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Job One for liberals: Send more Americans to college
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Smart v. Stupid

Job One for liberals: Send more Americans to college

  • Billy Hawthorn photo

If liberals want to move the country forward, they need to think beyond short term accomplishments and develop a hundred year plan. The path to liberalization is simple – make college affordable and available to everyone.

Despite the common myth, colleges are not liberal indoctrination camps. Whether one leaves college as a conservative or liberal is fairly evenly split. Those who stop learning after high school, though, are overwhelmingly conservative. Today, nearly three out of four will vote Republican.

America’s middle class is being stratified into a well-educated upper and a less-educated lower. Uppers work primarily in vibrant industries, corporate, government, white-collar and administrative jobs. They’ve weathered the difficult economy fairly well. Roughly one third of working Americans have a college degree. They earn, on average, three and a half times what high school dropouts earn.

Like it or not, a college degree is now the entry level credential for a stable job. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for high school dropouts has been around 15 percent for more than a year. For high school graduates, it’s just over 10 percent. For college graduates it’s less than 5 percent. But it gets worse.

The value of a high-schooled wage earner is also way down.

His or her marketability has been ruined by a number of factors including the decline of our industrial base, the defeat of unions and the inability to “change gears” when an old industry dies. Without unionized factory jobs, low-education workers are finding it difficult just to get by. So fear drives the urge to hunker down – to take a conservative approach.

Fear may actually be the disease, conservatism just a symptom. Perhaps the most devastating characteristic of this group is the inability to see how all of this happened. As a result, the less-educated middle class is voting themselves downward, recreating the “lower middle class” that was mostly eliminated during the 1980s and ‘90s.

Increasingly, “sweat-collar workers” are willing to accept the fantastical notion that poor people have a powerful political lobby in Washington. Looking for an excuse for failure has made them terminally gullible. Republican strategists are more than willing to stoke the delusion. Back in reality, the notion that the poor pull any levers of power is utterly laughable.

The real conservative goal can be explained in one concept – increase the number of workers to suppress wages. When Republicans talk about cutting Social Security or raising the retirement age (or almost anything else) that’s what they’re really up to. They don’t want to cut spending; they want to expand the worker pool. More competition for jobs means lower wages – for the very people who voted them in.

By the way, virtually all of these Republican con artists are college graduates themselves. John Boehner has a bachelor’s degree. Mitch McConnell used law school to avoid military service. Newt “any lie for airtime” Gingrich taught at one. George Bush, famously, credited his MBA for his hands off approach to paying attention. So when they say college makes you stupid, well, they don’t really believe it.

Much has been made of the claim that college indoctrinates liberalism. In fairness, colleges do five things that promote liberal thinking:

  1. College takes you out of your comfort zone. Some people change their mind when they meet new knowledge or new people. No matter what new beliefs you adopt, changing your mind reflects critical thinking. Openness to change is a hallmark of liberalism.
  2. College teaches the scientific method. Uneducated humans tend to operate on “faith-based logic.” They decide what they believe, then fit “facts” to the belief. You don’t need to be a science major to learn to review facts then form conclusions. Next thing you know, it’s harder for someone to lie to you. That – not Creation – is why conservatives are anti-science.
  3. College reveals a much wider world. If you’ve never left home, it’s easy to believe in “American Exceptionalism,” a notion that we Americans are some sort of a contemporary master race. College offers the opportunity to learn that a lot of the rest of the world is pretty darn cool. Simply put, college is an antidote for fat-headedness.
  4. College improves one’s ability to communicate. Rich communication is sunlight washing down on any cloudy question.
  5. College is a personal endorsement. A degree opens thousands of doors that would otherwise be closed. College graduates may not be better, smarter or more valuable. But they’ve passed a test. That makes them seem to be a much better bet.

So which one of those is a bad thing?

Jimmy Zuma splits his time between Washington, D.C. and Tucson. He writes the online opinion journal, Smart v. Stupid. He spent 5 years in Tucson in the early ‘80s, when life was a little slower, swamp coolers were a little more plentiful, Tucson’s legendary music scene was in full bloom, and the prevailing work ethic was “don’t - unless you have to.”

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