New Research Shows Higher Education Makes People More Anti-Semitic | Opinion

On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, an interview was published in which the president of the American Federation of Teachers engaged in some casual anti-Semitism. AFT president Randi Weingarten, herself Jewish, skewered Jews as being part of an "ownership class" intent on stealing the "ladder of opportunity away from those who don't have it." Weingarten is a trained attorney and influential educational leader. Aren't such people supposed to know better than to traffic in crude anti-Semitic tropes?

Sadly, the answer is no. According to a shocking new study, Weingarten is no anomaly, but quite typical of her educational class; University of Arkansas professor Jay P. Greene's latest research found that Americans who've graduated college or graduate school are actually more likely to be anti-Semitic than their less educated counterparts.

It flies in the face of what you might expect. In much of American life, there's a presumption that education makes individuals more tolerant. Greene et al.'s analysis should cause us to think twice about this.

The researchers examined anti-Semitic sentiment not by asking "Do you like Jews?"—a query that, as the authors point out, educated people know how to properly answer—but by asking respondents to answer a series of public policy questions, with half of the respondents addressing examples that concerned Jews and the other half receiving a different example.

One question, for instance, asked if "the U.S. military should be allowed to forbid" religious headgear, with a Jewish yarmulke or Sikh turban as the two competing examples. Another asked whether "a person's attachment to another country creates a conflict of interest when advocating in support of certain U.S. foreign policy positions," with Israel or Mexico offered as the two competing examples. You get the idea; the logic here is that the two situations are comparable enough that, whatever their views on the underlying issue, responses should be broadly similar.

What the authors found was staggering: "Respondents with higher education levels are markedly more likely than those with lower education levels to apply a double standard unfavorable toward Jews."

Subjects with college degrees were about five percentage points more likely than the median respondent to apply a principle more harshly to Jews than to non-Jews. But among those with advanced degrees, subjects were 15 percentage points more hostile to the Jewish example.

Rather than quashing it, education, it seems, accelerates anti-Semitism.

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While this may seem shocking at first blush, these findings really shouldn't surprise anyone who's spent time on campuses in recent decades. It is a well-documented fact that anti-Semitism is a growing problem in American colleges and universities, with reports of harassment and attacks on Jewish students at an all-time high. Jewish students have reported being called "Nazis," "white supremacists," and "genocide supporters" by other students on campus, and have even been denied student government leadership positions based solely on their Jewish identity.

What's going on? Greene et al. suggest a disconcerting possibility: Perhaps the anti-Semitism evident among those who have completed college or graduate school is not occurring despite their schooling but because of it. It may be necessary to ask whether educational institutions charged with broadening minds have become instruments of the kind of poisonous social strife that they're supposed to combat.

A quick survey of nations like Iran, North Korea, China, and Cuba reminds us that there's no surety that education will inspire open-mindedness and tolerance. Indeed, these nations make clear that it's wholly possible for schooling to instead encourage division, distrust, and hatred.

That should be a terrifying prospect, yet one we would do well to attend to. American education today is increasingly rife with doctrines like Critical Race Theory and anti-racism, which teach youth that they are defined by their race and ethnicity, need to look suspiciously across those divides, and should understand American history as little more than an exercise in exploitation and oppression.

If the most educated among us managed to become anti-Semites in the absence of such organized efforts, we can only ponder what the rising generation may learn if schools and colleges make racial animus their business.

Public colleges and public education have long been a very good thing for this nation, and up until now we haven't had much reason to question the premise that they breed tolerance and civic well-being. But when we see schools and colleges promoting poisonous doctrines and metastasizing malice, it's time to reevaluate out assumptions about education's relationship to social progress.

Frederick M. Hess is the director of education-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Hannah Warren is program manager of AEI's Conservative Education Reform Network.

The views in this article are the writer's own.