Presidential Education

We have enjoyed spirited discussions on these pages with Book’s question about universities and the values thereof.

A recurring theme that I hear among Liberals is one of educational snobbery. I heard this with regard to G.W. Bush (despite his Harvard MBA) and now we hear it about Sarah Palin and other conservative candidates that may one day run for President.  Educational credentials will be an issue. Should they?

To lay my own opinions right out on the table, I admire Sarah Palin and do hope she runs – to me, she embodies many of the qualities that I always admired about American women when looking at my country from an overseas (expat) perspective. Those qualities include strength, “can do” practicality and a self-assuredness that looks adversity straight in the face. Plus, she can shoot straight. She was one of Alaska’s all-time most effective governors in just 2-1/2 years. Her autobiography on those years describes someone with exceptional tenacity and people management skills.

Her qualities, however, are the product of her life experiences. The fact that she was expected by her parents to go to university and pay 100% of her expenses and did so at various institutions is a major plus, not a negative. For me, her real life practical accomplishments say far more than her limited educational experience. And, for the sake of Book’s daughter, her (not Alaskan but North Central states) accent is no more a barrier to me than Gov. Christie’s New Jersey accent, JFK’s Boston accent or Bush’s Texan accent…I love accents!). To me, it is practical real-world experience that counts, not formal education. If anything, formal education is a barrier.

So, just how important is education for U.S. presidents? I note that some of our greatest presidents had little or no advanced education. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Harry S. Truman never went to university. Ronald Reagan got an undergraduate degree in economics from tiny Eureka College in the middle of the corn and soybean fields of Illinois. By contrast, our worst presidents were some of our best educated: Woodrow Wilson (Ph.D. professor), Jimmy Carter (nuclear engineer), Bill Clinton (Rhodes Scholar) and, now, Barack Obama (Ivy League elitist lawyer).

So, how important is formal education to being a good President? What are the Presidential qualities that a university can or cannot impart? How do we best counter these arguments from the Liberal /Left…not for the sake of the Lefties (whose egos remain immune to reason) but for the sake of all others trying to make up their minds on this issue?

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  • David Foster

    There is a pretty large class of people who have advanced degrees in non-very-marketable subjects and who are now working in jobs that they think are beneath them—adjunct professor with minimal prospects of promotion, if they are lucky, bookseller at Borders if they are not. These people cling to the value of their educational credential as an important part of their ego validation, much like impoverished aristocracy of an earlier time.
    To accept someone like Sarah Palin as a potential leader would be a huge ego blow, and one that they are unlikely to accept.

  • Danny Lemieux

    I fear that you are right, David Foster.
    There is a segment of the U.S. population that will never, never accept a Sarah Palin for exactly the reason you mentioned. I suspect that “blow to ego” (i.e., envy) is also a big part of why so many women viscerally hate her.
    However, I also note that people said equally vicious things about Ronald Reagan when he began running for national office. And look what happened.

  • stanley

    a formal education has educated many people beyond their intelligence

  • David Foster

    “educated beyond their intelligence”…Andre Maurois suggested that people who are *very intelligent* but *not at all creative* tend to be enthusiastic adopters of various systems, and indeed to apply them much more rigidly than their creators ever intended.
    I’m not sure Maurois was right in identifying this phenomenon mainly with *intelligence* coupled to uncreativity…equally likely, it is an effect of *extensive education* coupled with uncreativity.

  • Gringo

    By contrast, our worst presidents were some of our best educated:  Jimmy Carter (nuclear engineer)
    From what I have read, Jimmah took training in how a sub captain would operate a nuclear submarine. Not quite the same as nuclear engineering, though it would necessitate some knowledge of the basics of nuclear engineering. Ironically, I was taking a course in Nuclear Engineering when Jimmah was elected, and got a job offer with a nuclear outfit, which I declined. So if one course would have made ME a nuclear engineer [one of my many engineering courses] , perhaps Jimmah could also have been called a nuclear engineer.
    To my future chagrin, I voted for Jimmah that year.
    A Presidential candidate is much better served by some executive experience than by a mere Ivy League degree. Governor , military officer, cabinet official, what have you.

