Chasing Those ‘Elitists” Away

Even policies that are adopted after extensive research and thoughtful debate often generate unanticipated consequences, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that a policy based on rejection of relevant evidence and refusal to engage in debate is rapidly degrading access to medical care in Red states.

I’m referring, obviously, to the abortion bans that were enacted (or triggered) immediately after the Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade.

In November, Timothy Noah reported that warnings of an eventual “brain drain” caused by those bans had the timing wrong: it wasn’t “eventual”–it was already occurring. Red state culture wars aren’t only creating medical care “deserts,” they’re driving other college-educated workers— teachers, professors, and more—out as well.

Noah began his article by telling the story of a married same-sex couple, both Ob-Gyns practicing in Oklahoma. They now live in Washington, D.C.–a move that doubled their housing costs and reduced their pay. (It turns out that Red states, which have fewer Ob-Gyns, pay doctors significantly higher wages than states where there are ample practitioners.)

Kate Arnold and Caroline Flint are two bright, energetic, professionally trained, and public-spirited women whom Washington is happy to welcome—they both quickly found jobs—even though it doesn’t particularly need them. The places that need Kate and Caroline are Oklahoma and Mississippi and Idaho and various other conservative states where similar stories are playing out daily. These two fortyish doctors have joined an out-migration of young professionals—accelerated by the culture wars of recent years and pushed to warp speed by Dobbs—that’s known as the Red State Brain Drain.

Abortion restrictions have turbocharged that brain drain, but state laws restricting “everything from academic tenure to transgender health care to the teaching of ‘divisive concepts’ about race” are making these states uncongenial to other knowledge workers.

The number of applications for OB-GYN residencies is down more than 10 percent in states that have banned abortion since Dobbs. Forty-eight teachers in Hernando County, Florida, fed up with “Don’t Say Gay” and other new laws restricting what they can teach, resigned or retired at the end of the last school year. A North Carolina law confining transgender people to bathrooms in accordance with what it said on their birth certificate was projected, before it was repealed, to cost that state $3.76 billion in business investment, including the loss of a planned global operations center for PayPal in Charlotte. A survey of college faculty in four red states (Texas, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina) about political interference in higher education found a falloff in the number of job candidates for faculty positions, and 67 percent of the respondents said they would not recommend their state to colleagues as a place to work. Indeed, nearly one-third said they were actively considering employment elsewhere.

Here in Indiana, school corporations are experiencing dramatically higher teacher vacancies, and like other Red states, Hoosier rural residents struggle to find medical care–and not just prenatal care. It seems it isn’t just Ob-Gyn practitioners who are abandoning Red states.

Family doctors are also “reassessing” their options–and training availability.

Researchers from the Person-Centered Reproductive Health Program at the University of California San Francisco have found there is reason to be concerned about training for family physicians in ban states as well.

A study published in the November-December issue of the Annals of Family Medicine found that 29% or 201 of 693 accredited family medicine residency programs in the U.S., are in states with abortion bans or significant restrictions on abortion access. The study used publicly available data from the American Medical Association to conduct the analysis, and found 3,930 residents out of 13,541 were in states where abortion is banned or heavily restricted.

For practitioners who remain in those states, the training they are now able to receive deprives them of the skills they need to deal with miscarriages and various problems in pregnancy. Residents in those states no longer have access to comprehensive reproductive health training because they’re not experiencing it within their state context. As the lead researcher explains, “they cannot see abortions, cannot perform them, cannot learn how to care for patients after abortions in the same way they would be able to if they were working in a state where abortion was unrestricted.” As she points out, early pregnancy loss is very common, and the skill set for caring for that and first trimester abortion are very similar.

It bears repeating that the exodus of educated citizens isn’t limited to medical professionals. (MAGA Republicans are actually applauding the exit of the teachers and professors they distrust.) Ironically, the rural folks these MAGA lawmakers disproportionately represent are the ones first experiencing the “unintended consequences” of their misogyny–the absence of teachers and doctors.

