Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Santorum, Snobbery & Schoolin'

I was recently lamenting to my friends that sometimes I wish this were a blog about politics so that I could rant and rave about the lunacy being spewed by the current presidential candidates. Then I decided that I could find a health-related theme for the subject about which I would like to rant as an excuse to do it anyway. So here goes my rant about Santorum's infamous recent comments about higher education.

Let me start by saying that I am registered as a political independent. I have voted for members of both parties, and it is rare that I agree with either party 100% on an issue. But on this particular issue, I don't see much room to argue with Obama. I know full well that education makes a difference, not only in lifetime earning potential, but also in human health!

For those who haven't heard yet, Rick Santorum called Obama a "snob" for reportedly "saying that everyone should go to college." This was hard for me to believe, but here is an actual video of the speech in Michigan.



Of course, after hearing such a strange insult to our president, I decided to find out what Obama actually said. According to a Politico article, the quote was, "I ask every American to commit to one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school, vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever that training will be, every American will need more than a high school diploma."

It's hard for me to see how this quote translates into liberal snobbery mandating that everyone must attain a degree. That is clearly a limited and disingenuous reading of what was said. Obama was discussing the fact that increasingly, we are competing globally with countries who are focusing on education. Years down the road, it may become more and more difficult to find a job with only a high school diploma. This is not to say that people who do not go to college are somehow less important, not hard working, or otherwise bad. It is simply to state the fact that job prospects are better for those who attend some form of higher education, and this is becoming more true with each generation.

Consider the current economic issues in our country. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average unemployment rate in 2010 was 8.2%. However, among those with a bachelor's degree (and no master's) it was 5.4% compared to 10.3% for those with only a high school diploma.


One article I read in the San Francisco Chronicle said that the median annual pay of those 25 years and older with a bachelor's degree is $56,472. That is 70% higher than those without a diploma. That means a person with a college degree may individually earn about the same as the average household income (presumably a measure of the total earnings of multiple persons living together) in our country. According to the same article, 30% percent of adults now hold college degrees, and 94% of parents with children under age 18 expect their children to go to college.

Now to be fair, I do think there are people who are prejudiced against those of a different social class or education level. It's great to speak out against that sort of intolerance. And I agree with Santorum that there are plenty of hard-working people at important jobs without one minute of higher education. I think many Americans, especially in small towns across the nation or in manufacturing centers like Detroit, would echo sentiments of pride in their communities, regardless of the average education levels in the areas. It is even true that some people have gone on to make millions without a degree (Bill Gates, for example - and for him, it was billions). As the Montgomery Gentry song, "Where I Come From," says, "That old man right there in the rocking chair at the courthouse square - I'll tell you now he could buy your fancy car with hundred dollar bills. Don't let those faded overalls fool ya'. He made his millions without one day of schoolin." Pride in your job and loyalty to your friends and family of all social classes are beautiful things. I agree wholeheartedly that education does not make one person better than another. The idea that our worth as a person is not determined by our social status, income, or level of education resonates strongly with my understanding of humanity. Amen to equality before God!

But the fact remains that statistics show average quality of life increases with higher education. No, that does not mean for every person every time. It means for most people most of the time. And I do not in my heart believe that Obama is among the ranks of the socioeconomically prejudiced for acknowledging this. I find it especially improbable that there is much truth behind the accusations of elitism given that Obama's life before running for Congress involved working with residents in the south side of Chicago.

Santorum also berated higher education for "indoctrinating" young people into liberalism. I would agree that there is a left bent in higher education as a whole, but there are a few things to point out here. (1) Not every professor holds the same views. (2) If conservatives do not obtain higher ed degrees, then they cannot become professors. So it stands to reason that if Santorum sees a problem of disproportionate representation among college faculty, he should be encouraging more conservatives to get degrees, not fewer. Hey, if there were enough of them banded together, they could even start new colleges. (3) As my husband intelligently pointed out to me the other day, colleges not only produce liberal thinkers, they also produce deeper conservative thinkers who are able to counter balance the arguments of liberalism. Without a strong understanding of politics, philosophy, economics, and the like, it is pretty difficult to make a believable case against an expert in one of those fields. Please do not mistake me for saying that education is the sole predictor of good ideas. That is certainly not true. But how does Santorum intend to fight "elite leftist" ideas if he has not also read the same texts, analyzed the same arguments, etc.? How can a person condemn a book he or she has never seen? How can an individual make a point against a philosophy he or she has never heard? We need more thoughtful thinkers of all political persuasions, not fewer.

So you may be wondering what this has to do with "mind and body musings?" Well, I found something that clearly justifies this entire rant! Education is also a predictor of....drum roll....health! According to the National Poverty Center, better educated people have lower morbidity for many chronic illnesses and higher overall life expectancy. The NPC also states, "Health behaviors alone cannot account for health status differences between those who are less educated and those who have more years of education."  The policy brief I read suggested that some likely contributing factors to the health gap are complicated relationships between education and family background, effects of poor health in childhood, greater resources associated with more education, a learned appreciation for positive health behaviors, and social networks, among other mechanisms.


