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Marco Rubio Declares War on College Education

01/04/2016 07:01 am ET | Updated Jan 04, 2016
  • Alan Singer Social studies educator, Hofstra University,my opinions, of course, are my own
Darren McCollester via Getty Images

Frank Bruni of the New York Times finds it hard to believe that the Republican Party establishment considers Senator Marco Rubio of Florida a viable candidate for President of the United States. Rubio can't seem to make up his mind on immigration reform or apparently obey traffic laws and balance his checkbook.

But I was most amazed at his recent declaration of war against college education while campaigning in New Hampshire for the upcoming Republican Party Presidential primary. Granted I am as a tenured radical at an Eastern seaboard liberal arts college with a Ph.D. in history from another Eastern seaboard liberal arts college and that I taught secondary school social studies in New York City public schools for fourteen years, but I found Rubio's accusations a little far-fetched.

According to Senator Rubio, liberal arts colleges are "indoctrination camps" that are only kept in business because the political left wants to protect "all their friends" that "work there." This comes from a Presidential candidate whose political life has been kept afloat for years by one major campaign donor, Norman Braman, a billionaire Florida car dealer who also employees Rubio's wife as a "consultant." Braman pledged $10 million to the Rubio Presidential campaign and over the years has hired Rubio as a lawyer at his company, Braman Management, donated $100,00 toward Rubio's salary as an instructor at Florida International College in Miami, and gave Rubio use of his private plane.

Apparently Rubio is sensitive to the problem of huge college debt because in 2008 he owed close to $150,000 on student loans. Rubio accrued this debt while drifting through three colleges, Tarkio College, a religious school in Missouri that later went bankrupt, Santa Fe Community College in Gainsville, Florida, and the University of Florida. His law degree is from the University of Miami. In high school, according to an ABC News report, Rubio was a "C" student who used to sneak out of school to drink, which might explain his later difficulties in college.

Rubio claimed he was finally able to pay off his student loans in 2012 with proceeds from the publication of a book, An American Son, described by the Wall Street Journal as "a piece with other quickie books written by still-climbing politicians: cautious, on-message and heavily tilted toward the most recent big campaign." How Rubio earned $150,000 on this book, published by a right-wing press, remains a political mystery. The book sold only 7,800 copies in hard cover and about 35,000 in paperback. I wonder if this was another Braman intervention.

Maybe if young Marco had paid attention in high school and college he would not take some of the same political positions he does today. Rubio wants students to use work experience for class credit so like him they do not have to attend classes and he proposes that students indenture themselves to wealthy investors, kind of like he did with Braman, who will pay their tuition costs. What a student owes their investor would be subject to negotiation, although slavery and involuntary servitude have been outlawed in the United States since the passage of the 13th amendment in 1865.

But some of Rubio's other positions are even scarier and rooted in profound ignorance. Rubio repeatedly expresses doubt that man-made climate change is real and just does not think "there's the scientific evidence to justify" changing the way industries pollute the atmosphere. In an interview in GQ magazine Rubio explained he is not sure whether the Earth was created by God in seven days or in "seven actual eras." He believes parents should teach their children "multiple theories" on the Earth's age. In the same interview he described evolution as "one of the great mysteries" of life. Although he is a member of the United States Senate Science Committee, Rubio admits "I'm not a scientist." However, he does consider himself an expert on the Bible. On other occasions Marco the anti-scientist has declared his opposition to abortion under any circumstances, that human life begins at conception, and that fetuses deserve full protection of the law.

If Marco Rubio would like to sit in on my classes at Hofstra University he is welcome to attend. I promise not to indoctrinate him. But he will be required to join discussions, state his positions clearly, support them with evidence, conduct research, evaluate alternative views, and arrive at reasoned conclusions based on research and evidence, which should have been part of his high school and college educations. I am sorry young Marco had such bad early experiences in school and wasted a lot of money and time before straightening himself out with the help of Mr. Braman. But I suspect very few, if any, of Rubio's teachers in Florida and Missouri were the kind of left-wing radicals he wants to drive out of liberal arts colleges.

Among the people I would like to introduce Senator Rubio to is Thomas Jefferson. In a letter written in 1786, Jefferson, former Governor of Virginia and future President of the United States, made what remains one of the most powerful arguments for liberal arts education in a democratic society. According to Jefferson, "I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness." Jefferson also called for a "crusade against ignorance" and laws for "educating the common people." Later in his career, Jefferson helped found the University of Virginia to help provide Americans with classical or liberal arts education.

In the end, it is not that surprising that a Presidential candidate in a political party that draws its greatest support from the least educated White male voters would declare war on a college education.

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