This Is Ominous

A few days ago, I posted a blog about the Chinese mainland’s negative response to “liberal” education in Hong Kong. I pointed out that the Chinese approach to education is more accurately described as indoctrination.

It would be satisfying if, as Americans, we could say “tsk tsk” and take comfort in our longstanding commitment to academic freedom. But of course, this is the Age of Trump, and we can’t–because this administration agrees with the Chinese.

On September 19th, the New York Times reported that the Department of Education had issued an ultimatum to two distinguished universities: Duke and the University of North Carolina–teach what we tell you or lose financial support.

The Education Department has ordered Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to remake the Middle East studies program run jointly by the two schools after concluding that it was offering students a biased curriculum that, among other complaints, did not present enough “positive” imagery of Judaism and Christianity in the region.

In a rare instance of federal intervention in college course content, the department asserted that the universities’ Middle East program violated the standards of a federal program that awards funding to international studies and foreign language programs. The inquiry was part of a far-reaching investigation into the program by the department, which under Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, has become increasingly aggressive in going after perceived anti-Israel bias in higher education.

DeVos, like Pence, is a fundamentalist Christian; apparently, she is also one of the Christian Zionists whose support for Israel is far less nuanced than that of  America’s Jewish community. Christian Zionists believe that the Rapture they await won’t occur until all Jews are gathered back in Israel. They also believe that only the Jews who then accept Jesus will be Raptured Up with them; the rest of us will burn in hell.

This isn’t support for Jews or Judaism; it isn’t really even support for Israel as a country–they are just protecting what they believe is a necessary means to their heavenly end.

Be that as it may, the Department of Education disapproved of the universities’ effort to improve understanding of Islam.

The department also criticized the consortium’s teacher training programs for focusing on issues like “unconscious bias, serving L.G.B.T.I.Q. youth in schools, culture and the media, diverse books for the classroom and more.” They said that it had a “startling lack of focus on geography, geopolitical issues, history and language.”

The Times article was a dry recitation of the unprecedented action taken by DOE. The Guardian was more direct.

If you criticize Israeli policy, you will lose your federal funding. That is the message the Department of Education is sending with its threat to withdraw federal support for the Consortium for Middle East Studies, operated jointly by Duke University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, if it does not alter the content of its programming.

Just three months after Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, ordered an investigation into a conference about the politics of the Gaza Strip that the consortium had sponsored – an authoritarian threat, in and of itself – the Department of Education issued a letter demanding that the Duke-UNC consortium remake its curriculum. Or else.

This is just the latest evidence of what the Guardian calls “the Orwellian grammar of the Trump era”–where the repression of liberal or progressive viewpoints is free speech, and federal intervention in university curricula is academic freedom.

The Department of Education threat against the Duke-UNC consortium is yet another example of the Trump administration’s spectacular hypocrisy and cynicism, not to mention its clash-of-civilizations-style Islamophobia – among other things, the Education Department’s letter accused the Duke-UNC program of devoting disproportionate emphasis “on understanding the positive aspects of Islam.”

This episode is part of the GOP’s antipathy to expertise, science and higher education, and the Trump Administration’s efforts to dictate what can properly be taught.

Indeed, when it comes to higher education, the Trump administration’s approach is uncharacteristically coherent, to fight its enemies – variously conceived of as liberals, Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians, LGBTQ people, people of color, and women – by enforcing ideological constraints, amplifying conservative viewpoints, dismantling or manipulating anti-discrimination statutes and, when possible, slashing federal funding.

When the government can dictate what scholars teach in the classroom, that’s indoctrination, not education. Academic freedom is essential to genuine education.

The First Amendment doesn’t protect free speech because the Founders thought ideas didn’t pose a threat. They knew ideas could be dangerous–but they also knew that allowing the government to determine which ideas could be exchanged would be far more dangerous.

If some schools did use lopsided curricula, that might pose a danger–but allowing government to control what universities can teach would be infinitely more dangerous.

We need to bid an unceremonious “hasta la vista” to this entire administration.


