Christian Rep. Madison Cawthorn calls higher education a ‘scam,’ urges conservatives to ‘drop out’

Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina speaking with attendees at the 2020 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina speaking with attendees at the 2020 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. | Gage Skidmore

Partially paralyzed Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, who attended a Christian college for one semester before dropping out, urged conservative youth on Tuesday to drop out of college if they aren’t studying medicine, law or engineering because higher education is “a scam.”

“People will call me a radical for believing that you should be a Christian, you should get married young, you should have as many kids as possible, you should try and have a great job, you should be as successful as you possibly can. They’ll say I’m extremist for that,” Cawthorn said at AmericaFest 2021.

The “large patriotic celebration of all things red, white and blue” was organized under the banner of Turning Point USA and held in Phoenix.

“I genuinely just care about dining room politics,” the 26-year-old added. “I care about that young family who’s sitting around the dinner table. And what are they thinking about when they’re seeing their young children eat? They’re thinking about 'am I going to be able to send them to a good school?'” he continued before boasting about being homeschooled.

“One, I think you should home school. I was homeschooled all the way through,” he said to cheers. “I am proudly a college dropout. If you are not becoming an engineer or a doctor or a lawyer, I highly encourage you to drop out. It’s a scam.”

While some may find the congressman’s comments shocking, his attitude towards higher education isn’t uncommon, as many former students have been left with diminishing financial returns in post-college employment and large student debts. 

Some 32.1% of the U.S. population 25 years of age and older holds at least a bachelor’s degree, according to data from the American Community Survey. 

In recent reports, however, as college-educated women grapple with the diminishing returns from degrees, many men have cited diminishing returns as they are now completely choosing to forgo college.

“If I was going to be a doctor or a lawyer, then obviously those people need a formal education. But there are definitely ways to get around it now,” Daniel Briles, 18, who graduated in June from Hastings High School in Hastings, Minnesota, recently told The Wall Street Journal. “There are opportunities that weren’t taught in school that could be a lot more promising than getting a degree.”

But in a September report titled “The Great Divide: Education, Despair and Death,” husband and wife research team, Anne Case and Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton Princeton University, contend that Americans who don’t have a college degree face a “bleak” and deadlier future compared to those who do.

They found that increasing deaths by drugs, alcohol and suicide, known as “deaths of despair,” are largely concentrated among Americans without a college degree. Meanwhile, a college degree appears to act as a talisman against them. The research built on previous work examining the relationship between mortality and education in America.

Cawthorn was left partially paralyzed at age 18 after a 2014 car crash, which occurred while returning from spring break with a friend in Florida.

In a deposition cited in The Citizen-Times in Aug. 2020, Cawthorn revealed that he had enrolled in Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia, in 2016 but dropped out after only one semester.

The small evangelical Christian school is a magnet for homeschoolers because it is known to place graduates into federal government positions successfully.    

Cawthorn, who was studying political science at the time, earned mostly D letter grades. He testified that his injuries from the crash that left him paralyzed affected his ability to learn. When he was further questioned about his reason for leaving the school by an insurance-company lawyer, he said it was because of “Heartbreak.” He said his then-fiancé left him for another classmate because she “didn’t get along with my mother.”    

In his speech to the crowd on Tuesday, Cawthorn urged conservatives to save America by embracing the America-first doctrine.

“The MAGA doctrine that Donald Trump started, when people say Donald Trump is the leader of the Republican Party, I say, 'I think he started a revolution in this country where now we are the leaders of the conservative movement,'” he said.

“I’ll tell you, I’m a devout Christian. I’ve got a great relationship with my Lord and Savior. And so, of course, I love being able to help people. I love taking care of people. I think we should send missionaries out into the world. We should bring people to Christ,” he continued.

Cawthorn said he believes America should have a “strong economy” and the “way we should do that is by encouraging people to be able to go out and take risks.”

“Instead of taking out that $100,000 student loan as an 18-year-old, which is worthless as an 18-year-old, why doesn’t the government allow us to be able to take out a $10,000 business loan at 18 to be able to go and create an economy and create work and create all these great things,” he said. 

Cawthorn argued that there needs to be a greater focus on domestic issues, like taking care of veterans, rather than the U.S. trying to police the whole world. He also dismissed the notion that the U.S. is not a nation of Christians.

“I think the most important thing for us to do is to save souls for Jesus Christ. But that’s our jobs as Christians, and I believe we are a Christian nation,” he said. “Almost every single one of the signers, they were regular church-attending Christians. If anybody wants to tell you they were atheists or deists, they’re idiots. Don’t listen to them.”

“When people say we’re not a Christian nation and we’re founded by racists, by evil men, that’s wrong,” he maintained. “The people who founded this nation should be revered and they should talk to the next generation as the heroes of the 18th century.”

He also urged followers of Christ to engage in civil disobedience.

“I used to pray all the time. I would say, ‘God, why did you not let me be alive in the 1940s fighting against World War II or be alive during the revolution. I want to be a warrior for you. I want to save my country. I want to do all these great things. But you have me born in 1995, the height of the most peaceful and prosperous time the world has ever known,’” he said.

“[Well] guys, I’m sorry for praying that prayer. I think God has answered in a big way. He said, ‘you know what? Here’s tyranny, here are people trying to censor your speech, here are people trying to control every bit of your life.”

Cawthorn said he was aware some Christians might point to Scripture that calls them to obey the government placed over them but argued that it isn’t that simple.

“I understand that, but does anybody know what the preamble to the constitution says? What are the first three words? ‘We the people,’” he recited. “So in our founding documents, it says we are the authority. It says that people like me, a congressman, I serve you, and so, when the government is not working on your behalf, it is your duty to disregard their orders.”

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