There is a war on intellectualism being waged by some in this country. College educated men and women are being vilified as “elitists” by certain members of our society (and also in North Korea and parts of the world controlled by ISIS and Al-Qaeda where intellectuals are publicly executed.)
Scientists with PhDs in atmospheric science who are concerned about climate change are dismissed by politicians with no scientific credentials whatsoever of conspiring with the “liberal media” in order to hoodwink Americans for person gain. And Harvard-educated constitutional law professors (Barack Obama) are accused of not understanding the Bill of Rights by people whose favorite shows on The Learning Channel have nothing at all to do with learning. Okay, I’ll admit that I may sound a bit like a ranting, college-educated, liberal media elitist. Sorry. (But not sorry.)
While that label may fit me, I’ve also worn the label of “small-town working man” for much of my adult life. I’ve been a meat-cutter, a groundskeeper, an apartment painter, a car salesman, a chicken-fryer and a burger-flipper. I respect people who work hard for a living, and I also value people who work hard to earn a college degree. I don’t believe that the two camps are mutually exclusive. I was a butcher with a degree in philosophy for goodness sakes.
One of my favorite television personalities is Mike Rowe, the popular host of “Dirty Jobs” and “Someone’s Gotta Do It” and the narrator of several other informative programs. Rowe is a huge supporter of blue collar Americans and the founder of a charitable foundation that emphasizes training for workers in various skilled trades. I admire him for his contributions to society, his remarkable wit, and his brilliant intellect. What fans of Rowe, the champion of the working man and woman, may not realize is that he himself attended a liberal arts college in the northeast, Towson University, earning a bachelor’s degree in communication.
While Rowe will be the first to tell you that not everyone needs a college degree in order to succeed in life, he will also tell you that everyone does need an education. Vocational training is a form of education. An apprenticeship is too. Skills must be taught and learned. The same is true in any profession, including the disciplines one studies in college. But college can offer something more: the chance to learn about more than just how to do one specific job. A medical student can take classes in literature. A future electrical engineer can study African-American history. An agriculture major can learn about ancient civilizations. A well-rounded education is good for the mind and soul, and people with well-rounded educations are good for the world.
Contrary to what some folks might tell you, it is perfectly acceptable for a certified welder to study French poetry. It is also just fine for a philosopher to mow lawns. We need to bridge the divide that certain parties are trying to create between so-called “intellectual elites” and “working stiffs.” We need to ignore those voices that are trying to convince us to turn against one another. Vilifying education and embracing ignorance will only weaken our bonds as countrymen while empowering those who recognize than an uneducated populace is an easily manipulated and controlled one. If you want to become a craftsman, then by all means learn everything you can about your chosen profession and become the best craftsman you can be.
If you want to become an economist, then work your tail off for that Master’s degree and help the world avoid the next Great Depression. But don’t stop there. Learn about ecology. Read a book about comparative religions. Enroll in adult education classes and study Mandarin. People who think they have nothing left to learn are often the most ill-informed (and dangerous) of us all.
Through education we gain knowledge, wisdom, understanding, empathy, and compassion. If intellectualism were to be universally embraced, rather than condemned, the world would be a much better place.