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Public Theology: Educational Resentment Linked to Popularity of Right Wing Talk Shows
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Educational Resentment Linked to Popularity of Right Wing Talk Shows
One possible reason so many listen to right wing talk shows may be resentment of high salaries earned by people with higher education.

One of the questions regularly in my mind is why so many people listen and respond to right wing political talk shows. What is going on in the culture that promotes the popularity of these shows?

I have also noticed on these shows a pattern of attack on college professors and higher education in general. And in personal correspondence with some who listen to these shows there have been questions about the credibility of people with higher educational degrees.

As one with a college degree and who appreciates the fruits of intellectual endeavor, I tend to dismiss this as primitive anti-intellectualism. I blame the victims, the ones who are complaining. But there may well be a deeper justification for resentment against those with college degrees.

I have just read an email to a mailing list of which I am a member by David Fasenfest, Associate Professor of Urban Affairs, and Senior Research Fellow, Douglas Fraser Center for Workplace Issues, at Wayne State University. He is writing of the current student generation within the context of a discussion on the list of how faculty members have to take steps to protect themselves from students who may accuse them of abuse of various kinds. Rather than blame the victim Fasenfest points to the economic context within which students are competing today. He points out that the requirement for educational credentials in employment has increased dramatically in the last couple of decades. The credential is now a requirement for good jobs and good salaries, more so than in the past. It is now much harder for anyone without an educational degree to work one's self up to the top.

No wonder, then, that there is widespread resentment against higher education in the culture as displayed in the right wing talk shows. The problem is, the politics promoted on those shows is exactly the opposite of the policies favorable to the interests of those who carry such resentment.


Below is the text of the David Fasenfest email:

The fact is that over the past three decades educational attainment has represented effective barriers to income and occupation, and to what one might consider to be a career track. Rather than deal with perceptions, let me offer some data drawn off the PSID (a longitudinal data set) on the experience of all workers continuously employed between 1981-1995 (these have the highest incomes and represent as good as it gets).

Average earnings for men are $51,048 and women are $29,094 (all these data are all adjusted and appropriately scaled to be comparative, in 1995 dollars--remember, these are earning for continuously employed, not necessarily full-time employed). For men with a HS diploma it is $39,841, a BA its $60,480 and a Graduate Degree its $72,122. For women correspondingly it is $23,330, $37,308 and $41,749. Just under 85% of all men earning above $75K have a BA or higher, 60% earning $50-75K whereas only 26% between $25-50K, and 8% at $15-25K while for women those figures are 86%, 75%, 57%, and 19%. One can clearly see the gender bias as women have to have more education to be in the same income class--or alternatively more men get higher pay even if their education is not as high because they are more likely to be promoted into management, and of course there is the question of whether or not one works full-time--but that is all for another story.

The point is that since about 1985 (though it started earlier) the career path changed from one in which you could start at the proverbial bottom and rise up into management without a degree, to one in which management positions were fast tracked for college educated applicants and less educated workers (or at least lower credentialed workers--especially younger workers) could only go so far up the corporate ladder...with its consequence on income and status.

If anything, the pressure to get through university is greater--and has been for some time, but the economy was kind and the absorption rate was higher than of late--than it has been at earlier times, and the pressure is increasing. We are now embedded in a knowledge economy--though arguably it has not dominated how we do our work, it does increasingly alter the nature of that work.

For those who argue that part of what is going on at Universities in the US is greater competitiveness and higher anxiety rates I would agree--the real story is that this situation was true at the "premier" schools (mostly private, the occasional public institution--just look at suicide rates for those schools) for some time, but it is now spreading down to almost all levels of the academic enterprise. That must be coupled with the fact that the recent fiscal crises at the state level has meant the increasing cutback for things like community colleges and lower ranking state schools--the traditional avenue for first time access to higher education among working class families, and for most families living in the bottom 75% of the income distribution unable to afford rising college tuition. That in turn limits the ability of a large portion of the working class to aspire (both children, and recently or soon-to-be laid off adults) to higher pay or even entre into the changing labor market.

Our society is demanding higher and deeper credentialization and offering it at a higher price and in limited numbers--the pressure is on and for each student now at university every poor grade potentially feels like a career ending, plan deadening and life numbing experience. It is not simply a matter of pampering, indulgence or a table turning in which students have undue power--when the pressure is on, things like the appearance of grading down for political disagreement or real or assumed sexual advances becomes the stuff of hope when trying to get a grade changed on appeal. I am less sure that much of what happens are the result of coordinated efforts by right-wing groups (that clearly does happen--but cannot explain its frequency), but instead reflects panicked and frantic young people who fear their futures are crumbling before their eyes (we have yet to discuss the failure of primary and secondary education systems sending up students with fewer skills and capabilities to compete and succeed--that is another story)...D


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Date Added: 6/10/2003 Date Revised: 6/10/2003 10:36:51 AM

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