Scanning the wires early one morning a few weeks ago, I stumbled onto an article about Josh Hawley, Missouri’s attorney general, who really wants to be Missouri’s U.S. senator.
On the campaign trail, he launched into fairly standard language in his stump speech, decrying colleges that take “millions and millions of your hard-earned money ... and then churn out increasingly worthless degrees” for people “with skills that nobody can use,” all while “indoctrinating them in far-left thinking.”
All of which seems odd coming from someone who received a highly regarded Jesuit education at Rockhurst High School. And an undergraduate degree from Stanford. And a law degree from Yale. And a job from the University of Missouri. And is married to an MU professor. And, as a kicker, his “worthless degree” was in history (or the law, depending on your perspective).
It seems to me that his statement presents two possibilities: The idea of millions from taxpayers going to lefties on liberal hot-bed campuses aims to pander to the working-class voters he desperately needs to unseat incumbent Claire McCaskill, or he actually believes it, his own background notwithstanding. I find neither particularly palatable.
Denigrating higher education simply to win votes might be excusable if it weren’t so dangerous, given how the current state of politics actively works to undermine education: a president (himself the product of elite education) who eschews reading; persistent, pernicious fights about education funding at the state level; politicized science, etc.
This sort of binary thinking, or at least talking, may sway voters, but it’s a horrible way to make policy. The “far-left thinking” line only fans the anti-education flames, a mess Hawley can leave for state legislators to clean up if he decamps for Washington.
In the news story I read, Hawley’s spokeswoman came behind him and tidied up: What he really meant is that we need to redirect some funding to vocational and technical training.
I and many business leaders can get behind that idea. Read our archives to see just how much of a crying need Kansas City has for those jobs and how much importance they play in our future. I also can agree with the idea that a four-year degree isn’t for everyone. But you don’t have to trash higher education to make that point.
I am not oblivious to the personal financial equation (i.e., debt) in this higher ed discussion, by the way. The last of my three sons will start college in the fall, and the schools are vampires, sucking me dry to my financial marrow. Their schools each have endowments exceeding the GDP of 55 countries — none of which is reflected in my tuition bill. I grew up the child of parents who had GEDs. They understood the value of education, even if they were unclear on the specifics for tapping it. Mine was a self-funded education married with Pell grants.
When college started, I had vague aspirations of what to do with my life. When I graduated, I had tangible goals and an appetite for more.
Education is about training and skills, sure, but it’s about so much more. Because I fluked into parents and educators who cared, my horizons expanded exponentially beyond what I ever could have imagined for myself.
The “skills” I developed in high school and beyond were never enough alone to sustain me or broaden my scope of the possible. They required filling in by the dedicated souls I encountered along the way. I needed both to be able to enter the world — not to mention the many wonderful peers I met who enriched my life (but that’s another column).
And all that, in turn (together with an amazing wife), has made possible a multigenerational broadening of my sons’ horizons.
That’s the true power of education — skills blended with empowered dreams — and that’s why Hawley, who should know better, engages in policy malpractice every time he recklessly trots out this piece of his stump speech.