endless Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs. Instead, the left needs to focus on direct investment into poorer communities and Communities of Color, especially at lower grade levels. Many of these communities are suffering from dilapidated schools, inadequate teachers and improper funding making the education gap widen quickly between economic lines.

For states such as California, in which only 47% of students meet the English proficiency standard and 33% meet the math standard, the focus should not be trying to lower graduation requirements, cancel gifted programs and shutter AP classes under the guise of racial equity. Instead, resources need to be reinvested into school districts that are suffering from low performance and lack of leadership. Race and equity are not ‘get out of jail free’ cards that can be waved about as an excuse to further degrade the currently run-down public education sector. Meritocracy can work for everyone, but only if we ensure a fair starting point and equal access to quality education.

For Tufts students and others, it is easy to shut down an argument and massage your own ego by labeling opposing views as racist or offensive. However, it does a great disservice to all by preventing well-intentioned debate and creates nothing but resentment and fear. Ideas — no matter how seemingly offensive they may seem — come from a position of internal perspective that can be hard to understand. Choosing to ignore ideas is cowardly and reads as a shying away from the metaphorical marketplace of ideas that colleges offer their students. I encourage everyone to seek out opposing viewpoints and try their best to understand them. You’ll have a better understanding of our complex world because of it.