It will only get worse…..


Jim Banks And The GOP War On Education…

In case you think I’ve been exaggerating about the Republicans making war on education…more evidence has emerged.

According to a report from CNBC, House Republicans have a long-term plan to strip so-called “elite” universities of government funding and federal student loan dollars.

The plan was communicated to a group of business leaders during a private Zoom call last Friday with Indiana’s MAGA Republican Congressman, Jim Banks.

“The hearing was the first step,” said Banks. “The second step is the investigation, the subpoenas, gathering all of the documents and the records,” he said. “Third, that’s when we defund these universities.”

A recording of the call was provided to CNBC by an attendee who requested anonymity in order to share a private conversation.

Banks’ frank description of lawmakers’ plans offers a previously unreported window into at least some members of Congress’ long-term goals with regards to at least two Ivy League universities and MIT, another elite college. House Education Committee chair, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said in an interview on NewsNation that the committee is also looking at Columbia and Cornell University.

Banks has also embraced the idea of taxing college endowments; he has endorsed a bill introduced by Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio that would impose a tax of 35% on college endowments worth over $10 billion.

The legislation has little chance of passing the current Democratic majority Senate, or of being signed into law by President Joe Biden. But if there is a Republican in the White House and a GOP-controlled Senate in 2025, the calculus could be very different.

As the article notes, the fallout from a bill like Vance’s wouldn’t be limited to Harvard, Penn and MIT. Yale, the University of Notre Dame, Columbia University, the University of Chicago and Duke University all have endowments worth more than $10 billion, and they use earnings from those endowment dollars to subsidize tuition and fees for students who otherwise could not afford to attend.

Furthermore, all universities–not just the elite ones– rely on significant federal funding,  because so many students pay their tuition via federal financial aid. That aid accounts for the lion’s share of federal dollars that go to colleges and universities.

In 2018, 65% of the $149 billion total in federal funds received by institutions of higher education went toward federal student aid. This covers scholarships, work-study and loans given to students for their educational expenses, according to USAFacts, a nonprofit site that collects government data.

Jim Banks–aka “Focus on the Family’s Man in Washington“–wants to be the next U.S. Senator from Indiana. During his tenure in the House, he has made most of his agenda very, very clear: a federal ban on abortion with no exceptions; no recognition of, or help for, trans children; no restrictions on gun ownership; no affirmative action or other recognition of the effects of racial disparities (he wants to ban DEI programs); no funding for Ukraine, and–as this last bit of news confirms– a constant war on education.

Jim Banks is a theocrat’s wet dream. A Hoosier version of Marjorie Taylor Greene. No wonder Donald Trump has endorsed him.

The voters of Indiana absolutely cannot send this specimen of Christian Nationalism to the Senate.

I have posted before about Marc Carmichael, who will be the Democratic nominee. Marc is the absolute antithesis of Jim Banks–a thoroughly nice person who actually wants to do the job and who supports policies that used to be considered mainstream: a woman’s right to control her own reproduction; sensible gun safety laws; rational immigration reform; support for public education; and many others. (You can check out his twelve priorities on his website.)

Even in Red Indiana, if voters know both candidates–if they know who they both are and what they both stand for, Marc Carmichael will be the next U.S. Senator from Indiana. The only impediment to getting that information out to the voters would be inadequate funding.  So once you’ve confirmed the accuracy of my descriptions of these candidates–please send Marc a contribution! (And tell all your friends and families.)

Progressive voters in Indiana have complained for years that the Democrats haven’t produced strong candidates willing and able to take on the GOP culture warriors. This year, they have nothing to complain about–Jennifer McCormick, running for Governor, is first-rate, and Destiny Wells, running against our embarrassing, ethically-challenged Attorney General Todd Rokita is equally excellent. The candidates they will face–no matter who emerges from the current GOP gubernatorial mudslinging contest–are all MAGA enthusiasts, and worse than substandard.

