Can the current kerfuffle in Wisconsin be a “teachable moment” for us? Could we please, please rethink our views on education?
Increasingly, we are living in a country which values form over function. For proof of this, you need look no further than 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. There dwells a man who has, quite literally, never achieved anything of substance in life. If you can name a contribution Barack Obama made to society before getting elected to public office, I’d like to know about it. But the man is a gifted speaker, and he knows what people want to hear. And he rode that all the way to the highest office in the land, all sense, common or otherwise, be damned. The people in this country are so hungry to believe a fantastic narrative that they’ll suspend disbelief and swallow Obamism hook, line, and sinker. If you stop and think about it, it’s pretty stunning. The man literally is not there. We elected an empty suit, a hall of mirrors, a smoke show, pick the metaphor of your choice. And as the economy tumbles around us, many of us are still willing to close our eyes to what’s really going on and swallow whatever version of reality our dear leader is offering this week. Yes, the stimulus worked! A trillion jobs created (or saved)! We have always stood with the people of Egypt! This new budget will shrink the deficit!
But not only are we desperate to escape reality, we’re also living in a hyper-litigious, stultified, bureaucratic culture. We elevate, in the words of Mr. Glenn Reynolds, the “credentialed, not educated.” Let’s look again at Mr. President. What did he do, exactly, before he became president? Did he manufacture things? Write software? Build robots? Cure disease? No. Essentially, he talked. He was a lawyer for various community groups. He made a solid living on his ability to use words to shape others’ perceptions. He did nothing. But still we exalt him. He was president of the Harvard Law Review! Well, hot damn. And yet, we hold him, and all our leaders, to a pitifully low standard. We don’t ask that they make any changes, or tackle the deficit, or take a long hard look at the “war on terror.” We’re happy if they mouth platitudes, and to the most platitudinous go the most plaudits, and the most power.
So it goes in 21st century America. You don’t have to do anything; you just have to make a convincing show of it. You don’t have to learn anything; you just have to earn that piece of paper. Can you write, can you argue? Can you create, can you build? Can you think, or lead? It matters not. Go through the motions. We just want a good story to lull us to sleep at night. And when it all comes crashing down on our heads we’ll point to our leaders’ glorious lists of credentials and pretend we didn’t know the emperor had no clothes.