But I've been swept up in the maelstrom of politics that's battering the United States of America, and so I'm going to come at this topic from a slightly different angle. I'm going to talk about education - education as a means to a personal end, certainly, but also education as a path to a national goal. This is a long post, so gird your loins, dear readers, if you choose to read on.
photo via here; image by me
Like many Americans on both sides of the aisle, I was horrified by Rep. Todd Akin's (R-Mo.) statements a few weeks ago condemning exclusions in anti-abortion legislation. "If it's a legitimate rape," he explained, "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." What scared me most about this man's blithe remark, though, was the fact that it wasn't made by an unassuming guy in a quiet bar in a nowhere town. What scared me most was that it was shouted into a megaphone by a member of the House science committee. As a congressman and as a member of this group, Todd Akin has the power to effect serious change on America's policies - and, as Slate wrote just following the interview, "It takes a lot of work for a member of the House science committee to cultivate an ignorance of science as profound as Todd Akin's. It's not accidental and it's not incidental to his worldview - his belief system requires a rejection of science."
This statement is indicative of a wide-ranging refusal to endorse scientifically accepted truths, from Foster Friess' assertion that "gals used to put [Bayer aspirin] between their knees" for contraception to Michelle Bachmann's declaration that climate change is "voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax," to Rep. Ben Waide's conviction that "the theory of evolution is not science - Darwin made it up. Under the most rudimentary basic scientific examination, the theory of evolution has never stood up to scientific scrutiny."
There are plenty of editorials out there about how the Republican establishment has become the anti-science party and/or the anti-intellectual party - I'm not going to repeat these articles verbatim, though I do urge you to read them and others that you find. However, I will say that while I don't think that the majority of conservatives agree with the wholesale dismissal of education espoused by Republican lawmakers, the views of the Conservative leadership on the pursuit of knowledge (or not, as the case may be) are incredibly sad and frustrating.
Take Rick Santorum's accusation, for example, that colleges brainwash students and indoctrinate them with a liberal ideology; this was said by the former presidential hopeful as he called Obama a snob for wanting kids to aspire to pursue higher education. Or how Mitt Romney has so resolutely ignored education as a campaign point that, when he brought up the global standing of American schools at the RNC last week, the audience was confused and didn't know how to respond.
Of course, there are Republicans who maintain the belief that education is the way forward for the United States. Back in February, Bob McDonnell, the Republican governor of Virginia, said "When you look at what's going on in other countries, China, India, the premium they put on higher education - we've got to do better if we still want to be the global leader we are." (This is what we say about developing nations, after all; why shouldn't it be the same for us?) But, unfortunately, this seems to be a minority view amongst the Conservative leadership. As David Brooks wrote in 2008, "What had been a [Republican] disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a distain for the educated class as a whole." Even Romney, the millionaire former Massachussetts governor who has two degrees from Harvard, gained credibility from Conservatives even as he conceded the 2008 nomination while setting himself up for a 2012 run when he attacked Eastern elites.
I have plenty of problems with parts of the Democratic platform this election, and I'm disappointed that President Obama hasn't pushed harder to fulfill the promises that he made to the American people four years ago. But the emphasis on education as a huge priority during Tuesday night's speeches at the DNC restored my hope that we can step up and step forward - if only we choose to do so.
Julián Castro, the Democratic mayor of San Antonio, featured education as a cornerstone of his keynote speech. "We have to come together and invest in opportunity today for prosperity tomorrow," he implored, "and it starts with education." Castro proudly described San Antonio's commitment to this as a corollary to capitalism: "We know that you can't be pro-business unless you're pro-education. We know that pre-K and student loans aren't charity. They're a smart investment in a workforce that can fill and create the jobs of tomorrow. We're investing in our young minds today to be competitive in the global economy tomorrow."
Without education - without access to education, be it from the best teachers possible, who are well-trained and well-compensated, or readily available loans and grants, which are awarded with boundless hope but without impossible strings - our country will not regain our footing in the global economy. We will not succeed by any measure, material or otherwise, without giving our students the tools to pursue higher education, should that be the right path for them. And we will not move forward into this century in any meaningful way without encouraging our children to pursue knowledge and learning.
The Republican agenda that belittles education fills me with fear. Our leaders should be telling us that ignorance isn't old-fashioned; it's limiting. Our leaders should be telling us that embracing new facts isn't admitting that you've been wrong; it's admitting that our capacity for knowledge constantly increases. Our leaders should be telling us that the pursuit of higher education doesn't diminish the achievements of those who came before us who didn't have the opportunities that we do; it celebrates the sacrifices they made so that we could reach even greater heights. I believe that we need politicians in power who understand and emphasize how crucial education is - not just for us individually, but also for us as a country. And I believe this because I love my country - and that's why I'm a Democrat.