  1. Surely, the two schools can tie this ultimatum up in court until after the next election.

  2. The slogans for defeating Trump just keep piling up. Now we can add: Remember the Battle of Chapel Hill. But let’s not make the same mistake the Republicans made in 2016. We must champion real issues that matter most to our future generations: quality public school education; clean water and sustainable environment; accessible affordable healthcare; public safety period; open society with secure and safe borders; and we could wax eloquently our case without wasting time denigrating character people have already decided. If millions are to be spent on campaigning, then focus on the issues without wasting time and energy lancing already tattered windmills.

  3. The idiocy of the Rapture belief is remarkable. That so many buy into it illustrates the urgency of rejecting religious indoctrination.

  4. The Rapture, LOL, that’s a subject that I would love to dissect, but, let’s just say, the Rapture is not mentioned in Scripture. The word Rapture does not appear in the Bible. But they take one Scripture and attempt to twisted into something they can use to control their parishioners. Throughout history, there are many instances of people being told they were going to be caught up in the Rapture, only to let that deadline pass. People quit their jobs, run up massive debts, party hard, because they figure they won’t have to pay it back, LOL. And usually the preachers they follow tend to be the recipients of this financial windfall. They then disappear, but not in the rapture, LOL, and everyone else is holding the bag so to speak. The gullible will always be just that, gullible, even sending money to their preachers to pray for them, this is insane to say the least.

    The line between church and state is completely blurred here with this administration, but, it started with previous administrations. President number 43, George Bush, really kicked a lot of the integration of religion and state into high gear by giving federal money to religious organizations so they can distribute that money through their charitable wings. Unfortunately, this taxpayer money that the federal government was doling out, was subject to the strings attached by religious groups. After the next election, they then held the Obama administration hostage by circulating a constant din of misinformation about Barack Obama being the Antichrist, him not being a Christian, him not being an American. This effectively kept Obama from dismantling a lot of the religious mechanisms laced into government, any effort to the contrary, would have brought forth a cascade of even more untruths. So, in this instance, the Obama administration just let those sleeping dogs lay.

    When Trump was the surprising winner of his particular election, he of course was beholden to the evangelical block. I remember when a reporter asked Donald Trump what his favorite Scripture was, he said there was so many, he couldn’t pick, and that it’s a private thing anyway; LOL, he did want to have a Sarah Palin moment. He couldn’t quote Scripture if his life depended on it.

    At present, this whole fiasco is going to create such a backlash against religion in this country, and more than likely around the world, protections are going to be removed, and financial assets are going to be taxed, they will have to pay for their utilities and pay taxes. This in itself will effectively eliminate a lot of religion and religious influence twards government.

    For religion to put all of their eggs in this corrupt administrations basket, is so hypocritical, so un-Christlike, the backlash is going to be devastating! This could actually lead to the elimination of organized religion, let alone its influence on government.

  5. No problem pointing fingers at this administration but let’s not overlook the fact that they are implementing longstanding Republican Party doctrine. What’s ominous is that after this president is history, half of our political landscape will remain intellectually, morally, and in most cases, ethically bankrupt.

  6. Thanks Sheila for the summary of Devos and and her evangelical bias against public education and all that entails. Found another (not as in depth) article about the timeline of Devos and her actions…
    Now, this impeachment situation gives me no satisfaction aside from getting the facts out/ if Congress can break through the rule breaker administration’s stonewalling because of what is at the other end of it: Pence and all his power hungry evangelicals including Devos.

  7. Over it:

    Well said. Religion keeps coming to the rescue of sanity. Add to that the “Shock Doctrine” invented by Milton Friedman that turns public schools into for-profit private or charter schools and you have the indoctrination model all authoritarians desire.

    After Katrina, the Bush administration rushed into New Orleans and put in charter schools while ignoring the demise of public schools. I looked it up. The Orleans parish schools are 90% charter. So much for egalitarian, universal education.

  8. Art Pope runs North Carolina and has already led several campaigns against the colleges in North Carolina. He was behind eliminating state funding for a center which studied welfare. He’s also a Cato supporter and no doubt on the Koch team with Mrs. DeVos.

    Mitch Daniels demanded that Howard Zinn could not be taught in schools in Indiana and allowed for state funding of IWU even though they discriminate in favor of Christian employees.

    Indoctrination has been going on for a long time in the good ole USA. States controlled by the GOP are subjected to much more of it by their paymasters than others. The whole point is to indoctrinate the youth into the Libertarian model to offset the growing socialist accepting young minds.

