Who Needs a College Education, Scott Walker or Marie Harf?

Jack Kerwick
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Posted: Feb 20, 2015 2:33 PM
Who Needs a College Education, Scott Walker or Marie Harf?

Wisconsin Governor and GOP presidential hopeful Scott Walker never graduated from college, and according to such critics as Howard Dean, his insufficient education renders him ineligible for the office of the presidency.

I have multiple degrees, including a doctorate degree. For the last 16 years, I have taught philosophy at an array of colleges and universities from Texas to New Jersey: four-year and two-year, research-oriented and teaching-oriented, public and private, big and small.

Consequently I can assure you, the mere possession of a college degree most definitely does not certify that its holder is “educated.”

Though there are exceptions, the painful truth of the matter is that the contemporary academic world has ceased supplying students with an education into the traditions of Western civilization. Instead, it provides them with training in an ideology -- namely the prevailing leftist ideology known as “political correctness.”

Between “training” and an “education” there is a world of difference.

Those who are trained in an ideology will master all of the stock phrases, clichés, and conventionalities of that ideology, but they will master nothing else. For example, you can bet the bank that it will be axiomatic to many—most—college students that “racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” “imperialism,” “colonialism,” and “classism” are unmitigated evils. For this reason, it’s an equally sure bet that these same students couldn’t even begin to formulate an argument for any of these beliefs—or probably for any others.

Training in an ideology is training in propositions that are treated as either self-evident or as following from self-evident propositions. The ideology is dogma.

However, because an ideology is an abstraction of reality—a Readers’ Digest version of it—it is, at best, a distortion or caricature of the real world.

The ideology that reigns on today’s campus is a gross distortion of “the real world” of Western civilization.

Unlike their counterparts from yesteryear, the image of Western civilization that’s promoted in many liberal arts and humanities departments throughout the country has all of the depth of a puddle. The west has been reduced to an uninterrupted exercise of villainy begetting villainy, its unprecedented theological, philosophical, and literary achievements summarily dismissed as the function of “white male privilege.”

The evils which human beings the planet over have been guilty of are presented as being unique to the west—when the west is unique only insofar as it has gone to great lengths to stamp out these evils.

Yet while the politically correct ideology that’s being forced upon contemporary students is at once false and socially destructive, the point here is that, content notwithstanding, college students should not be trained in any ideology. To replace education with training in an ideology is to insure that students’ minds languish in a poverty of imagination -- a state of affairs that at once results from and contributes to their alienation from their own civilization.

In short, training in an ideology denies students precisely those resources that they need in order to think.

But it also denies them the ability to genuinely, reasonably, feel.

When the great 20th century philosopher Hannah Arendt witnessed the trials of Nazi war criminals in Israel, she noted a curious phenomenon that she called “the banality of evil”: most of the defendants, though responsible for wicked deeds, weren’t particularly wicked themselves. However, they distinguished themselves by “a curious, but quite authentic inability to think.” That is, they had their clichés, stock phrases, and conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct, but the defendants were either wholly incapable of, or unwilling to think beyond their script.

What’s true of the Nazis is no less true of anyone else—or at least of those who have nothing more than training in an ideology.

As Democratic opponents pounce on Scott Walker for his lack of a college education, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf has said that a “lack of opportunity for jobs” is among “the root causes” that account for the rise of extremist groups like the Islamic State. In reply to the fury of incredulous responses that her remarks invited, Harf commented that hers “might be too nuanced of an argument.”

This is exactly the problem: her argument is not nuanced. It’s too simple. It’s formulaic. Harf hasn’t made an argument at all. She wouldn’t think to make one, and may not even know how to do so.

This is because for all of her college degrees Harf, like her boss Barack Obama, sorely lacks an education.

She does have training in an ideology.