April 16, 2008

Anti-intellectual and the classism of American education

In the context of the clucking about Obama saying that poor, rural Americans are bitter (which, hello, is entirely true, as anyone who's lived in a community populated in large part by poor, rural Americans can tell you), nojojojo shares the hypothesis of progress author, Joe Bageant:

The result of all this [the class divisions in the American education system], according to Bageant? People from rural, poor communities have been virtually programmed for generations to listen not to their own reasoning, but to whoever speaks loudest and most authoritatively on any subject. They respond to simple, emotionally charged messages — even when the the issues that the messages involve are complex and nuanced. They resent, and therefore distrust, those Americans who had greater access to education, or who were taught to question as they were not; Bageant believes this is less about anti-intellectualism/anti-elitism than it is simple schadenfreude [sic; I think the blogger means `resentment'] towards the more fortunate. And they’ve developed the perfectly reasonable survival mechanism of listening to whoever seems willing to help them, regardless of whether those people actually are helpful. Bageant notes cases of conservative politicians who visited rural areas and shared a beer with poor constituents — then turned right around and instituted policies that made health care, housing, food, and education unaffordable for those same people. Frequently these politicians got elected multiple times in spite of this. Loyalty, after all, is one of the values their constitutents were taught in school.

In certain respects, this is very much like the thesis of Richard Hofstadter's Anti-intellectualism in American life. Hofstadter would disagree, though, with the claim that anti-intellectualism isn't, well, anti-intellectualism. There is, he thinks, a close link between anti-intellectualism and egalitarianism.