A Blog by Jonathan Low


Nov 11, 2016

Proof Of the Need For Better Education

As well as of the impact of worse education. JL 

Glenn Geher reports in Psychology Today:

Educational attainment is critical in helping consider the platforms and character attributes of candidates in presidential elections; of what all a president needs to do to effectively carry out his (or, one day, her) job.34% of American adults are college-educated. About 55% of adults in South Korea are college-educated. For an industrialized society, we are relatively uneducated.
The 2016 presidential election is probably something that we will never forget for the rest of our lives. The build-up to the election was unique, including investigations into the integrity and personal histories of the candidates like had never been seen before. Did Donald Trump grope a variety of women? Did Donald Trump’s unobtrusively assessed language really portray women in highly objectified, locker-room kinds of ways? We were discussing whether Hillary has emails related to the scandalous Anthony Weiner on her computer server. We had a candidate talking about making a wall between countries - the likes of which have not been seen since the existence of East and West Germany. We had a candidate who was indicating that he thought using nuclear weapons was essentially no big deal. We had a candidate who talked about banning people of an entire religious faith from entering our nation.

This was, by all accounts, a circus of an election. And guess what? The candidate with no formal governmental experience, with no graduate or advanced degree beyond a bachelor degree - the candidate who has claimed bankruptcy on multiple occasions … he won.
Last night was the night of the election. We had some close family friends over. Everyone made and brought chili - “Chili for Hillary” we called it. You see, our party included a group of highly educated individuals from the extremely liberal town of New Paltz, NY. We had all been watching the polls carefully - and we felt pretty certain that Hillary had this in the bag. This event was going to be a celebration - a historic event applauding the election of the first-ever woman into the Oval Office.
We poured some wine, ate fruit salad and a variety of chilis, and talked about how great it would be when the democrats retained executive power in this country per Hillary’s pending victory. We laughed and had fun while the kids ran around the house playing with water bottles and balloons.
At some point, the TV (turned, of course, to CNN - the news channel of educated liberals in Blue States like NY) gave us pause. Hmm. Hillary is not necessarily going to win Virginia? North Carolina? Florida? Ohio? “But I thought Nate Silver’s model indicated that …”
Then, if you were a Clinton supporter like us, the evening went a little more south - and it continued on that trajectory until you woke up in the middle of the night - checked your phone - and saw that Donald Trump was now formally lined up to be the the next president of the United States.
The Under-Education of the United States
While there are many fault lines that differentiated Clinton versus Trump supporters, it turns out that the educational-attainment differential was perhaps the most significant. According to research by Bloomberg Politics, the difference in educational attainment between supporters of the Republican and Democratic candidates in this case was significantly larger than it has been traditionally in presidential elections. To quote their report:
“Clinton wins the college-educated segment by 25 percentage points, while Trump’s edge among those without a college education is 10 points." (McCormick, 2016) (link is external)
So if you are highly educated and are confused as to who are all these Trump supporters - because you don’t know many yourself - it’s probably because in your circle (of, likely, other highly educated individuals), there are no Trump supporters.
Similarly, if you are relatively uneducated and are confused as to who are all these Clinton supporters - because you don’t know many yourself - it’s probably because in your circle (of, likely, other relatively uneducated individuals), there are no Clinton supporters.
We can easily see how such a scenario would lead to major polarization among these groups. And to a large-scale inability to “understand the other side.”
The United States as an Uneducated Industrialized Nation
Many of us like to think that the United States is simply the best nation in the world along any and all relevant dimensions. As a lifelong citizen of the United States, I feel extremely fortunate for what all is offered to me and my family in this great nation of ours. This said, I have seen a good bit of the rest of the world and have learned a great deal about the histories, cultures, and ways of a broad variety of humans across time and space. The USA is great - but there are other great places. And there is one way, very dear to my own heart, where the USA lags - and this is in the domain of education.
Think about this: About 34% of American adults are college-educated. On the other hand, about 55% of adults in South Korea are college-educated. Many people are surprised by this fact. Many Americans think that the US is essentially highest on all markers of success relative to other nations. Well it turns out that this is not at all the case. In fact, for an industrialized society, we are relatively uneducated.
How Education Helps Inform Our Understanding of Governmental Practices and Policies
It’s not too difficult to think about how educational attainment can relate to our understanding of governmental leadership and practices. If you’ve been educated, for instance, in the nature of US politics, then you can understand the roles and duties of the president of the US, and you can think critically about whether a particular candidate has an appropriate background to carry out such duties. If you’ve been educated in the global nature of the human experience, you can think about how people (just like you and me) from any parts of the globe might see the world in their own unique ways - and you can think about how a president of our nation might be well-suited to show an appreciation for such cultural diversity. And you can think about how such an appreciation of diversity of other people could be beneficial in this important leadership role.
Below, is a short list of ways that educational attainment likely affects how one thinks about presidential candidates.
Specifically, a solid education can help voters understand such issues that relate to the ability to serve as the president as:
  • Understanding the histories of people from a plurality of cultural and religious backgrounds - preparing a leader to effectively deal with individuals from these various backgrounds.
  • Understanding how taxes work and how they interface with the availability of public services such as schools, highways, parks, etc.
  • Knowing the histories of various tax plans (e.g., trickle-down economics) and how such plans have historically played out in terms of economic outcomes.
  • Understanding the relationship between the various branches of US government and how they provide “checks and balances” on one another - and conditions under which such checks and balances are essentially non-existent.
  • Appreciating the idea of civil and reasoned discourse and disagreement - as a good college education typically provides and models such respectful disagreement for students.
  • Understanding enough science to help a voter think for him or herself about issues such as the teaching of evolution in the classroom of the nature of climate change.
Alas, the Voice of the Educated did not Carry in the Election of 2016
Obviously, here, I am making the case that educational attainment is critical in helping voters consider the platforms and character attributes of candidates in presidential elections. In the presidential election of 2016, the educational attainment levels of the supporters of the victor, Donald Trump, were considerably lower than were the educational attainment levels of the supporters of Ms. Clinton. Donald Trump, then, is the candidate of the uneducated. And as demarcated in the prior section, this may well mean that his supporters, who carried him to the White House, have less of an understanding of what all a president needs to do to effectively carry out his (or, one day, her) job.
Bottom Line
While I hardly consider myself “elitist” in any way, I do have a PhD and, thus, I guess I am part of the educated elite. I’m fortunate for that fact and I work to not take it for granted every day. I will say, honestly and unabashedly, that many of my friends (granted, with similar backgrounds as my own) and I are scared right now. From our perspective, Donald Trump is lacking in many areas that are essential for the effective leadership of this country. More than in any other election to date, the main dividing line between the supporters of the Republican and the Democratic candidates was rooted in educational-attainment differentials. And unfortunately, for an industrialized nation, our educational system is lacking - and we produce significantly fewer college-educated adults than should be the case.
Here is to the cultivation of the education system - at all levels - in the United States. Here is to a day when the large majority of citizens attain advanced degrees. Here is to the day when college education is free and available to all citizens of this great land.
From where I sit, the number one mission of this country right now - and for the foreseeable future - revolves primarily on making education great again.


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