  • jj

    Educational value is a sometime thing.  As David Foster points out, we currently have a generation facing the reality that their education, especially their advanced education, pretty much qualifies them to be a barista at Starbucks.  (Maybe – if they can prove they interact well with people.)
    There has always been a difference between those who spent time in school, and those who spent that time making their way in the world.  It’s the same difference, writ somewhat larger, as that existing between those who have to call a plumber, and those who just get out the wrench and fix the goddam leaky faucet.  We already know who is of more use to the world: the guy who has figured out how to fix the faucet.  (You really don’t need to be taught, the faucet only comes apart and goes back together one way.)  But the question yet remains: who is of more value to the world?  (Value being a rather different thing than use.)
    I personally think it’s still probably the amateur (or professional) plumber.  The plumber can learn to read if he/she chooses, and can even learn to think abstractly if there is any genuine desire to do so, and still retain the faucet-fixing real world approach to dealing with actual problems.  The highly educated drone probably cannot learn to fix the faucet: one of the things his education will have taught him is that knowing how to fix faucets is beneath him.  Education has, in other words, fitted him out with a huge handicap and a tendency to uselessness.
    An interesting exercise.  If it all goes to hell tomorrow and we find ourselves living in a Hollywood “post-apocalypse” world, what will we actually need?  (Need, as opposed to the frills we like to have around.)  Well, we’ll need people who can heal other people who get hurt.  We’ll need people who know how to grow or otherwise obtain food.  We’ll need people who know how to make clothes to keep our butts warm.  We’ll need people who know how to build shelter to keep the rain and snow off our sorry heads.  We’ll need people who know how to take care of the animals we’ll have to have around to replace the machines we can no longer fuel.
    We’ll need, in other words, your great-great-grandfather, who probably grew up someplace rural, on a farm, and knew how to do all that stuff for himself as a matter of course.
    We will not need political scientists; teachers of English literature; specialists in Afro-American studies; advertising men (or women); marketers of all kinds; schoolteachers; (sorry – they’re a frill, not a need.  You can teach your own kids to read, write, add and subtract, just like your pappy taught you – and reading, writing, and arithmetic are all you need.  Remember – we’re talking need), astronomers; philosophers etc., etc.  The list of professions and occupations that are frills, not needs, is vast.  It’s probably most of us.
    The corollary is, when times get tough the frills contract  a bit, and even go away a bit, and we’re left with the fundamentals.  It’s well removed from the post-apocalyptic world situation, but the human race has an actual need for a hell of a lot less ‘stuff’ than it tends to accumulate.  This reality tends to somewhat resurface in tough times.  Our economy may be in the process of discovering it doesn’t need a lot of stuff, and can do without it.  We don’t require seersucker suits for summertime, cotton t-shirts work fine.
    So I think educational value is a sometime thing.  That Sarah Palin is perfectly capable of dispatching a moose that’s causing havoc in her garden is a strength.  (And, in our post-apocalyptic world scenario, knowing how to skin it, butcher the choice cuts out of it while cutting up the rest for the dogs, and carve up the rack for knife handles will be a hell of a lot more valuable skill than anything anybody ever learned at any Harvard grad school.  Any jackass can argue about who it was in the iron mask.  How many among us can render a moose?)
    I don’t think higher education is at all a requirement for a US – or any other – president.  Our current economy has been run into the ground by a bunch of jackasses from the Ivy League, and a previous bunch of Bush jackasses from the Ivy League didn’t see it coming.  An awful lot of uneducated dopes did.  Yet liberals are unbelievable education snobs.
    But I wonder if Barney Fwank can fix a leaky faucet?  Oddly enough, I’ll bet Sarah Palin can.

  • Gringo

    The highly educated drone probably cannot learn to fix the faucet: one of the things his education will have taught him is that knowing how to fix faucets is beneath him.  Education has, in other words, fitted him out with a huge handicap and a tendency to uselessness.
    I have done some plumbing myself.  I have installed garbage disposals, with varying degrees of ease. Some faucets I have replaced myself.  Drain pipes underneath sinks. Ditto various plumbing leaks. Some I have farmed out to licensed plumbers or to handymen.
    Here are several observations on the process. First, what would often take me several hours, a plumber could do in 10-30 minutes, due to expertise. Second: in several instances, I did not have the knowledge/experience of how to manipulate the tools to get the result, but a handyman or licensed plumber could do what had me stumped.  I had tried to loosen up a faucet in a tight place without success, but a handyman did it in several minutes.
    The various how to guides are often not able to instruct the finer points on using tools to get given results.
    There is a reason a plumber charges $80/hour for his expertise. He can do in 5 minutes what an amateur cannot do or would take an hour to do.
    Having struggled with plumbing jobs, I will never put down someone who uses a plumber.

