Education Is Not Simply About What One Knows

Whether one is a welder, a foreign diplomat, or a genetic engineer, being educated about the world makes a society better.

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a front-page piece detailing the educational efforts of our state legislators, “How Educated Are Our State Legislators?” Definitely some surprises.

Arkansas, for example, ranks higher than Maine. I never would have guessed that. Also lower is Delaware; never would have guess that either. New Hampshire comes in 50th; the study really should have excluded New Hampshire, though. The NH houses meet infrequently, do not have full-time legislators, and few of the legislators posted their educational background. With better data, New Hampshire might rank higher.

ed legislators

California is at the head of the class, with 90% of legislators having at least a Bachelor’s Degree. In fact, if I were to include “Some College,” that percent would rise to 93%. Not bad, for a broke state.

My adopted state of Kentucky fairs pretty well, too. 77% of our state legislators have a Bachelor’s Degree. Toss in another 9% for those who have had “Some College,” and that percent pops to 86%. Pretty amazing.

Some legislators created profiles for themselves on their state-supported web sites. Sometimes, educational information was listed, such as school attended, what he/she studied, and what degree was attained, if any. A few even posted a GPA. Good for them.

Some posted as education the “School of Life,” or “Self-Educated.” One legislator stated she went to “gun school.” One legislator is 19 years old. Kyle Jones (NH) works the night shift at Burger King and goes to school part-time. That is awesome!

Adam Brown, Brigham Young University, makes some good comments about politics and education. “Legislators aren’t only supposed to represent the white-collar workers of the world. They need represent everybody.” Brown then goes on to say something that somewhat boggles me. When asked if he learned anything about public higher education, or about education in California, he is quoted as saying, “No, of course not. I was just a student.”

I hope this not quoted properly. How can a person not learn something about higher education while being a Ph.D student? Hell, as a graduate student at a small regional university, I learned about grants, state funding for capital projects, state funding for educational programs, salaries, allocation of degree programs throughout the state. I find this statement almost to incredible to believe, actually. I can see that comment coming from a BA/BS student; frankly, most of them have no idea what goes on in higher education. Nothing against them, they simply do not work behind the scenes. Just because I watch the Space Shuttle launch doesn’t mean I know all the details behind the planning of a launch.

I am really bothered by a couple notions.

First, people misinterpret the word, “liberal,” when used with education. Or, rather they choose to identify with only 1 or 2 of the word’s 15 potential meanings. When used with “education,” “liberal” does not mean “socialist,” or “communist,” or “left-leaning,” or “to advocate for political reform as defined by progressive social Democrats.”

Liberal Education simply means “generous” or “abundant.” We could extend that to include “tolerant of others,” or “to encourage the pursuit of intellectual thought and discourse in an academic manner.”

To receive a liberal education, simply put, means a student has been exposed to a number of different influences, local, regional, national, and global in reach and depth. Nothing is wrong with this, and a lot of things are right about it.

Which brings me to my second notion.

Daniel Thatcher illustrates my problems with the anti-intellectualism that is rearing its ugly and ignorant head in the U.S. Definitely a dragon that St. George needs to behead.

Daniel Thatcher is a self-taught electrician in Utah and is a freshman senator. College drop-out. To be clear, I have no issues with college drop-outs. People who are uniquely motivated and have skill, drive, desire to do something with their lives – more power to them, I say. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to begin Microsoft, probably the most famous example. Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s, same thing. Drive, desire, and determination are powerful influences in a person’s life.

But, remember this, they did not sit on their asses, watching TV, and wondering what they were going to do for the day. They did something. They taught themselves, and surrounded themselves with smart people, many of whom were/are highly educated people.

Here is what Daniel Thatcher is quoted as saying,

“You go to college, you take a foreign language, and all these ridiculous diversity requirements-how does that help you become a better welder? Why is it that we’re telling kids, ‘You can get any degree you want, and you’ll make all of this money,’ when they won’t?”

And, in a nutshell, this is what is wrong with America.

Let me deal with the only thing he said correctly first. How does learning Spanish make you a better welder? Technically, being versed in Spanish will not help you make a better weld, that is true. You win, Mr. Thatcher, on that point. On that point alone, you win.

Having learned Spanish might make you a much more marketable welder, though. Being able to speak Spanish might make you a crew chief, team leader, foreman. One day, you might be a consultant on a job where the ability to speak a foreign language comes in handy. Perhaps the language is Russian instead of Spanish.

Perhaps your jobs become fewer and fewer because clients are taking work to other facilities because they not only work on domestic contracts but are able to work on multi-national contracts, too.

Go ahead, Mr. Thatcher, weld yourself into a corner.

Who cares about globalization, global labor markets, the global movement of labor, the movement of production and products, and the growing interconnectedness of the world? Not the United States, right?

Ignorance is bliss, right? Americans should be down-right jolly with more of your ilk in state legislatures.

I ask, how can Americans understand how labor works, or how the economics of Nike, or Dell, or Toyota work, if all we do is learn just the modicum we need in order to weld?

We can’t.

How can the United States prepare our current population, and our future workforce, and continue to evolve our society, with such ass-backwards, 1950s, riding-forward-into-the-future-sitting-backward-in-our-saddle, thinking?

Our ignorance will be our undoing.

And, you Mr. Thatcher, are guilty of the irresponsible argument  education is completely and totally useless for most professions.

U.S. citizens need to be educated. I am not advocating university education but compulsory education only strengthens Democracy. The growing anti-intellectualism in the U.S. must end, though. U.S. citizens need to be aware of their communities, their state, their nation, their national neighbors, and understand the dynamics involved in even the simple economies that make our world what it is today.

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