The time has come to overcome progressive defeatism, and prove that there really is more than corn in Indiana!


An Even Bigger “Big Sort”

I’ve referred previously to the important 2004 book The Big Sort, which documented the way in which Americans have been “sorting” ourselves by choosing to live in areas we find philosophically and politically compatible. The book, by Bill Bishop, cast light on one of the underappreciated reasons Americans are so culturally and politically divided.

Much more recently, a lengthy article fromThe New Republic documented a sharp increase in that sorting. Red states have been bleeding college graduates for a while now–in Indiana, the “brain drain” is a persistent source of concern at the statehouse– but there is considerable evidence that “hard-right social policies in red states are making this dynamic worse.”

Let me just quote a few paragraphs from the article, which–as I indicated–is lengthy.

The number of applications for OB-GYN residencies is down more than 10 percent in states that have banned abortion since Dobbs. Forty-eight teachers in Hernando County, Florida, fed up with “Don’t Say Gay” and other new laws restricting what they can teach, resigned or retired at the end of the last school year. A North Carolina law confining transgender people to bathrooms in accordance with what it said on their birth certificate was projected, before it was repealed, to cost that state $3.76 billion in business investment, including the loss of a planned global operations center for PayPal in Charlotte. A survey of college faculty in four red states (Texas, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina) about political interference in higher education found a falloff in the number of job candidates for faculty positions, and 67 percent of the respondents said they would not recommend their state to colleagues as a place to work. Indeed, nearly one-third said they were actively considering employment elsewhere.

Until very recently, college graduates had split their votes between the parties. But with the arrival of Donald Trump,

college graduates left the Republican fold for the foreseeable future. Trump dropped the Republican share to 44 percent in 2016 and 43 percent in 2020. If Trump wins the nomination in 2024, the GOP’s share of college voters could drop below 40, and I don’t see any of Trump’s challengers for the Republican nomination doing much better. It isn’t clear they even want to, because today’s GOP sees college graduates as the enemy.

Then there’s the accelerating exodus of OB-GYNs from states governed by Republicans who–in Barney Frank’s memorable phase–believe life begins at conception and ends at birth.

It was hard enough for red states to hold onto their OB-GYNs even before Dobbs. A little more than one-third of all counties nationwide are “maternity care deserts,” typically in rural areas, with no hospitals or birthing centers that offer obstetric care and no individual obstetric providers (not even midwives), according to the March of Dimes.

It isn’t just OB-GYNs and the relative handful of doctors who assist transgender children. It’s also educators.

Since January 2021, 18 states have imposed restrictions on how teachers may address the subjects of race and gender, according to Education Week’s Sarah Schwartz. These include most of the Dobbs Fourteen and a few add-ons, including Florida and New Hampshire. According to a 2022 study by the RAND Corporation, legislative action not only accelerated after 2021 but also became more repressive, extending beyond the classroom to restrict professional development plans for teachers. Let’s call these teacher-harassing states the Morrison Eighteen, in honor of the late Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, whose The Bluest Eye is number three with a bullet on the American Library Association’s 2022 list of books most frequently targeted for removal. (The 1970 novel ranked eighth in 2021 and ninth in 2020.)

Taking a tour of the Morrison Eighteen, we find Texas teachers quitting at a rate that’s 25 percent above the national average. In Tennessee, the vacancy rate for all public schools is 5.5 percent, compared to a national average of 4 percent. South Carolina has teacher shortages in 17 subject areas this school year, more than any other state.

But Governor Ron DeSantis’s Florida is the undisputed champ. A 2022 study led by Tuan D. Nguyen of Kansas State University found that Florida had the most teacher vacancies in the country, followed by Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama (all Morrison Eighteen states). Florida also logged the highest number of under-qualified teachers.

