Saturday, May 30, 2015

Does the President Need A College Degree?

At the time of this writing, you and I may be the only people in the United States who aren't running for president in 2016. Just about anyone is jumping in, regardless of his "electability," offering agenda and opinions that pass more easily for smoke screens than legitimate issues. One wants to bomb ISIS, the other wants to prevent gay marriage. This one promotes the economy, that one wants to protect the environment. And somehow, this is all supposed to make America a happier, fully-employed nation.

Although he hasn't officially announced as yet, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker brings yet another issue to the fore: Is a college education required of a United States president? It's not as simple a question as you might think, especially with the winds of public opinion blowing gale force against the notion of over-priced, misdirected colleges leaving their graduates in massive debt and structurally unemployed. After all, there hasn't been a bidding war for art history PhD's in quite some time and the local air conditioning repair company has little use for philosophy majors. The country certainly needs practical skills to maintain its infrastructure and innovate its future. But when we're talking about the leader of the free world here. Do the same rules apply?

You and I and the rest of the country probably don't calculate quadratic equations in the course of our daily lives. In fact, there's probably plenty of education we left behind after high school, not to mention the esoteric pursuits of our college educations. The president has real, practical problems to solve. War, trade, education, labor, employment -- you know the list. So how many of those issues really require four of five years of higher education? Isn't real life experience enough -- or even an advantage? I suppose the answer depends on how you'd define a "college education."

If, as most of America thinks, college is nothing more than a high-end trade school designed to "get you a better paying job," I doubt a college education is going to add very much at all. Unfortunately, our education system -- and our expectations of it -- have mutated into a plug-and-chug process that hasn't been effective since the 1970s. Fulfilling requirements, rubber-stamping through courses in name brand institutions is no guarantee of any career, let alone a high-paying one. And while four years of lab work might teach you all about rats and their biology, it hardly prepares you for all the other socio-economics batterings the outside world is saving for you.

On the other hand, if you define it as four years of liberal arts, you might find a college education to be an indispensable requirement for the presidency. Knowing other nations' histories, values and cultures would enable him to better understand and negotiate in foreign matters. Appreciating various kinds of art and music would expose him to different mind sets and perspectives. Analyzing literature might prompt him to ponder various moral and ethical questions not previously considered. He might discover different aspects of beauty, romance and ethics that are the end goals not only of Americans, but most human beings on the planet.

In short, a liberal arts education has the capacity to inject wisdom into a presidential candidate, a quality in short supply and urgently needed by America and the world. Simplistic posers pander their facades in hopes the public won't peer behind them. Real leaders possess wisdom borne of education as applied to their experiences.

We've dumbed down the country enough. I doubt we need to extend that trend to the presidency.