“American Amnesia,” Higher Ed, Technology, and Ideas

What we can learn the ideological Right.

April 26, 2016

American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson.

Published in March of 2016.

The best evidence that ideas rule the world may be the success of the ideological Right.

Want to understand why politicians have decided that disinvesting in public postsecondary education is a good idea - then read American Amnesia.

If you are curious about why our infrastructure, our roads and bridges and water systems, is falling apart - then read American Amnesia.

Curious about why the U.S. spends almost 18 percent of our GDP on medical care, but has health outcomes that are at levels of many developing countries - then read American Amnesia.

But I’m not here to argue for the views expressed in American Amnesia.  My strong suspicion is that your evaluation of the book - even the likelihood that you will read the book - is based on your existing political beliefs and not the quality of the book's arguments or evidence.

What I do want to argue is that those of us in higher ed can learn a great deal from the ideological Right.  We may disagree with everything that the Koch brothers and their ilk stand for - their values, policies, and goals - but we can still learn from them.

Where the Koch brothers (and others of their class, who Hacker and Pierson call hard Randians - after the libertarian philosophy of Ayn Rand), succeeded is changing the discussion.  Rather than focusing first on specific policies, they focused on ideology.  And the ideology that they pushed was that the market should allocate all resources, and that the government should have no role in economic life.

The hard Randians have been disciplined, patient, and committed to the long-term project of spreading their anti-government thinking.

Do those of us with a progressive view that higher education is our society’s preeminent engine of social mobility and progress have the same discipline, patience, and long-term commitment as the ideological Right?

Have higher education people, and in particular the professionals in my world that work in the liminal space between learning and technology, formulated a concise set of ideas that we can promote and defend?

What would be the path for those of us in higher education technology to internalize and adapt the enduring ideas of the humanities and the liberal arts?

My recommendation is that those of us in higher ed technology that wish to join the conversation on the future of higher ed read American Amnesia not as a political history of the past 5 decades, but as a how-to-guide to gain influence.

Of course, if you are interested in history, economics, politics, and social policy then you will also learn a great deal from the book.

Not every book, alas, needs to be read through the lens of edtech.  Not every book exists to teach us something about higher ed. That would be ridiculous.  Right?

What are you reading?



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