Dr. Dawg

The privilege of formal education

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Pun intended. An article that ridicules the iffy formal educational attainments of Conservative cabinet ministers might be expected to strum my mockery receptors, but I find that I just can’t rise (or sink) to the occasion.

As someone with a fair amount of formal education myself, I don’t engage in inverse snobbery about it: there are undoubted benefits, including specific skill-sets that have useful application in a wide variety of circumstances. Areas of study are not called “disciplines” for nothing. We are trained to focus, to read attentively, to marshal evidence, to deploy logic. We learn how to make judgements based upon strict observation and hard thinking rather than relying upon assumptions and prejudices. If we’re lucky, we learn to reflect, to challenge ourselves, to question.

But there are other ways of developing these skills, and there are different skills required to be a political manager in any case. Life itself can be a tough discipline, and those endowed with intelligence and endurance can engage, as a matter of course, in practical “life-long learning.” I knew one capable CEO with Grade Eight; my own grandfather, somewhat of an autodidact, rose from copy-boy to financial manager of the Montreal Gazette with virtually no formal education at all. And some of the wisest and most capable people one could ever meet are to be found in the labour movement, not all of whom sport advanced degrees by any means.

Let us recall that we decry, in other venues, the lack of opportunity to acquire formal education in this country. We wore red squares not too long ago in support of Quebec students in their struggle against higher tuition fees, under the sign of social inequality. For a number of reasons, working-class Canadian youths are less likely to snap up advanced degrees than comfortably middle-class ones. Do we mock them too?

Well we might ridicule the dearth of talent and wit on the Harper government’s front benches. The brutal incompetence in some quarters there is frankly staggering. But—and here’s the rub—I’m not certain that a few years more formal education would have improved their capacities much. There are certain things you just can’t teach, like attitude, acumen and character.

Perhaps we should put aside forever the notion that educational prowess is a mark of superiority. Besides the moral resonances—if those folks were only better educated, they would obviously adopt our values as a matter of course—there are people who have mastered the requirements of formal training who should never be let out of doors unattended. I’ve met some of them.

But these are trite observations. The real concern that such articles cause me is their reinforcement of certain well-stoked prejudices on the Right: that we really are a bunch of privileged latte-drinking snobs completely out of touch with “real people.” There are plenty of reasons to sneer when it comes to the glaring deficits of the motley crew presently misruling our country, but their lack of formal educational achievements? Surely progressives are above such crass and frankly petit-bourgeois displays of privilege and arrogance.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on December 10, 2012 9:57 AM.

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