My father used to say that some of the most educated people he knew were also some of the most unintelligent people he knew. He had another phrase for it, calling them educated assholes. I understood his meaning but didn’t put a lot of stock in it because I thought at the time common sense was…well…common. It never made sense to me to disparage one’s education, or lack of it, simply because they didn’t possess a college degree. In fact, I thought it was pretty rude and rather “uppity”—a term not in much use today—for someone to look down their nose at another simply for lacking a collegiate sheepskin.
Dad was smart, a lot smarter than me in many ways, and even thought I did obtain that college degree, begrudgingly and with much coaxing by him to even attend, I still don’t think I’ve achieved the level of intelligence this barely graduated high school man possessed. This is not father worship or anything of the sort, it is simply fact.
Further, my best friend growing up, is non-college educated, but despite that handicap, he’s an extremely successful vice-president of an Italian food company, working his way up the ladder from sales. He is thoughtful, wise, cunning in business, and generous to a fault with both his money and his time.
Both of these men have influenced me in so many ways they are innumerable. When I converse with my friend, and we do so quite often having been friends for forty-five years, I am always impressed with his insight into the human condition and his ability to see further down the road than most. I don’t know if he’s the exception or the rule, but what I do know is that his education was from something more than an academic classroom.
This is why I become agitated and dismayed when I listen to the educated commentators, podcasters and others spout their credentials and then preface their criticism of the people with phrases such as “amongst the non-college educated”, or “those without degrees,” or some other sewage as that, as though a college degree vaults one to a higher plane of understanding life than someone who works behind a deli counter or sells lumber. I find such talk tedious, condescending, and elitist in the highest degree. Let’s not forget insulting too.
Due to the nature of my job, I’ve had the great fortune to speak with and become friends with people from all walks of life; from the doctor to the garbage man to the teacher/professor, to millionaires many times over. The one thing I’ve noticed more than anything else is the most successful of them, and incidentally, those with the least drama in their lives, are those people who possess common sense, not degrees.
In this hyper-degree society we’ve had foisted upon us, we’ve created a generation of pseudo-intellectuals who delight in analysis of just about everything, assuming their degrees give them a level of insight into society that escapes the common, sans-degreed individual. Because of their sheepskins touting their advanced ability to basketweave underwater, they’ve somehow obtained an insight into the human condition that elevates them above the rest of humanity; they’re experts in all they survey with an insight into everything that escapes the regular person. Anyone with an ounce of uncommon sense will see this is bunk.
To be sure, we are to blame, telling our kids the moment they enter a classroom that college is the goal and a degree will propel them to heights that can only be imagined by those without them; the holy grail in our society within their reach if only they will stretch out their hand and grasp it—and pay thousands upon thousands of dollars for the right to do so; many falling into debt they may never repay. We fill their heads with the idea that they will be vaulted so far above the rest of humanity they will be living in a virtual cloud world while the rest scratch and claw to simply gather enough poke salad to survive.
Listen, I’m not telling anyone who bothers to read this that a degree is a waste of time, that would be not only irresponsible but simply wrong. Generally speaking, those with degrees earn more on average than those that do not possess them. However, I am saying that the mere possession of a degree does not automatically elevate one above everyone else that doesn’t have one or chooses not to get one. To think so is just as absurd as its opposite and in more than once case, simply not true.
All of us have our talents and our wisdom. The fact that I have two degrees would not help me survive in the Namibian desert; whereas the bushman, who has not an inkling of what a college degree is not only survives, but thrives in those same conditions. His is a wisdom that dwarfs mine in that time and place, and I would be lucky to know such a person to converse and hear his/her perspective on life; I know I’d learn much.
Yes, education is important, and yes, the obtaining of a degree is an accomplishment (although I’d argue further not as big as it once was—things have become watered down…more about that another time). However, a degree does not confer upon the obtainee the gift of insight so much the greater than those who choose not to get one. To think otherwise is a fool’s errand.