The wealth gap in America isn’t the only growing dichotomy in our melting pot of various demographic slices. An intellectual gap is asserting itself in dangerous levels as these demographic slices form battling coalitions over differing priorities. While the Internet is a fascinating equalizer, providing information and education to those who seek it, the increasing vilification of education and intellectualism is alarming. And the 2008 Election, with its record-breaking participation, has brought illustrations of the growing smart gap to the forefront of mainstream media – even if the media doesn’t understand or acknowledge exactly what they’ve got their hands on.
The most recent example of the degradation of education in America is the difference in voter groups in the Democratic Primary. We are continuously reminded that educated Americans lean more toward Obama and blue-collar (they hardly ever say “uneducated”) voters side with Clinton. In an effort to celebrate these blue-collar Americans, the media and the candidates repeatedly refer to them as “hardworking Americans” – which should seem offensive to white-collar workers who undoubtedly work just as hard whether it’s in the operating room or on the trading floor.
Obama’s opponents readily reach for the “elitist” attack, however, simply because educated voters choose him more than any other candidate. How ridiculous. How backwards. How indicative of the anti-intellectualism that seems pervasive even in our most top levels of government.
It is not far-fetched to assume that educated voters are more informed, know more about current events, and are more familiar with the global effects of our national decisions and, thus, can apply critical analysis – even in the voting booth – better than their uneducated counterparts. This is not to say that a college-educated voter will always make a better decision than an uneducated voter. Intellectualism has more to do with the seeking of knowledge than the attaining of a piece of paper in the form of a degree. Smarter, more educated decisions, however, lead to a better – even longer – life and benefit not just the educated, but society as a whole.
Hillary Clinton began to solidify a political base as she began to pander to the uneducated, as Republicans do in most of their campaigns. In a fantastic blog entitled “In Defense of Being Educated” on The Huffington Post, Robert J. Elisberg writes that Hillary Clinton thinks she should be president because her voters are less educated than those of her opponent. He’s simplifying for effect, but the message is clear. The uneducated, potentially poorer-decision making voters who have always been courted by Republicans, are being celebrated and lauded. Yes, this may just be a political tool to get ahead, but the message it sends to America is a very dangerous one indeed.
I’m reminded of the 60 Minutes Report “All Eyes On Ohio” during which Kenny Schoenholtz, a worker at the Glatfelter paper factory (which was shutting down) told Steve Kroft about Obama, “Well, I’m hearin’ he doesn’t even know the National Anthem, you know. He wouldn’t use the Holy Bible. He’s got his own beliefs, got the Muslim beliefs. Couple issues that bothers me at heart.” Now, I don’t know anyone who saw that report and were not – too put it lightly- gobsmacked by the stupidity of such a person.
Now, that may seem a harsh judgment, but it is difficult to watch as voters just like Schoenholtz are routinely courted as the Holy Grail among voting blocs. He is the perfect constituent for Republicans or Clintons, who salivate at the opportunity to use unreasoned and illogical attacks. He is the audience for Willey Horton ads and Swiftboat campaigns. He is the voter to whom it will matter that Barack Obama’s middle name is Hussein. He is the voter who most likely voted for Bush a second time.
Why is he this type of voter? Because he is uneducated.
The pat-on-the-back for those who opted out of higher education or choose not to seek information and enlightenment will have grievous results beyond the quality of our elected leaders. With the diminishing appreciation of education – specifically science and math (largely due to religious fundamentalism) – the U.S. will continue to lose its stronghold as hegemonic power and falter economically, technologically and culturally. I recommend reading Susan Jacoby’s “The Dumbing of America” on The Washington Post for further statistics and examples of our rapid intellectual back-sliding. Jacoby has also recently written published “The Age of American Unreason“.
As the media and political parties request audience with uneducated voters using sugar-coated labels of importance, one must remember that lack of education and information encourage crime, teenage pregnancy, poverty, obesity, disease and more. Autocratic regimes and dictatorships prevent instruments of knowledge from reaching the masses as a tool with which to construct their oppressive governments.
I know many people who have not had access to a college education, yet are still very much intellectuals. The seeking of information, arming oneself with the ability to make enlightened decisions and the understanding of the importance of knowledge are all that is required to be intellectual.
As a nation, however, we glorify the rejecting of education to our own detriment.
There a fewer shames I can think of that the anti-intellectualism movement has produced than those presented by Nicholas D. Kristoff of The New York Times in his Op-Ed “With a Few More Brains…“:
“A 34-nation study found Americans less likely to believe in evolution than citizens of any of the countries polled except Turkey.
President Bush is also the only Western leader I know of who doesn’t believe in evolution, saying “the jury is still out.” No word on whether he believes in little green men.”