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“Real” Diversity February 19, 2010

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Congress, Media, Politics.
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1 comment so far

Update:

My good friends at NextGenGOP are back!  They didn’t quite get the comparison I made below so I tried to help them understand in the comment section beneath their post.

Original Post:

This just in from a new study on civic literacy: poorly designed studies prove nothing.

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute1 (ISI) recently released a poorly designed study hailed by conservatives as further proof of liberal brainwashing in American colleges and universities.  The study was bad, but Fox and Friends’ coverage was atrocious. Honestly, watch this.  90 seconds in, Tucker Carlson explains that it’s actually an “open question” whether it’s worth pursuing a college degree.

With student debt and liberal brainwashing on the one hand, Tucker admits that one can make a case for college because it offers the benefits of: “socialization, broadening of horizons, new experiences etc.”  I’m glad Tucker enjoyed (or more likely just witnessed) a sexual awakening in college, but that completely misses the point of higher education.  As does a civic literacy test.

It’d be nice if college graduates understood our government better, but unless you’re majoring in Political Science, that’s not what you’re being taught.  Using civic literacy to evaluate colleges is like judging high schools based on how well their students drive.  In other words, it’s stupid.

But the rest of the results are even more ridiculous.  The test went on to ask respondents about social issues.  Multivariate regression analyses between responses to social questions and the highest level of education attained showed a statistically significant correlation for the answers to five of their questions:

  1. Same-sex couples should be allowed to legally marry. (Agree)
  2. Public school teachers should be allowed to lead prayers in school. (Disagree)
  3. Abortion should be available at any stage and for any reason. (Agree)
  4. With hard work and perseverance, anyone can succeed in America. (Disagree)
  5. The Bible is the word of god.  (Disagree)

Interesting correlation.  But it appeared under the headline: “earning a bachelor’s degree influences opinions on five propositions.”

Um, WRONG.  All this study shows is a significant CORRELATION between education and these viewpoints.  I’m glad somebody took a statistics course, but if they’d paid closer attention or perhaps took some science classes, they would recall that correlation does not equal causation.  Even then, unless you track individual students during their college careers and watch their opinions change, this entire premise is hopelessly flawed.  All these data show is that better educated people tend to be less bigoted.  Who knew?  Also, Fox summed up Question 4 to as: “degrees make Americans less likely to support American work ethic.” Go to hell, Fox.

This study, and especially the Fox coverage, rattled off numbers of civically ignorant college students without presenting any kind of statistical context: ok, it’s bad that 30% of college students can’t name the three branches of our government, but how does that compare to the rest of the population?  I refuse to believe that “real” (uneducated) Americans score better on this test than do college graduates2.  Without that data, though, this study is literally inconsequential, and to use that single data point about college students to rail against our education system is a crime against logic.

The only reason Republicans remain a political force is because they are uncannily good at reframing Democrats’ strengths as weaknesses.  Quite possibly because their base is evidently uneducated and doesn’t notice the huge logical leaps that elicit “facepalms” among the rest of us (see picture below).

This is how this study makes me feel. But I’m trying to find the words.

When Republicans are losing the game and can’t hope to win, they just change the rules.  When ridiculous proposals and shameless hypocrisy earned them bad news coverage, they successfully demonized the “liberal media” and re-leveled the playing field.  When the science of climate change became conclusive, they instead attacked the scientists to make people question their credibility.  And now that educated citizens have rejected Republicanism in its low, corporate, self-serving form, conservatives have cast higher education as an actual negative.  Republicans today don’t campaign on their credentials, they run on their values.  Sen. Scott Brown’s greatest qualification for office was his truck.

So, what’s Tucker Carlson’s prescription to fix our “broken” education system?  “Diversity!  Real diversity!  Diversity of opinion.”  This is exactly what I’m talking about.  Having alienated (sorry) virtually all our country’s racial minorities, Republicans sought their own type of diversity because it’s a popular buzzword that can’t be spun.  But their homogenous base leaves them few diverse options. Last year, I had a young conservative accuse me of shunning the “diversity of intellect” that Republicans embrace (read the post if you want, but the relevant discussion is in the comments section).  WTF?

Racial and cultural diversity are desirable because they offer different histories and perspectives to our pluralist society.  These are equivalents, level on a horizontal axis if you will, none greater or worse than the others.  When applied to intellect, “diversity” doesn’t really work the same way.  Intellects vary on a vertical axis, where more is clearly better than less.  We celebrate racial diversity; one does not celebrate a slow child merely for being different.  We offer him extra resources to help him overcome his challenges.   That process of achieving against the odds is laudable, but wallowing in inferiority is not something to be applauded.  Especially when there are ways to train your mind.

The whole point of education is to better yourself and realize your full potential.  That conservatives would shun such endeavors is deplorable.  Republicans should be alarmed that an enhanced understanding of the world increases one’s likelihood to reject their platform.  Instead, they have decided to keep the minds of their supporters unrefined and fearful.  It may be easier to manipulate people that way, but that’s no way to lead a country.


