turned into a newt
Surprise, surprise, Newt Gingrich's decade of punditry and self-promotional book writing may result in a 2012 presidential run. That's about the least shocking news since FOX News aligned itself with the crazies and their tea bags, but it's interesting.
What most people don't know about Gingrich is that he's a card-carrying member of the overeducated elite. (My membership card and instructions for buying a navy blue Subaru hatchback and joining an organic food co-op should arrive any day now.) That's right: Newton Leroy Gingrich holds the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Modern European History from Tulane University in New Orleans. The subject of his dissertation? Education policy in the Belgian Congo.
(My adviser discovered the cite. We thought it was a joke.)
Just before handing in the final version of my dissertation, I finally sucked it up and headed to the basement microfilm room in the library to read Gingrich's dissertation. (When I say "read" here, I mean, of course, that I skimmed through until I found something interesting.) I think it's fairly safe to assume that I'm among a rather limited number of people to have actually looked at our possible future president's thoughts, so just in case you're wondering what he had to say, here's a synopsis. What did the young Mr. Gingrich think of Belgium's colonial administration of education in the Congo?
- He didn't actually go to the Congo. From what I could gather, anyway. There's no evidence in the text suggesting that Gingrich actually went to Kinshasa to see what Belgium hath wrought. That's fair; his Ph.D. was in Modern European history, not African history. But the story about the Congo that's told in Brussels is vastly different from the reality on the ground. That was even more true when Gingrich was conducting his research.
- He liked paternalism. A lot. Belgium's policy with regards to the vast majority of the Congolese was to deny secondary-level education to all but a very few people. Boys were educated to be laborers and girls were trained as housemaids and for other domestic pursuits. All students (most of whom, it should be noted, were learning in government-subsidized Catholic schools) were taught the virtues of loyalty and obedience to their white masters. Until the post-World War II period, very few Congolese advanced beyond a sixth-grade education. It was the mid-1950's before the Belgian government allowed a Congolese man to attend university in Europe. (This policy stands in sharp contrast to that of the British and the French in particular, who were busy trying to assimilate their African subjects into "Frenchness" pretty much from the get-go.) The policy was known as paternalism; the colonial government saw itself as the protector of and provider for the Congolese, and as the entity who knew what was best for millions of central Africans. Gingrich doesn't seem to have an issue with the paternalistic policies. In fact, in some parts of the dissertation, he seems to embrace it. For example, towards the end, he praises the fact that the Belgians developed "the largest pirimary and vocational school systems in Black Africa" (280).
- He saw Belgian rule as beneficent. Gingrich argues that the Belgians prepared Congolese women for the challenges of modernity, by which he presumably means that learning to wash the dishes of wealthy white women with water from a faucet was a useful 20th century skill to have in place of, say, being able to critically reason or understand what the natural rights imply about subservience and racism.
- He viewed the colonial administration of the Belgian government as technocratic. A technocratic government is one in which most of the decisions that actually matter are made by bureaucrats with highly specialized training. Today, most technocratic regimes are in Latin America. That's an interesting way of describing the system, and I think it's a fair analysis.
- He recognized some of the absurdity of it all. There's a section in Gingrich's dissertation on the debate over bilingual education that took place in the halls of the colonial administration in Brussels. By "bilingual," of course, the Belgian bureaucrats and politicians were arguing over whether Congolese children should be instructed in both French and Flemish, or just in French.
And why, you might ask, did Gingrich leave the cushy, underpaid halls of academia for the madhouse of modern American politics? He was denied tenure by West Georgia College. (Rumor has it that this was in part because he was spending all his time on politics.) Still, let that be a lesson to us, academics. If the ambitious conservative in your midst won't shut up, at least give him the benefit of the doubt. West Georgia might could have saved the rest of us from a lot of trouble. Then again, at least I only had to read one Newt Gingrich publication on the Congo.