  • Ymarsakar

    And, for the sake of Book’s daughter, her (not Alaskan but North Central states) accent is no more a barrier to me than Gov. Christie’s New Jersey accent, JFK’s Boston accent or Bush’s Texan accent…I love accents!).”

    But you have visited Europe and have heard accents of another language entire, as well as those of American origin.

    People who have been stuck in one place and experience nothing but monotony in their lives, will find different accents a different experience. In point of fact, one becomes inured to the group mind and specifically attempts to quash non-standard behavior, even when observed in others. One of the more notable qualities of a monolithic social circle is that it tends to be self-reinforcing. It tends to assimilate the strange and make it uniform, via social pressure.

    We who have heard the Europeans, the Canadian-British-Australian-American league of accents, as well as Asia and Russia and Africa, are not particularly surprised or disgruntled by local regional accents. But others are xenophobic. Aka the Left.

  • Ymarsakar

    Marin, btw, I would categorize as one of those monolithic communities. They don’t like strangeness. They are what they are because they make the foreign adhere to uniform standards. That is their stability and way of life. And it filters all the way down to the kindergarten schools and what not.
    Another place you will find the same accent snobbery are English lit departments in Ivy League universities and aristocratic stuffed up power mongers in Britain and other parts of Europe. The peasants are put in their place by having a different accent which is easily distinguishable by aristocrats, so the aristos know how to cut up if the peasants dare show up at a socialite galla.
    uniformity is very simple. Either you do things like everybody else, in order to be considered of the “elite”, or you are a nobody that they will crush, isolate. freeze. and ostracize. Anybody seen socializing with the “foreigner” will be put in their place with sanctions. Thus when you ask the brain dead followers of such cliques and societies, they will always say “i dislike hearing this accent. It is unrefined”. It is unrefined in the sense that acid is unrefined. They don’t want to touch it, for they know they will be burned at the stake by their Social PEERS for it.

  • Ymarsakar

    “He can do in 5 minutes what an amateur cannot do or would take an hour to do.”
    The other reason is demand and supply. There his high demand for such services, but low supply because many have been taught to avoid such careers.

  • Danny Lemieux

    I agree with you Gringo. I’ve done my own handyman work but in many cases it turns out to be make-work for the real professionals (esp. electrical). That being said, it does help me really appreciate what they know and do.
    My very first job was as a mason /bricklayer. Very hard physical work but I also learned a lot about the chemistry and physical properties of bricks and cement. It made me respect my fellow workers even more for what they knew and how the could apply that knowledge to tangible outcomes.

  • Danny Lemieux

    “But you have visited Europe and have heard accents of another language entire, as well as those of American origin.”
    Ah, perfect call,  YM!
    Yes, of course, the American elites will brag about their knowledge and (presumed) abilities to recognize and practice various accents of the world, but it is their own regional accents that are somehow doltish. Scruton’s wonderful term “oikophobe” perfectly captures this.

  • Charles Martel

    Back to the scarecrow in Oz: We live in a society where the appearance of being educated counts for more than actual education. Look at Obama, who has a collection of impressive certificates from highly regarded schools that all say he’s. . .educated. It doesn’t matter that we will never know what grades he got, or read anything of substance that he wrote, or that the man is plainly alliterate and ill-educated whenever he tries to discuss adult topics.

    One of the biggest, but most unsung, industries in the United States is the in-house schools corporations have established to teach college graduates how to read and write. How millions of bright kids can go through 16 years of formal education and still not know how to read a bus schedule, or in what century the Civil War took place, or how to write clear, logical prose is a scandal that the educational establishment has colluded with the MSM to keep hushed.

    But beyond the 3R basics necessary to the minimal functioning of individuals and society is the question of just what “educated” means. The left’s take seems to be that the ability to speak glibly or snarkily (Jon Stewart/Leibowitz), read/listen correctly (NYT, NPR, PBS, The Nation) and repeat the proper memes (Tea Party racist, Islam peaceful, capitalism bad, Bush stupid, Palin is a c**t) makes one educated. You will note that the ability to reason syllogistically, cite historical precedent, correctly summarize opposing points of view and then prove their wrongness without resort to emotion or ad hominem does not figure in that description.

  • Ymarsakar

    The Left calls their enemies racists and parochial jingoists. In the end, they were only ever talking of themselves. They are the parochial village idiots, not us.

  • Ymarsakar
    Appropos to the subject of accents, check out this performance
    Human instincts tell us to pick out slight differences in order to judge those who are of our Tribe and those who are not. With the implicit assumption that those who are not, are dangerous. Which is true. You do not know their customs, which makes them dangerous and vice a versa. It’s real easy for humans to start killing each other without a social compact. And those from other tribes, do not necessarily adhere to your social compact. So until you get one, they are dangerous, and thus slight differences are something humans always take note of to differentiate between safe and enemy.