Remember John Edwards theme of “Two Americas”? He wasn’t talking about the culture wars then, but the phrase certainly seems appropriate.

In 2010, the GOP’s incredibly successful Redmap project--its “gerrymander on steroids”–installed rightwing legislators in a number of formerly competitive states. Those lawmakers proceeded to pass the culture war policies that are motivating the exodus of educated citizens and professionals–aka “smarty pants”–  resented by the angry know-nothings who are now the GOP’s base voters.

And so here we are. Click through, read the entire article, and weep….


I’d Have Sworn This Was Satire

This isn’t satire. I kid you not.

The DeSantis administration has proposed a rule for Florida’s public campuses that would prevent the teaching of issues “that polarize or divide society among political, ideological, moral, or religious beliefs.”

Back in May, DeSantis signed into law Senate Bill 266, banning the state’s public colleges and universities from using public funds to “advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion, or promote or engage in political or social activism.” But the law, which took effect in July, never defined those terms, instead leaving that up to the Board of Governors that oversees those state schools. Now the board has done just that. In draft regulation obtained by The Chronicle of Higher Education, the board proposes that the ban apply to all campus programs and activities in which the college or university “endorses or promotes a position” on “topics that polarize or divide society among political, ideological, moral, or religious beliefs, positions, or norms.”

This idiocy is the logical outcome of redefining education as job training–a belief near and dear to contemporary Republican hearts. Just crank out worker bees–and for heaven sakes, don’t let them learn anything from our human history of deeply-contested political, ideological, moral or religious theories and beliefs!

UnderS.B. 266, Florida’s public colleges and universities are prohibited from offering general education classes that “distort significant historical events or include a curriculum that teaches identity politics” or that include “theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities.” The law also bars public higher education institutions from using state or federal funds for activities or programs that “advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion”—making Florida’s anti-DEI law one of the most restrictive of the dozens of such laws introduced across the United States. A DeSantis press release announcing the bill’s signing declared it is meant to “prevent woke ideologies from continuing to coopt our state universities and state colleges.”

I have a proposal: rather than this tortured effort to describe matters that will now be forbidden on campus, just reduce the bill to its essence: “Education will not be allowed.”

Think my snark is an over-reaction? Just look at the draft resolution:

In addition to defining “social issues” as “topics that polarize or divide society among political, ideological, moral, or religious beliefs, positions, or norms,” it defines “political or social activism” as “any activity organized with a purpose of effecting or preventing change to a government policy, action, or function, or any activity intended to achieve a desired result related to social issues, where the university endorses or promotes a position in communications, advertisements, programs.” “Diversity, equity, or inclusion,” meanwhile, “is any program, activity, or policy that promotes differential or preferential treatment of individuals, or classifies such individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”

As several pundits have observed, today’s GOP is the party of projection: the Florida effort to control what is discussed in the state’s classrooms is precisely the “indoctrination” that they pretend is occurring under “woke” auspices.

How does one teach the Crusades or the Reformation or the colonizing of America without noting the religious beliefs that polarized people living at those times? How do you teach philosophy without examining the contending perspectives of the philosophers, or discuss the role of women in politics without reference to the social “norms” that originally denied women the franchise? 

Are efforts to prevent rape on campus evidence of “differential treatment” of women? Speaking of “evidence,” what does evidence that a university is “promoting equity” look like? (I always thought “equity” meant fundamental fairness–I guess we don’t want that on campus….)

Education is typically defined as the process of acquiring knowledge and developing the powers of reasoning and judgment. Education may also extend to the acquisition of specialized skills needed for a career or profession, but it is usually understood to require the development of critical thinking, differentiating it from mere job training and from indoctrination.

DeSantis is well on his way to destroying higher education in Florida.