    Red pill vs Blue pill.

    This indoctrination, whether intentional or not, also includes a segregation factor. Those swallowing the Red pill seem to come from a white Christian upbringing. They are separated from traditional public schools via school vouchers. When these Red pill swallowing students hit liberal universities meant to open their minds to new ideas, many would be lost for good.

    Therefore, the Koch network spent a fortune investing in over 150 universities across the country and advocated for school vouchers in states where they controlled the governorship and legislature. Art Pope controlled both the executive and legislative branches in North Carolina for several years and inflicted much damage. NC has a Democratic governor now which I suspect is why Pence/DeVos are attacking the schools from the federal level.

    Free markets (capitalism) vs. centralized planning (socialism).

    It’s a battle over the ideology of the young minds in this country as future voters and it has been going on for a long time.

  9. Duke is my Alma Mater. It, along with UNC, has the intellectual heft and the wherewithal to counter whatever poisonous initiatives the Know Nothings, headed by DeVos, put forth. But that’s not the point. What needs to occur is the creation of a governmental review process that assures that DeVos-style distortions in public policy are disallowed before they can be weaponized to intimidate more vulnerable institutions. Policies that violate the First Amendment and thereby abridge freedom of speech are clearly unconstitutional. But in the past two years and eight months and six days the Constitution has become a plaything to be used for the president’s personal amusement.The founding fathers anticipated little opposition to the basic principles they laid down. For two hundred and thirty years they were right. But with Trump and a traitorous Senate, all that has changed. Our Constitution now requires sharp teeth that can inflict harm on would-be dictators who would distort it to their own ends. We can no longer risk the probability that another DeVos will come along to work at making the Constitution a partisan document. We already have a Supreme Court which is furthering that cause.

    I personally believe that Islam stinks as a set of principles according to which one can lead a decent life. In its Wahabist form, it is ISIS’s justification for misogyny and beheadings. That does not, however, lead me to conclude that we should ignore the Bill of Rights.

    I will forward a check to Duke’s anti-DeVos legal defense fund as soon as it is announced.

  10. Todd,

    Yes to your summary. It all stems from the egregious Lewis Powell “memo” to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1971 where he “suggested” that corporate/banking America weaponize their corrupting influence on all education facilities at all levels. This is the same Lewis Powell that Nixon elevated to the SCOTUS and that Sandra Day O’Connor thought was a good guy.

    Republicans will always be corrupt and partisan.

  11. The “friends” I have on Face Book who are acolytes of President Agent Orange and Pastor Pence and bible thumping Evangelicals see any criticism of the State of Israel as Anti-Semitic. The Palestinians and Iran are viewed as a grave threat to Israel.

    All this is wrapped around the rapture that they believe is coming soon. The rapture or second coming has been predicted and failed to happen for over a thousand years. This does not stop a new generation from frantically searching their bibles for evidence of the second coming’s imminent arrival.

    Here in Indianapolis the line between Church and State blurred with Gold$mith’s Front Porch Alliance. In 2000 then candidate Bush the Younger said, “The Front Porch Alliance is the way things ought to be,” Bush told hundreds at a Front Porch Alliance rally here last July, in the first major policy speech of his campaign. “In every instance where my administration sees a responsibility to help people, we will look first to faith-based organizations, charities and community groups that have shown their ability to save and change lives.”

  12. We have written the struggle for sanitary sewers, clean drinking water, sanitation in food processing, and worker safety out of the history books and focused on war and conquest. Do our students even know who Dorothea Dix, Alice Paul or Eugene V. Debs were?

  13. I’ve read that there’s been a nation wide systematic undertaking,funded in part by Koch Bros, to influence what is being taught in a schools. Mason University and it’s law school are funded by them. Ball state University here takes their funding to promote their line of thought. Jane Mayer, “Dark Money” exposed ways they go about it. Wow, the description of the Christian Zionists sounds like their a new kind of Nazi. It’s egregious that federal funding would carry the obligation to adopt a regressive mindset. Young minds can often see when their being manipulated, and we still have our rights to push back. They haven’t completely succeeded to take our rights from us, yet?

  14. Vern,on spot,and its a ongoing issue,that may never be over,as long as religion remains in goverment..hypocrisy at its finest..

Comments are closed.