A couple of weeks ago, two headlines grabbed my attention:
A Majority of Republicans Think College Is Bad for America – The Week, 10 July 2017
Sharp Partisan Divisions in Views of National Institutions – Republicans Increasingly Say Colleges Have Negative Impact on U.S. – Pew Research Center, 10 July 2017
The headlines, I believe, say much about why our nation is in chaos today. 58% of Republicans now say that colleges “are having a negative effect on the way things are going in the country,” while just 36% think colleges positively affect the country, Pew reported. The other 6% presumably are scratching their heads asking “what’s college?” A short two years ago, 54% of Republicans thought that colleges had a positive effect, while 37% said they had a negative effect. Two short years … what changed?
I think we all know the answer to that question and it can be summed up in two words: Donald Trump. In mid-2015, Donald Trump threw his proverbial hat into the ring as a contender for the office of president, and since then nothing has been quite the same. Donald Trump spent a year-and-a-half telling America how successful he was, even though he had more business failures than successes. He spent a year-and-a-half telling America how rich he was, even though he is far less wealthy than he would have us believe, and at least a portion of his wealth was not acquired honestly. And he told the country those things in rambling, bumbling half sentences, using words that do not exist in Merriam Webster, and he somehow made it seem okay to be uneducated.
Donald Trump convinced Republicans that making lots of money was more important than things like honesty and integrity, knowledge and compassion. More important than protecting the environment, helping people, accepting and understanding other cultures, or even understanding how our government actually functions. Donald Trump showed America that literacy is not essential to ‘getting ahead’. Unfortunately for all of us, a majority of Republicans believed what Donald Trump said.
The value of a college education is multi-fold, and I have neither time nor space for a full analysis, so I will focus on one aspect. A college education does, or at least should, teach the students to think for themselves – to sort fact from fiction, to assess the facts, and then to make decisions based on that assessment.
My blogger-friend Hugh Curtler1, a retired college professor, has written a number of articles lamenting that colleges these days are not doing a good job of this, and in large part, I agree with him, and his theory is supported by the U.S. decline in worldwide ranking.
However, I would also argue that rather than abandon the idea of a college education altogether, society and government need to work together toward fixing the problems by returning the primary focus to academics rather than sports, holding students accountable rather than giving praise for substandard or average work, and returning the institutions to places where many and varied ideas are presented and discussed openly.
Donald Trump is not an educated man. Yes, he graduated from Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Science degree in economics. However, an education is what you make of it, and one need only listen to him for about 30 seconds to realize that he is uneducated in even the most basic language skills. But to take it a step further, he focused only on real estate and economics, eschewing what higher learning had to offer in such subjects as history, science, literature, cultural studies and basic civics.
The fact that so many Republicans are following his lead, viewing a college education as being detrimental to the state of the nation, is highly disturbing. It also explains a lot. It explains, at least in part, the reason so many are turning a blind eye to the facts, such as climate change. Scientists have proven that human activities, often those that are involved in a pursuit of wealth, are damaging our environment, killing both animal and plant life essential to our very existence, but rather than listen, research and learn, rather than support policies that may save the planet, some choose to believe Trump when he says climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese.
Another Pew study in October 2016, found that only 16% of Americans (across all political parties) think that a college education prepares students very well for a well-paying job in today’s economy. Americans view workforce-relevant skills and knowledge as more important than personal and intellectual growth. That is disturbing to me.
Certainly I do not deny the need to earn a living. One must have a home, food, clothing, transportation and the ability to do those things that make life enjoyable. Those are requisite. But beyond that, there is more to life than money. If you look at some of the very wealthy … and there are plenty to look at on the front pages every day … they may have millions or even billions of dollars, own real estate and investments, but they are poor in the ways that matter. They are without values, they care not about humanity, they do not understand nor care to understand cultures that exist beyond the walls of their mansions. Money, status and power are their worlds. To me, that is a very sad, shallow, narrow existence.
If a college education is allowed to fade into oblivion, what pool will future leaders be drawn from? We have elected a president who is basically uneducated, who does not understand how the government he is supposed to lead even operates, and has never even read the Constitution, the foundation of our government. The result has been chaos – chaos that could lead to the erosion of a governmental structure that ensures our citizens certain ‘inalienable’ rights. And yet, the majority of Republicans do not see the value in a college education.
I ask you to consider something. Donald Trump’s policies are contrary to what most thinkers and humanitarians believe. Is it not, then, to the advantage of Trump and those like him to keep the populace uneducated, unable to think and reason for themselves? To be, instead, content to follow what Trump says, rather than having the ability to study and understand the issues and thus draw our own conclusions?
We need more, not fewer, thinkers in our nation. We need people capable of working with other nations to solve environmental problems. We need innovators in science to educate and find solutions for problems that threaten to destroy our very future. We need educators to open the minds of our young so that they are able to see the world and its possibilities, rather than live in their own narrow confines. People like Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, Scott Pruitt and Rex Tillerson have only one vision and see no value in anything that does not have dollar signs attached to it. If we allow our institutions of higher learning to become defunct, or to become cost-prohibitive simply because our government leaders tell us they have no value, then we are destined to lose our place as a developed nation. More importantly, we are destined to lose our humanity and our humility. Think about it.
1 Links to a few of Hugh’s posts:
Trump and American Education
Democracy and Education
The Business of Education
In Defense of Educaton