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Authoritarianism

What It Is and How to Counter It

I am going to argue that progressive values should set the ideals of teaching and learning in American society.  These values are rooted in democratic ideals and citizen action.  Unfortunately the cloud of authoritarianism looms over education more than ever, making it difficult to design curriculum and instruction around progressive values.

The Authoriarian

The current president is the poster child of authoritarianism.  There is little doubt that the current Republican administration presents a Clear and Present Danger to all citizens in the U.S., and the rest of the world. Never has such an inexperienced, corrupt and autocratic administration been given the reigns to the American democracy. The new administration has already shown its hand in terms of comments made on the campaign trail, who was selected for cabinet positions, and White House executive positions. This coupled with a Congress that is in denial of policies for science, health, the environment, and education based on research in these fields.

The words and actions The Authoritarian used and put on display during the primary and presidential campaign describe his beliefs and understandings, which resonated with many, but were repulsive to many more.

Saying Mexicans are criminals, rapists, and drug dealers and calling a judge Mexican because his surname is Hispanic, and claiming he would be biased against him in his University fraud case, even though he was born and raised in Indiana.

Name calling of women (“Look at that face,” saying that Megan Kelly “had blood coming out of her whatever), and using phrases such “lying Ted Cruz,” “crooked Hillary,” or “little Marco,” are part of his lexicon which he will carry to the White House, perhaps in a disguised form.

He thinks of people as either winners or losers, and is quick to give his opinion. In one interview he was asked about Senator John McCain’s ordeal as a prisoner of war for seven years. He said, “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Perhaps most incendiary are his racist plans to round-up “bad hombres”, and create a registry for Muslims, and one of his allies even brought up the disgraced idea of internment camps!

The Authoritarian is also inept when it comes to literature, history and science. In a Tweet in 2012, he said “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

The new administration is a Clear and Present Danger. In addition to his racism, sexism, misogyny, sexual assaults, and corruption, there are other concerns that are alarming.

This inquiry is a counter to authoritarianism that has taken hold the United States.  It is having an impact on education, environment, science, immigration, religious freedom, and inclusion.

Some Background

As Kendrick Smith states in his new book, Who Stole the American Dream?, there has been a rebellion in this country and it has been led by corporations, Washington lobbyists (who outnumber the members of the House and Senate by 130 – 1!), rightist “think tanks” and organization such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

According to Smith, this movement had its origins in the Carter Administration.  It was under Carter’s administration that power shifted in favor of pro-business.  Smith explains that in 1971, Lewis Powell, then a corporate lawyer and member of the boards of 11 corporations, wrote a memo to his friend Eugene Sydnor, Jr., the Director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The memorandum was dated August 23, 1971, two months prior to Powell’s nomination by President Nixon to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Smith writes about this about Powell’s memo (referred to now as Powell’s Manifesto).

In a tone of exasperation, he chided America’s corporate leaders for bowing to mainstream middle-of-the-road policies and for adopting a strategy of “appeasement, ineptitude and ignoring the problem.” The time has come, he insisted, for Corporate America to adopt “a more aggressive attitude” and to change Washington’s policies through “confrontation politics.”  (Smith, Hedrick (2012-09-11). Who Stole the American Dream? (Kindle Locations 375-378). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.)

Powell’s memo, according to Smith, set in motion a momentous shift in the political balance of power in Washington in favor of business and conservative views.  One of the major recommendations in the Powell Manifesto was to counter what he viewed as a university campus assault on the “enterprise” system.  He suggested that the Chamber of Commerce should assemble a staff of highly skilled scholars in the social sciences who “believe in the system,” and have the reputation to confront the likes of Ralph Nader, William Kunstler, and Charles Reich.

Hendrick Smith states that the memo influenced or inspired the creation of the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Accuracy in Academe, and other powerful organizations. According to Smith, “their long-term focus began paying off handsomely in the 1980s, in coordination with the Reagan Administration’s “hands-off business” philosophy.”

Thus began the recruitment of scholars and ex-politicians in the social science and law who “believed in the system.”

In the 1990s and through the first decade of the 21st century, the middle class began to shrink, and the wealth gap increased to the extent that Smith characterized the new economy as “the economy of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%.   Even beginning in the mid-sixties, Smith documents the rise of the radical right, and how extremism took over the Republican Party.  The drive to attack Social Security, Medicare, and constant insistence of lower taxes (especially for the rich).

In the introduction to his book, Smith talks about the “gross inequality of income and wealth in America, and suggests that it is the “gravest challenge in our society.  As Smith acknowledges, if the extremes (of wealth and education) become too great, then equal opportunity is undermined, and our economy is at risk.

Look out for ALEC

Although Smith does not talk about it directly, education has been subjected to the radical right’s dream to privatize public education by using public monies to fund national charter organizations to run local schools under the false banner of choice.  For decades, the right has pushed the idea of vouchers as another “choice” parents can make to educate their children.  It’s really not choice, because the idea is to channel kids into private schools, or charters.  Now, with the appointment of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education, the radical right’s goal to privatize education, has the philanthropist (and non-educator with no experience in education) who’s family has spent millions to support all forms of choice, including charters, and vouchers.

One of the organizations that has underwritten much of the legislation that has been cropping up in state legislatures around the country is our old friend, ALEC.  ALEC has been exposed as  a right-wing “bill-mill” that writes legislation at the their headquarters in D.C., invites Republican state legislators to a lavish multi-day conference at which ALEC dispenses actions in the form of “model legislation or bills” that can be easily converted into local and state legislatures.

If you take a look at these model bills, it is clear that ALEC is in the business privatizing schools, and undermining teachers. As I wrote in an  post on the Art of Teaching Science, there is a clear attempt to commercialize education and exploit children and schooling, further undoing the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy.

Countering the Authoritarians: The Push Back and the Move Forward

In this inquiry, I am going to explore another movement that has historically played a role to oppose corporate, authoritarian, un-democratic, and right-wing policies and beliefs, and that is the work and desire of progressives, who have played a role in American history, starting with the American revolution.

However, when the election of 2016 was stolen from Hillary Clinton, resulting in the maiming of the Presidency caused by the installation of a man who is a narcissistic bully, with personal traits of sexism, miscogyny, sexual assaults, and corruption.

A resistance movement began after the 2016 election, and has continued at a level not seen in America in a long time.  For instance the Women’s March which was organized to be held one day after the Presidential inauguration.  In Washington more than three times the number of people who attended the inauguration participated in the Women’s March, and that was in D.C.  Around the country and world, millions more marched.  And its been this way every step of the way since the election, and all hell broke loose when the Friday Night Immigration Debacle orchestrated a movement of ordinary people and lawyers of the ACLU to confront the president’s executive order to ban people from seven middle Eastern and Muslim nations.

There is a clear and present danger in the White House and it will take continuous resistance from people in all walks of life, all religious, all ethnic groups, young and old.

Progressive and conservative approaches to education have competed with each other in America for more than a century. But the conservatives have been taken over by the radical-right, and people who are out to do away with public school systems, and replace them with tax credits for families to attend private schools (which they can not afford), charter schools, replacing local public schools, run by private national and international charter management companies.

Key Ideas

Here are some of the key articles (key ideas) that focus on how to counter the authoritarian reform agenda that not only has played havoc with K-12 schooling, but is subjecting teachers and teacher education programs to the same madness that inflicts public education.