As I discussed in a previous blog post, education is also related to health literacy. To reiterate some of the statistics from that piece, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy targeted a portion of its latest assessment using health care related questions. The study found that among adults who never completed high school, approximately 49% had below basic health literacy, compared to 15% of adults who completed a high school diploma with no post-secondary education and just 3% of adults with a bachelor's degree. Low health literacy can inhibit someone's ability to read health pamphlets, follow medication instructions, make medical decisions when caring for a loved one,  understand post-operative instructions, or complete other similar tasks.

In another related post, I described some of the connections between food insecurity and obesity. Since food insecurity is a socioeconomic issue, and lack of education is a predictor of lower earnings, these problems are a likely link between education and health. Some of the issues I discussed in more detail in that post include fewer full service grocery stores in lower income neighborhoods, lower quality produce, a greater prevalence of fast food, fewer parks or recreation centers, and less access to health care, among other concerns.

I believe that Santorum was misguided in his Obama name-calling on the higher education topic. He was speaking to a crowd in Detroit, and it seems likely to me that he was catering to his audience. I'm not even going to get into Santorum's campaign goals from past years related to higher education (but please do Google the topic - he used to think college was a good idea). Suffice it to say that a quick glance at Santorum's own life and credentials makes it clear that his education got him where he is today and that he intends to provide the same for his children (just like 94% of parents hope for their own kids, as mentioned above).

As LZ Granderson of CNN put it, "Granted, some of us are gullible enough to give each other high-fives because Rick Santorum called Obama a snob for promoting a college education. But the rest of us look at 'Slick Rick's' college degree, law degree and MBA, and the fact that he's sending his kids to college and owns at least six properties, and has earned millions, and wonder - What is he talking about?"

I have been wondering that myself.

14 comments:

  1. If securities rules applied to research grants, half the professulas would be in jail! Professulas, trial lawyers and union organizers are Obama's core constituencies. Universities, libraries, museums and other public beneficiaries extort their patrons to lobby on their behalf with taxpayer resources. They even encourage students to max out their loans and invest the proceeds so the school can up its total. Obama learned when he worked for Don Kent at tuition-funded Arms Race Alternatives, while denying admission to Young Americans for Freedom and the Social Democrats. Ted Markowitz used the Xerox 9700 to make fliers for the 1982 June 12th nuclear freezers, but persecuted students for smaller infractions. They destroyed a supply side hero like Jeff Bell! "UPI June 6, 1992 Sovern took over at Columbia after student protests of 1968 and New York's fiscal problems in the '70s resulted in less financial support for the school, a situation made more dire by recent federal government budget cuts. . . But Columbia will be looking for a new president in a period troubled by criticism for destroying records that were being reviewed for improprieties. Universities in general have been under greater scrutiny for how they charge the government for federally sponsored research." When Obama falls in 2010, we should go through the grant-grubbing Ivy Leagues with a flame thrower! Ivy League universities are not good at getting students jobs, only grants to be commie nutty organizers. If you are liberal, anything you do is inherently ethical for the cause, but if you are a conservative, and believe in GOD, family or business, your very moral fiber, even down to trivial autonomic responses, is subject to persecution as either dangerously criminal or the result of clinical illness. Bush 43 had two Ivy degrees and they treated him as stupid because he was conservative even though he had better grades and entrance scores and took a lot tougher courses than Gore. Professors are the ultimate molestor high priests because they extort and control your transcripts and your grants if you turn them in. Like a cult, they will make your children denounce you and everything you stand for as unworthy. The lowest level university bureaucrats offer the worst affectations. No business ever trusts such left wing graduates who don't believe in capitalism and become crooks because they are taught the only way business makes money is crooked so they seek to avenge their unemployability through their own crookedness. The universities consider real jobs and competition beneath them, so they want their little sissies to live off grants, even in the hard sciences or business. How many of their engineering professors have Professional Engineering certification? Almost none! They love foreign students who slave up and don't expect professors to actually work for the tuition, like Americans do. (Surely You Are Joking Feynman p 215 "If I ask you a question during the lecture, afterwards everybody will be telling me, 'What are you wasting our time for in the class? We're trying to learn something. And you're stopping him by asking a question'." ) No middle class parent should consider sending their kids there, because these schools will destroy your entire family. See Zac Bissonnette's Debt-Free U. In his 2010 book on universities (p35) columbia provost Jonathan Cole brags that undergarduates and their parents are suckers who fund the platform from which professulas can then rape taxpayers with grants. This is why they created Obama - to rape the taxpayer. It is high time to force the professulas to only have corporate support for their research, then we wouldn't be gouged like global warming and nuclear winter.

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