Today is turning into a ridiculously busy day, which precludes any deeply thoughtful blogging. (And anyone who is thinking snarkily that this fact makes today like any other day at my blog can just keep that thought to him- or herself.) I do want to take a minute to add one more thought to Kerry’s statement, and it’s a thought equally applicable whether he meant what he actually said, or he botched an anti-Bush joke.
Let me quote Kerry’s statement again:
“You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”
What that remark does is conflate education and intelligence, something that should never be a given. Thus, Kerry’s statement shows a reflexive belief on the Left that academic achievement is the same as smartness. Or, at least, the same as useful smarts. In fact, we’ve all known brilliant people who don’t have a good education, and we’ve known plenty of damn fools who have achieved prominent positions in education (right now, Ward Churchill springs to mind, but I bet you can add to that list).
I’d rather have a brilliant plumber in my life, than someone who is a maven in UC Berkeley’s women’s studies department. The latter may have the high IQ; the former is an infinitely more useful person to know.
We now know that the traditional IQ test ignores many, many types of intelligence, putting a focus on certain verbal and mathematical skills. At it is, I test off the charts verbally, but am a borderline idiot in more areas than I care to count. If you had to have one person on a desert island with you, unless you would be satisified with someone who can deluge you with charming chit-chat, you wouldn’t choose me.
So, while I’m all in favor of getting everyone to optimize their educational opportunities, because I do think those opportunities maximize choices in life, the assumption that all educated people are smart galls me (especially as education seems to be a fairly degraded commodity lately).
The other problem with Kerry’s statement (assuming that he meant, in fact, to denigrate the military) is his assumption that the military isn’t, in itself, an education. The obvious educational factor is the useful skill sets people learn in the service. I’m under the impression that, increasingly, young men and women can get an education in technical skills that are useful outside of the military as well. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.)
The less obvious education is what I call the backbone education. I’ve known many young men and women, bright people lacking in discipline, who credit the military with helping them become strong and focused so that, when they left the military, they were able to embark on a career trajectory that would never have been available before their stint in the military. Indeed, I number among those a dot.com millionaire who was a brilliant slacker before the term was even invented. After his mother finally kicked him off the couch, he enlisted in the Army for want of something better to do. With external forces requiring him to shape up, he proved to be perfect officer material. He went into officer’s training, served his full time in the military and came out with skills that turned him into a millionaire. In other words, the military itself was the education he needed.
UPDATE: I must be right, because Mark Steyn says much the same thing, only in a more amusing way. (Giggle.)