He began with attacks on New College of Florida, a public liberal arts college that was forced to alter its curriculum and programs. DeSantis installed conservative ideologue and education foe Christopher Rufo as a member of the college’s board of trustees, and together they worked to “remake” New College, which immediately lost more than a third of its faculty–a fact DeSantis hailed as permitting the “replacement of far-left faculty with new professors aligned with the university’s mission.”

I don’t know what that mission is, but it sure isn’t education.


Finland Leads The Way

I don’t think it is hyperbole to say that misinformation, disinformation and propaganda are at the heart of all of the other problems we face. After all, as any medical practitioner will tell you, prescribing a remedy requires an accurate diagnosis of the problem, and to the extent that our informational Wild West misleads us, such accuracy eludes us.

Worse, the Internet’s multitude of “facts” allows us to choose a “diagnosis” based upon our ideological preferences–we believe what we want to believe. If the problem is lazy poor folks, there’s no point raising taxes on the rich. if the problem is greedy rich folks, higher tax rates will be part of the solution.

If my own diagnosis is correct–if all of our problems are rooted in or exacerbated by our population’s growing inability to separate truth from fiction, wheat from chaff–is there a prescription for that?

Finland’s approach looks promising.

Finland ranked No. 1 of 41 European countries on resilience against misinformation for the fifth time in a row in a survey published in October by the Open Society Institute in Sofia, Bulgaria. Officials say Finland’s success is not just the result of its strong education system, which is one of the best in the world, but also because of a concerted effort to teach students about fake news. Media literacy is part of the national core curriculum starting in preschool.

The article, from the New York Times, began with an example:

A typical lesson that Saara Martikka, a teacher in Hameenlinna, Finland, gives her students goes like this: She presents her eighth graders with news articles. Together, they discuss: What’s the purpose of the article? How and when was it written? What are the author’s central claims?

“Just because it’s a good thing or it’s a nice thing doesn’t mean it’s true or it’s valid,” she said. In a class last month, she showed students three TikTok videos, and they discussed the creators’ motivations and the effect that the videos had on them.

Her goal, like that of teachers around Finland, is to help students learn to identify false information.

The United States was not included in the survey, which was limited to European countries, but there’s plenty of evidence that misinformation and disinformation are widespread in the U.S.  Polls show that Americans’ trust in the news media is at record lows.

A survey by Gallup, published in October, found that just 34 percent of Americans trusted the mass media to report the news fully, accurately and fairly, slightly higher than the lowest number that the organization recorded, in 2016. In Finland, 76 percent of Finns consider print and digital newspapers to be reliable, according to an August survey commissioned by a trade group representing Finnish newspapers that was conducted by IRO Research, a market research company.

If we Americans were inclined to learn from others–not a noticeable national trait, unfortunately–we might take a lesson from the article’s description of what Finland has going for it, including a public school system that ranks among the best in the world, free college, high trust in government, and even higher respect for teachers.

Ah, well…..

In all fairness, there are some Finnish advantages we don’t share: Finnish is spoken only by about 5.4 million people, so disinformation produced by foreign speakers or bots is more  easily identified because of grammatical or syntax errors. In the U.S., not only do we have millions of people for whom English is a second language, we also have tens of millions of native English speakers whose command of grammar, spelling and syntax makes this former English teacher weep. So some clues that are available to Finns aren’t available to us.

And unlike far too many Americans, Finns evidently believe it is the proper goal of the schools to equip students with intellectual tools–not  to indoctrinate them with a particular view of their country or the other people who inhabit it. The article quoted one Finnish teacher who explained that she believed her job was to teach students “methods they can use to distinguish between truth and fiction. I can’t make them think just like me,” she said. “I just have to give them the tools to make up their own opinions.”

I’m sure those misnamed “Moms for Liberty” would disagree. Strenuously.

In the U.S., the goal of too many self-identified “patriotic Americans” isn’t to equip students to think, or to spot disinformation–it’s to ensure that they accept the correct disinformation.

No wonder so many Americans believe “facts” that just aren’t so.