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Even though I usually enjoy politics, I haven’t followed the 2012 Republican presidential race very closely. I just can’t muster up much interest in it. Thus, when I read that Newt Gingrich had become a serious contender, I was quite surprised, not only because his political reversal of fortune happened so quickly, but also because, well, it’s Newt Gingrich. Sleazy, ethically bankrupt, thuggish, pompous, painfully unlikeable Newt Gingrich, who, like a whiny pesky phoenix, somehow manages to, again and again, rise from the ashes of his numerous political failures.
I must admit that I (quite begrudgingly) admire one thing about Gingrich: he doesn’t deny that he’s intelligent and highly educated, despite the fact that a large part of the Republican base doesn’t exactly value those traits (to say the least). However, my admiration ends there. One look at his positions on educational issues makes it clear that Gingrich values education only when it benefits him in some way.
Last week, Gingrich illustrated this narcissism once again. At a campaign stop in New Hampshire, he said that, as president, he’d like to teach a free online course about his views and political policies modeled after the online course format used at various for-profit colleges.
Oh, Newt, no. Just no.
In theory, this could be a good idea. For example, teaching a free online course on modern European history (the focus of his PhD) in an attempt to promote learning and disseminate knowledge would be admirable and potentially worthwhile (although I can’t imagine that many Americans are chomping at the bit to hear Gingrich lecture about anything). Teaching (and I use that word very loosely here) an online course about his own political agenda, however, is neither admirable nor worthwhile.
As both his educational policies and his history of ethically questionable educational activities illustrate, Gingrich is far more interested in profiting from education and in furthering his own political ambitions than he is in improving America’s educational system or democratizing educational opportunities, despite his assertions to the contrary. Gingrich is tricky that way: he chooses his words very carefully and uses rhetoric that borders on doublethink to manipulate his audience into thinking that he’s making one claim (in this case, that he values the dissemination of knowledge and the democratization of educational opportunities) while he’s actually asserting the opposite.
I realize that the concerns I’ve discussed in this post will become relevant only if Gingrich wins the presidential race. Before last week, I would have laughed off that possibility. But, now that he has somehow become a serious contender, it’s worth taking a serious look at these issues. And, although Gingrich’s views on education are certainly not the most worrisome part of his platform, they are reactionary, self-serving, and dangerous, and well worth dissecting and discussing.
When it comes to Newt-speak, you have to read between the lines. And what you’ll find there isn’t pretty, to say the least.