It is difficult to overestimate the importance of education for the well-being of a functioning and flourishing democratic society. Education is one of the foundational elements of a just and participatory society, and it is a key aspect of working towards the goal of equality of opportunity for all persons.
We know from the evidence that the happiest, least corrupt, best educated, most healthy, most free, most sustainable, and most flourishing societies all embrace and support pluralism of thought, speech, and action. The coordinated and sustained attack on educators and education in the United States is a threat to pluralism of thought, speech, and action. In other words, it is a threat to freedom and human flourishing.
The goal of education is not simply acquisition of knowledge, information, or employment. The goal of education is the cultivation of wisdom, which is the synthesis of knowledge, virtue, and justice for the flourishing of all. It is critical to keep this goal of wisdom in mind, especially given the coordinated efforts to reduce all education to job preparation. Education is not only about preparing us for labor and work within our economy, it is also about preparing us for free and participatory action within our shared world.
When parents ask me if their children will get a job after college, my response is that yes, they will be more prepared for a job and a career, but they will also hopefully be more prepared for life and for participating as free persons in society for the well-being of all persons.
The most flourishing societies in the world are going in the opposite direction of my home state of Oklahoma when it comes to K-12 and higher education, which is precisely why Oklahoma continues its precipitous decline. But what is happening in Oklahoma is happening all over the country to varying degrees.
It is well documented that since the early 1970s there has been a well-funded, well-coordinated, and effective effort by various forces in corporate America to weaken the role of the liberal arts in higher education and to lessen the societal influence of progressive religious institutions. Apologists for corporate America rightly saw that higher education and progressive religion were primary sources of criticism of the injustices in our corporate controlled economic and political systems.
One cannot fully understand the well-funded and sustained efforts to weaken moderate to progressive mainline denominations, publicly funded media, public education, and higher education in the United States without reading the 1971 Powell Memo and its blueprint for corporate America to maintain and expand its economic and political power. The memo was written by Lewis Powell to the National Chamber of Commerce just prior to his appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States. How much the Powell Memo actually influenced the movement for continued corporate dominance over our political and economic systems can be debated, but what Powell lays out in significant detail in his 1971 memo has certainly played out in ways very similar to what Powell was calling for, and it is still playing out today in the attacks on the integrity and vitality of public education and higher education throughout our society.
The current attempt to defund the Oklahoma Education Television Authority, also known as OETA, is connected to this ongoing movement towards corporate control of media and education. When the Oklahoma governor points to “Oklahoma values” to justify the defunding of OETA, which by the way is the most watched state public television station per capita in the whole country, this is a classic fascist move. Using rhetoric like this makes it seem that something like “Oklahoma values” can only mean one thing, and to be a “true Oklahoman” you must hold a homogenous set of values held by “real Oklahomans.” Such rhetoric and the ideology behind it have been used over and over again throughout history to oppress those who hold views and values different than the majority view. This is an extremely dangerous totalitarian tendency.
To understand the use of the language of “Oklahoma values” as a strategy to defund OETA and ban teaching about the reality of racism in our history and in our present, It is helpful to read about the synchronization of culture project overseen by Joseph Goebbels in Nazi Germany. Any time an appeal to “common values” is used to ban or suppress certain forms of speech, action, and expression that do no harm to others; true freedom is in jeopardy. Remember this every time that appeals to ”Oklahoma values” are used as justification to defund OETA or any other program that contributes to the public good.
Access to quality public education is essential for equality of opportunity within our society, and it is crucial for the maintenance of pluralism, justice, and freedom within our society. The goal of a beloved community is inextricably linked to equitable access to quality education that includes information acquisition and job training, but that also focuses on the cultivation of wisdom for our full participation in a free and pluralistic society.
A truly beloved community requires love, social justice, environmental justice, and climate justice. Education is one of the most important forces for comprehensive and holistic justice within our society. Without education, realistic hope for a better future in beloved community is greatly diminished, and one of the most important things we can do for the flourishing of all humanity and all life both now and in the future is to defend education from those who would simply use it as a tool for perpetuating unjust economic and political power.