Well, the hacks are back.
They’ve been mostly quiet, since 2008, but the 2016 election is looming, so preferred narratives are unfolding, Alinsky-esque choosing and isolating of subjects is beginning, as we see with the sudden (and laughably clumsy, yes, hackish) obsession with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. The New York Times’ Gail Collins is leading the charge with her dull machete, declaring “Scott Walker needs an eraser”, in part because he referred to a gifted educator as a “teacher of the year” instead of “outstanding first-year teacher”.
Oh, heavens! We can’t have someone who misspeaks in the White House, not after the gilded-tongued pronouncements of President Obama, with his “57 States,” his “Marine Corpse”, his odd idea that in Austria people speak Austrian.
As it turns out, Ms. Collins herself “needs an eraser”. So eager was she, yesterday, to whack at Walker, she wasn’t careful with her facts or her reasoning; Collins ended up blaming Walker — who became Governor in 2011 — for teacher lay-offs that occurred in 2010.
I’m sure the correction will be swift and prominent. Not as swift as her very next hack at Walker, though, which appeared this morning, worrying that a college drop out might become President of the United States! Oh noes! It’s a snark-filled piece, in which she admits that she is “looking forward” to “digging into this a lot.”
Writing like the snippy editor of a high school newspaper, Collins notes that she and Walker both attended Marquette, but “Unlike Walker, I got a degree.” To her credit, she allows, “Only one of us is a governor, so there’s a point for the dropouts right there.” Further to her credit, she does note that John Kerry’s academic record at Yale was worse than George W. Bush’s. But hey, even he got a degree. That’s what matters, right?
Anyone can get a degree who really wants one, though. Heck, even Sarah Palin has a degree in Communications. Brian Williams, on the other hand, doesn’t possess a degree. Neither did Walter Cronkite, another college dropout. The great Peter Jennings, often called “a journalist’s journalist,” never graduated from High School, so I’m not sure a degree matters at all, in politics or in journalism, or even in education.
What matters in all three fields are curious minds a commitment to what is undertaken, and an ability to present things as they are.
In that, lately, neither journalists or politicians are covering themselves with glory — and forgive me, all of my teacher friends, I love you, but the homeschoolers raising successful scholars prove my point.
If Walker is serious about a presidential bid, the press — never remotely curious about Barack Obama’s grades as he moved through Occidental, to Columbia and finally to Harvard (where he was an editor of the Review who published almost nothing) — will do everything it can to investigate “why Walker really dropped out”. Collins’ piece is the opening salvo.
These writers — all proud members of the “party of the people and the little guy” doncha know — won’t be able to let it go, because they are heavily invested in the notion that post-nominals matter, particularly if they are Ivy-shaded.
They’ll try to, but the press can’t have it both ways: they can’t insist that a degree matters, after jeering at “Chimpy’s Harvard MBA”. They spent 2000-2008 pointing out that even an Ivy League degree, or several of them, is no real indicator of intelligence or ability. They’ll be hard-pressed, now, to insist that without one, a person has no business running for the White House.
Joe Biden barely graduated from the University of Delaware at Newark; he ranked 506th in a class of 688. Were he a serious contender for the Democratic nomination, I somehow doubt Collins or anyone in at the Times would mention it.
Again: anyone can get a degree if they really want one. The ability to succeed without one, though — particularly in a credentials-obsessed era — may be a more reliable indicator of real ability; it says a great deal about one’s gifts, one’s energy, one’s passionate engagement with the world, than that piece of paper.
I think the press knows that, and it’s why Scott Walker, College Dropout is their new obsession. Put a college-dropout in the White House and a couple of treasured narratives die: that everyone must get a college degree if they are to succeed; that the best and the brightest possess degrees; that it is worth a lifetime of student loan debt to get that sheepskin.
Do you think Ms. Collins knows that Winston Churchill possessed no degree?
. . .One of my sons graduated a few years ago from a very good college at which he performed poorly. From his sophomore year forward, he hated college and seemed to work very hard at getting his parents to pull him out, but we were adamant about that degree. Since graduating, he has read non-stop—philosophy, economics, theology, mathematical theory; he reminds me of Winston Churchill, the famously poor student who asked his mother to send him books while he was stationed in India (in the cavalry because he was considered too stupid for infantry duty) and educated himself until he was the equal of any Oxford graduate, and then some.
It is a wonderful thing to sit in a classroom and grow in knowledge, if one is in fact doing that, but often it seems that degrees should be awarded in going through the motions; they come without a genuine expansion of thought, or an enlargement of wonder. And, to paraphrase Gregory of Nyssa, it’s the wondering that begets the knowing.
Jeff “Skunk” Baxter dropped out of Boston University to start playing guitar in various local bands and became a founding member of Steely Dan and an occasional Doobie Brother. While he still accepts studio gigs, Baxter also chairs the Civilian Advisory Board for Ballistic Missile Defense and consults with the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, the intelligence community, and various defense manufacturers. His expertise in the area of missile defense systems and tactics is considerable, and he is self-taught. An interest in recording technology got him to wondering about military hardware, and things took off from there.
You can read the whole thing, here.
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