A while ago I attended a professional meeting and during the introductions I used my title, (as in “Dr.”), to tell the group who I was and where I worked. I do not use my title very much, but I do so occasionally in work-related settings. An individual who was seated next to the person beside me turned to that fellow and began to joke about introducing himself as a “BS PhD.” He knew I could hear him and yes, it was purposeful.
I confess, I did roll my eyes because that kind of leveling, talking yourself up or trying to put someone else down, says everything about that person and nothing about you. It’s all about their insecurities and feelings of inferiority. I learned the concept of leveling from Dr. Phil (who also has a PhD, but his is in psychology) and find it extremely helpful. I wonder how many times people tried to insult his education, although he certainly has had the last laugh.
The thing is, formal education (such as attending college) is not for everyone. My parents graduated high school and while my mother did receive certification in home health care, neither have college degrees. And yet, they are some of the smartest people I know. My son is pursuing a two-year degree at Western, but at present he has no plans to pursue a Bachelor’s degree. And that, after all, is his decision.
Aren’t we blessed to live in a nation where we can make that decision? Each of us can pursue our dreams without the government or society telling us no. So many people in the world are denied the options we take for granted, which makes it extremely difficult to try and understand why anyone would mock someone for their hard work.
Anti-intellectualism is rising in the US and I do not understand why. Hasn’t our nation benefited from those educated people who contributed to our technical advancements, such as those working for NASA, the Department of Defense, and those tracking would-be terrorists? Think about the creators of the atomic bomb and its role in ending World War II; controversial, perhaps, but those scientists working in the basement of the laboratory at the University of Chicago were well-educated men who enabled the US to finally end the war.
When the US overtook Great Britain as the manufacturing capital of the world at the end of the 19th century, it was due to those who used their education to improve technology. Railroads were created by engineers, as is our entire transportation network. There were men (and women) like Thomas Edison who accomplished a great deal with little formal schooling, but they tend to be the exception. This is not to say that only educated people make a difference, but there are times and places that yes, we need and depend on such people in ways we take for granted.
Our founding fathers were considered educated for their time; almost all were wealthy men of means. They established universities and valued knowledge and learning. Visit Mount Vernon or Monticello in Virginia and see how Washington and Jefferson lived. They resided in large mansions with a great deal of land and yes, their wealth was fueled by slave labor which enabled them to pursue their learned pursuits. In establishing Harvard, Yale, William and Mary, Queens College (later renamed Rutgers) and others, the colonists sought to ensure that America’s future leaders would not have to go to Europe to become educated men.
Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump all graduated from Ivy League schools as did many of their predecessors. Even Ronald Reagan, who came from a poor family, graduated from a small school in Illinois in 1932 with a degree in economics and sociology. Since 1900, Harry S Truman is the only President to be elected without a college degree.
Isn’t the advancement of future generations the core of the American Dream? Each generation wants life to be better for their children and grandchildren. My grandparents were first-generation Americans who did not graduate high school because they came of age during the Great Depression and had to go to work while they were still young. They did not have a choice. Thankfully, I did.
I have other reasons as to why I pursued my degrees, but I will save that for another column. I just hope that those supporting this increasing anti-intellectual sentiment recognize that in doing so, they belie the ideals of our founders as well as a strong component of the American Dream. Like the founders, we all need to consider the good of the whole and not just ourselves. Put differently, anti-intellectualism is really un-American.
If Americans continue to diminish education, what will that do to our nation as well as our standing in the world? As China, India and other nations strive to compete and overtake us, why would we be willing to take a step backwards, squandering opportunities that we are so fortunate to have? Why should we as a people “dumb” ourselves down?
Those of us who have a degree (or two or three) each have a story to tell of hard work, sacrifice, and sleepless nights. The bottom line is that we are dreamers who wanted more for ourselves. Can you think of anything more American than the audacity and ability to dream big, whatever the context?
Dolores Pfeuffer-Scherer, PhD, is the Director of Marketing and Development at the Carbon County Museum.