Rick Santorum, fresh from castigating college graduates and accusing Barack Obama of hating plumbers, carpenters, electricians, and mechanics of all shapes and sizes, defended his remarks on Sunday’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. First as a matter of housekeeping, and this should come as no surprise, Santorum took the President’s remarks completely out of context. More importantly however, he illustrated the Republican Party’s complete and utter lack of understanding of the purpose of education and their fundamental inability to see even the slightest distinction between any two things.
Santorum’s comments on Saturday:
“President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob.”
“There are good decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them,” “Oh, I understand why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.”
On Sunday, Santorum refused to walk back his comments:
“I think because there are lot of people in this country that have no desire or no aspiration to go to college, because they have a different set of skills and desires and dreams that don’t include college,” Santorum said. “And to sort of lay out there that somehow this should be everybody’s goal, I think, devalues the tremendous work that people who, frankly, don’t go to college and don’t want to go to college because they have a lot of other talents and skills that, frankly, college, you know, four-year colleges may not be able to assist them.”
“I mean, you look at the colleges and universities, this is not something that’s new for most Americans, is how liberal our colleges and universities are and how many children in fact are – look, I’ve gone through it. I went through it at Penn State.”
“You talk to most kids who go to college who are conservatives, and you are singled out, you are ridiculed, you are — I can tell you personally. . . I went through a process where I was docked for my conservative views. This is sort of a regular routine. You know the statistic . . . that 62 percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it. This is not a neutral setting.”
For the record, what Obama actually called for, first in 2009 was:
“Tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma.”
Let’s put aside the blatant falsehoods and give Santorum some credit for his own education. One would have to assume that he knows most of what he said is pure bullshit. For example, he must surely be aware that there is absolutely no evidence that anyone is indoctrinating students at major universities in the United States with some liberal 99% serum, and almost no evidence that “62 percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it.” However, bullshit or not, he misses the point of higher education entirely, and for that, he does his supporters, many of whom are in dire need of education, no favors.
Higher education is not about simply practically applying some set of skills to the labor market upon graduation. One is free to attend a trade or vocational school, a community college, or embark on an apprenticeship at any point in their life. It need not be the second one completes high school, a point at which almost no one is actually psychologically mature enough nor emotionally prepared for a long term career of any kind. In fact, in practice it is progressives who truly value the people who do the most difficult and back breaking work in America. It is progressives who fight for higher wages in the careers requiring the least education and the most labor intensive jobs in this nation. It is the Republican Party that seeks to manipulate the very lack of formal education in many folks to their own nefarious ends. That being said, I do not believe that Rick Santorum is bright or politically connected enough to be invited to the closed door meetings in which the conspiracy to limit access to education as a social strategy is planned. So his statements are nothing more than political pandering on the one hand, and a fundamental and sad misunderstanding of education on the other.
Education, more specifically higher education, is more than a means to an end. It is a pathway to a better and more well rounded life. College is where we learn about basic history, the system of government in the United States and differing systems around the world, basic accounting, literature, among many other disciplines that might just help a person in any career. It is where we are confronted by others who do not agree with us, or look like us, or think like us, and where we are forced to make decisions based upon this conflicting information. There is no shame in not attending college in order to pursue a career. Santorum is correct in that not each and every person desires to be a doctor, lawyer, social worker, or teacher. Most importantly, and most downright frightening to Republicans and the 1%, is that college teaches us to question, to be curious, to not take each and every bit of information provided to us by those in power and simply accept it. We are taught to challenge information if we believe it to be false, and to fight to change public and private policies if they are unfair. Because of this, it is a fundamental right of all people to have access to affordable higher education. If one desires to become a carpenter, plumber, truck driver, or electrician, he or she will then have the benefit of new skills. Many of these skills will undoubtedly serve the person well in even these professions, most importantly if they become small business owners.
To Obama’s credit he hit back today saying:
“We’re talking about somebody going to a community college and getting trained for that manufacturing job that now is requiring somebody walking through the door handling a million dollar piece of equipment. And they can’t go in there unless they’ve got some basic training beyond what they received in high school,” Obama told the governors. “We all want American getting those jobs of the future, so we’re going to have to make sure they’re getting the education they need.”
Whomever chooses to forgo higher education is no less one of us, as we are all ultimately inherently equal, but to sell the idea that rejecting college is somehow noble, is indeed a dangerous and treacherous idea.