David Runciman: Education has become a fundamental divide in democracy

David Runciman in the Guardian writes about

How the education gap is tearing politics apart.   (It’s not.)

The possibility that education has become a fundamental divide in democracy – with the educated on one side and the less educated on another – is, according to Runciman, alarming. “It points to a deep alienation that cuts both ways. The less educated fear they are being governed by intellectual snobs who know nothing of their lives and experiences. The educated fear their fate may be decided by know-nothings who are ignorant of how the world really works. Bringing the two sides together is going to be very hard. The current election season appears to be doing the opposite.”

David writes well but about this he just has to be wrong. The prospect of there being a huge gap between those with more or less education (what is education?) is not at all an “alarming prospect.” In fact it’s just the way things are and always will be. But there are real “alarming prospects,” that could and should have alarmed us much more, and that certainly do need attention. Much more than the gap he refers to between the educated and the uneducated.

Right now one of these truly alarming prospects is the growing, in both Europe and America, “white nationalism.” OK Hitler is dead, happily, but there are arising those who might take his place. Probably not as many would say, Donald Trump, nor even Steve Bannon, or Richard Spencer of the “Hail Trump” salute and get together in Washington last week. Whoever it may be out there assembling the armies of the Whites is, for the moment anyway, not making him or herself known.

What Runciman might have spoken about instead is the very real and much more alarming fundamental divide, that between those with more or less, not education, but intelligence. But he probably knew well that to speak of unequal intelligences, with which we all have long experience, first during our own school years, and then later during our years after school, that to speak, even mention such is taboo. He probably knew that you don’t do so without being severely punished.

But let’s look at the real division among us. And when you do you will quickly see that school dropouts, making up many of the hard core Trump supporters, will have dropped out of school because they didn’t have the smarts to continue, often and especially algebra. For more and more algebra or college track class work has become the ticket to education following highschool. And if you go on that ticket you have to procure.

In high school more than a third of the freshman class will eventually fall behind in the work and eventually drop out being unable to handle the work. Those who stay and finish, first school and later on college, do so because of their ability to do the assigned work. So in this sense the “fundamental divide” is between those with more and those with less smarts, those who can and who cannot do the college prep work. And so far we have provided little or nothing in the way of hope and jobs for the latter. And this should alarm us.

So when Trump says he loves the poorly educated, he has to mean he loves the less intelligent because that’s what’s true of the bulk of the poorly educated. Although to be poorly educated is not necessarily to be less intelligent. For while intelligence doesn’t insure a good education the lack of intelligence, or being low on the intelligence scale, will often result in a lack of what we mean by education, that is, education in school (that which only for a couple of hundred years has been what we mean or at least call education).

Trump himself is intelligent but it would seem very poorly educated. Over and over again during the recent presidential campaign he revealed just how much he didn’t know. (He is beginning a bit to reveal what he does know. Would that he continue, for we do have him for four years as president.) His own ignorance was probably what most accounted for the extravagant and obviously preposterous statements he made, in particular in regard to President Obama, Senator McCain, the GoldStar parents, the Mexicans and the Muslims. Knowledgeable people wouldn’t have said these things. His own ignorance might have been undone by proper schooling, that which is probably not true for many if not most of his supporters, for whom the intelligence divide is real.

If in fact our country faces an alarming prospect it’s not the gap between the educated and the less educated that we should be concerned about. That we can, and have for hundreds of years, lived with. And we can do something about that.

But to repeat the alarming gap is that between us in respect to our widely differing intelligences, that which is not something at all new. While this gap is not new, while it has always been with us, for most of our country’s history, it was never so important as now because the country’s business, the work of the country, the jobs that needed to be done for the country to prosper, could take in and provide meaningful working lives for most all of us, that is, make use of all of us regardless of the smart level of each one of us. For most of our history the fact of our different intelligences was exactly what the different jobs out there most needed.

But for whatever reason up until now we have avoided recognizing the different levels of intelligence among us.  And, heaven forbid, if someone actually dared to actually speak of them, as did Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray in their book The Bell Curve, they would be, and in the case of Herrnstein and Murray were, quickly ostracized, and like the word intelligence itself, made pariahs in the world of ideas.

For in far too many respects, if not the most important, we are not at all equal. But at best, what I mean by the most important, no one of us is less human than the next guy, whatever be his or her color or ethnic origin, or intelligence. Sure there is wide variation (but not a division or real separation) between us, be it in respect to brains, arms and legs, or hair color. And if we could just admit this then our future prospects would be much less alarming. But so far the admission that in spite of our great superficial differences we are all one, as were the Dinosaurs before us, and the Trilobites before them, escapes us.

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