Opinion

The Miseducation Of Scott Walker

W. James Antle III Managing Editor

Ever since my 35th birthday, when I finally met all the constitutional requirements to become president of the United States, I’ve grappled with a vexing question.

Now that I have written all these columns expressing unpopular opinions, how will I ever get elected? Upon learning that Pat Buchanan was running for president for the first time, William F. Buckley Jr. is said to have remarked, “Oh, for an opponent who has written a thousand columns.”

It thus came as a relief to learn that I shall never carry the burden of the presidency. Fortunately, I am too stupid to be president.

This fact has long been obvious to my readers, but it was only confirmed to me when I read The Washington Post story about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s failure to finish college.

I too “exited” college after four years before completing my degree. I intended to finish later, but never did.

Walker’s situation sounds much like my own. I was more interested in politics than classes. I couldn’t master foreign languages (I tried French in high school, Spanish in college). I had pictures of Ronald Reagan. I got a job.

If any of the degree-holding people I’ve worked with either in information technology or journalism ever noticed my blithering idiocy, they were too polite to say.

Howard Dean isn’t restrained by such niceties. He told an incredulous Joe Scarborough that Walker’s refusal to answer a reporter’s question about evolution raised a question of its own: “How well educated is this guy?”

Evolution is normally taught before senior year in college, so if Walker is like Sam Cooke in the song “Wonderful World” and don’t know much biology, some additional credits at Marquette were unlikely to do the trick.

Of course, the fact that you can sometimes get a high school diploma without having learned anything has made prospective employers value college degrees more. And with the proliferation of mediocre colleges, most people of average intelligence could probably acquire a degree if they really wanted one, making an employer somewhat justified in wondering what’s wrong with you if you didn’t.

There is also a legitimate concern that if Walker does well in the Republican primaries, talk about his lack of college degree will provoke anti-intellectualism as a conservative populist reaction.

Walker could paraphrase Ross Perot’s 1992 line about having no experience running up a $4 trillion national debt. “I don’t have the fancy book learnin’ of the two Ivy Leaguers who got us stuck in Iraq or cancelled the health plan you wanted to keep.”

Turn on, tune in, drop out (of college).

There’s a more famous Buckley quote that is frequently presented as anti-education: “I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.”

Buckley was also was a Yale graduate who clearly believed it was important to learn things. But as another Yale graduate once asked, “Is our children learning?”

As the return on the investment in a college education declines and student loan debt soars, as people increasingly have to get bachelor’s degrees to compete for janitorial work, it’s worth asking whether this system really makes sense.

Seth Mandel of the learned journal Commentary points out the obvious: the educational system as presently constituted works to reinforce income inequality, but on terms favorable to liberals. There’s the “government’s education cartel, the public unions it sustains, and the maintenance of the pipeline of left-liberal groupthink and its young adherents.”

Attend public schools dominated by unions, go to colleges dominated by liberals, use taxpayer-backed student loans that spike tuition inflation, watch income inequality worsen, vote against Republicans on the basis of said income inequality, rinse and repeat.

Liberals say the answer is to make college freer (though so far their attempts at doing so have only made it more expensive). But maybe this system itself needs to be transformed, insofar as college is about attaining employment and a comfortable middle-class income rather than reading the Great Books of the Western World.

“In today’s customizable world,” says Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, “students should be able to put their transcripts together a la carte — on-campus and online, in classrooms and offices, with traditional semester courses and alternative scenarios like competency testing — and assistance should follow them at every stop along the way.”

Maybe Scott Walker and I are too dumb to be president. But our present credentialing system seems too dumb for the 21st century.

W. James Antle III is managing editor of The Daily Caller and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.