Much is currently being made of Gov. Walker of Wisconsin approach to higher education, especially in light of the fact that he is behaving in a manner of one who contemplates a presidential run. As well it should be. He has fastened his reputation as a politician on a number higher education issues stretching from the very practical – unions – to the high-minded – meddling with university’s mission statement. Here is my reading of him on these issues together with a personal message.
Walker is obviously an ambitious man. In and of itself, ambition is not a bad thing, only when it is blind to its own motivations. Okay, so education was not his path. If we take him at his word, he left college about a year’s worth of credits short of a bachelor’s degree and then found himself immersed in responsibilities that kept him from completion.
Who knows what lurks behind this story? Maybe nothing, and we should take it at face value. But it is worth pointing out that many a people in similar situations find a way to make those last 36 credits happen through night school or agreements with partners and spouses about everything from who’s paying for what to who is going to do the laundry.
Walker’s jabs at higher education suggest that he has a chip on his shoulder. That is not a good place from which to govern. It is not in the least bit mindful of what education has to offer, not merely in terms of sheep-skinned certificates gathering dust on walls or on earnings over time for an individual and his or her family, but about what it means to think critically and in ways that take in the full complexity of an issue. It is about compassion (hello Humanities) as much as it is analytics (Computer and Social Sciences). It is about a generosity of spirit that education bequeaths to students, a spreading of the “gospel (good news),” if you will, of what the life of the mind has to offer an individual as well as a society. It is about citizenship in the small “r” republican sense of our founding mothers and fathers. That small “r” republicanism embraced the community in balance with the individual.
Those are not the vibes I get from Walker. In fact, I sense the opposite: a pinched and resentful feeling whose misery loves the company of others who feel as he does (hello Tea Party), a kind of competitiveness that is without innovation but which holds an ungenerous, zero-sum view of the world. That view secretly desires what other people have by taking it away from them rather than achieving it on one's own.
So here is my message to Governor Walker:
Sir, you have one of the greatest institutions of higher education in your back yard. Your failure to recognize what that institution has given to the state, the country and the world is a disservice to the Governor’s Office and your own reputation as a leader. Therefore, may I recommend walking across town to take a course or two? Maybe finishing your degree? May I suggest Classical Literature or Shakespeare, History or Public Policy or Constitutional Law? Open your heart to learning, Gov. Walker! Expand your mind too! Who knows, you just might come to a new place, not only your thinking about education but your feeling too, one that would bode more profitably for Wisconsin and your political future?
I admire a man or woman with ambition, energy and drive. But at the advanced age of 56, I have observed how it operates in those people who use it to satisfy underlying insecurities and resentments in contrast to those who, with personal awareness, find a way to help others. For a man of this stature, I wish sincerely the kind of transformation that a good education offers. But we will have to see if he is willing to take up the offer!
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