  • Ymarsakar

    However, those who are familiar and can blend in with different cultures and socio-economic spheres, are not threatened by strangeness or strangers. We know how to take care of ourselves regardless of the birthplace of those we deal with, thus there is no insecurity for xenophobia to take advantage of.
    Coincidentally, this is how I detected that the Left were not of my tribe and were in fact a blood enemy.

  • stanley

    People frequently point out that Sarah Palin is “not smart enough” or “does not have the experience” etc. etc. to be president, much less anything else. Obama, for all of his fancy education, has as his background experience Community Organizing. This training many scoff at, myself included. However, in the past few weeks i discovered a website devoted to anti-communitariansim by Niki Raapana. Obama and his compadres, (including Palin according to Raapana) are Communitarians. Until a few weeks ago I had not realized that someone had taken on the task of defining and refining what the “communitarian movement” was and is ( She has managed to take my suspicions of the New World Order and put it into the context of the Communitarian philosophy. Am I the only one or has Communitarianism slipped by those who attend the Bookworm website? It turns out that Obama indeed has had the training to be an obvious Communitarian president. In this respect Palin indeed has not the training or experience to be our communitarian president. Palin had executive training as governor, while Obama had no executive experience and it really shows. I am saddened though that Raapana considers her to be one.

  • suek

    >>Back to the scarecrow in Oz: We live in a society where the appearance of being educated counts for more than actual education.>>
    Sort of like the Princess and the Pea????

  • Charles Martel

    suek, I meant that the Scarecrow, easily the smartest person in the book, did not even consider himself smart until the Wizard gave him a phony diploma. Smartness became equated possessing a sheepskin rather than already having something that was apparent to all.

    The same thing with education. The liberal arts diploma from an Ivy takes the place of a real manifestation of knowledge and learnedness. Look at how leftists excuse Obama’s obvious lack of knowledge or ability to think coherently without a script by reciting the list of schools that, Wizard-style, conferred an “education” on him by giving him a piece of paper.

  • suek

    What you say is true.  I agree entirely…but somehow the Princess and the Pea come to mind as well.  I’m not sure why, exactly, because your’s is a better analogy.  But there’s something tickling the back of my little pea brain…!!

  • Bookworm

    I’m very educated, in that I went to a superb high school, a renowned (although anything but superb university), and a top flight law school.  Those experiences left me useless.  It was life that taught me — life and an inquisitive mind.  When I left high school, I could analyze Shakespeare, but didn’t know how to write a check.  When I left college, I knew almost nothing more than when I entered, although I had figured out check writing.  When I left law school, I had a lot of theoretical knowledge, but was utterly incapable of applying it to a real world situation.

    It was only through holding jobs; working on cases; renting apartments; owning property; having children; reading, reading and more reading; and (on the negative side) experiencing late pay checks, health problems, and other life disappointments, that I was truly a mature, rounded, FUNCTIONAL person.

    I wouldn’t trade in my education.  It left me with a fairly well-furnished mind, and because it was in the 70s and early 80s, fairly solid analytical abilities.  However, college certainly wasn’t worth the $100,000 to $200,000 I’d have to pay for it were I to attend today.  Law school was then a good value, because it was a public law school, so the income return on investment was significant.  Only high school, because I still went in the days when school taught things and because I went to a good school, was the academic gift that keeps on giving.

    Bottom line:  education is useful, but ONLY if it is combined with practical life experience.  The problem with the whole crew in D.C. is that almost none of them have had any real life experience.  They’re public sector all the way, coddled and swaddled and protected.  This makes them fairly useless at understanding real world problems or envisioning real world solutions.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Hah Book! Very articulately put. Have you had this conversation with Mr. Book?
    The one thing I would quibble with is your description of the rat pack in Washington being “fairly useless at understanding real world problems or envisioning real world solutions”. They aren’t useless…their arrogance makes them dangerous.

  • Ymarsakar

    They understand the real world enough to mess it up.

  • Jose

    I cannot find the references to back this up, but I am reminded of the quip about (I believe) Kermit Roosevelt: that he was the product of a first rate education on a second rate mind.

    It may or may not be true, but he did succeed in overthrowing the communist backed regime in Iran which I doubt our current administration is capable of.

    (Odd how we are back to square one in that situation.)