1 For those of you wondering what the ISI is and how could they publish such nonsense, I looked into them a bit.  The group is self-proclaimed “non-partisan,” but in the paragraph before that claim, it identifies its goals as advancing within America’s youth “an appreciation of our nation’s founding principles – limited government, individual liberty, private property, a free market economy” etc.  Aka conservatism.  Of its 18 board members, 6 are from conservative think tanks, 2 are from conservative media outlets, 2 are from major investment banks, 1 served in President Jesus’s cabinet…sorry, I meant Reagan, 1 is from NAM (the National Association of Manufacturers, the biggest industrial lobby in the country)…you get the idea.

2 ISI did ultimately decide to test a “representative sample” of American adults for some of these questions to get a rudimentary baseline that might help contexualize their data.  Lo and behold, college graduates scored better than high school graduates, but by a small enough margin that ISI still finds fault with colleges.  Did surveyed college students take civics courses?  Is the purpose of a college education to explain civics?  These questions are irrelevant to the ISI and Fox.

Look at ISI’s lead-in on their own study (emphasis added):

Although 72% of Americans agree that colleges should prepare citizen leaders by teaching students America’s history, key texts, and institutions, earning a bachelor’s degree has no significant impact on whether a person believes America’s Founding documents remain relevant.”

What kind of logic is that???  Just because the public feels something that has in no way been communicated or asked of colleges, collegiate failing of that metric is supposed to be damning?  Come on.  Even if colleges did “prepare leaders” by teaching them about the founders etc., there’s no guarantee that students would reach the conclusion that the founding documents remain relevant.  So this statement would still be absurd.  Unless you support indoctrinating our youth, the accusation with which this study is being used to inflame the right.

Defending Presidential Elitism October 9, 2008

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Election.
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3 comments

It’s debate season, folks, and my oh my has it been underwhelming.  Many have complained that the debates have lacked substance; the candidates aren’t answering the questions.  Personally, I am disappointed that the debates have lacked entertainment.  No gaffes, no real arguments, few jokes or memorable lines…do they really expect us to stay focused through two hours of interlocking stump speeches?  But every once in a while, the moderator asks a question for which a canned response is not prepared.  The candidates deftly pivot away from most of these situations (some more overtly than others), but you can still learn from their answers if you’re paying attention.

On Tuesday night, Tom Brokaw asked the presidential hopefuls (makes the race seem predestined, doesn’t it?) whom they would pick to be Secretary of the Treasury.  Senator John McCain seemed annoyed to be knocked off script, retorting with a grumpy “Not you, Tom” while he scrambled for an answer.  Still fumbling, McCain stalled by laying out his qualifications for a good treasury secretary: “I think the first criteria, Tom, would have to be somebody who immediately Americans identify with (video).”  Really? That’s your first priority in selecting the person to navigate our country through an economic crisis of this (or any) magnitude?  John – can I call you John? – I don’t want to be able to identify with the Secretary of the Treasury.   On any level.  This person should be so far out of my league I can’t even hold an intelligible conversation with him.  I don’t understand the economy.  Sure, I took my macro- and microeconomics.  I even turned some decent grades.  But does my winning personality qualify me to rescue our financial systems?  Hell no.  Pick someone who has the skill set and experience to get us out of this mess!


You shouldn't look at the Secretary of the Treasury (or the President) and think "man, I want to have a beer with that guy." The Secretary of the Treasury should look more like this...but, you know, be good at his job.

My friends, that Senator McCain would fall back on this line (and put it in practice with his vice presidential nomination) is symptomatic of a real problem in our country today.  Why do we so desperately want to elect leaders with whom we can identify?  The fact that I didn’t end the previous sentence with the preposition basically disqualifies me from running for office.  Senator Barack Obama is an academically accomplished man.  After graduating from Columbia University he went on to earn a law degree from Harvard.  He was even the president of the Harvard Law Review – I don’t know how to put this, but that’s kind of a big deal.  After that he became a law professor at the University of Chicago.  You may have known this, but you certainly didn’t hear it from Barack. 

Today’s candidates have to hide their education.  For those who finished in the bottom 5 of their class, that’s convenient (or would be if underachievement wasn’t so mavericky).  Yet McCain and his voluptuous veep didn’t start this trend – there’s no way you can have this discussion and not arrive at our current president.  Even George W. Bush, who actually looks good on paper with his degrees from Yale and Harvard, didn’t point to his past to placate concerns about…“mental preparedness.”  Why? Because his average guy persona appealed to voters (and he only got C’s).  If a candidate flaunts his education today, he is labeled “elitist.” 

Elitism is a strange charge to level against presidential candidates.  At the risk of quoting Jon Stewart too much: “Doesn’t ‘elite’ mean good?…I want someone who’s embarrassingly superior to me.” (Video– the entire segment is great, but the elitism bit starts at 6:50).  On a tangentially related but similarly awesome note, I present the following question courtesy of Kathleen Reardon at the Huffington Post: “Is it sexist to want the person flying the plane to be a pilot?”  Back on track, though, presidential candidates are running to be the most powerful person in the world.  Being President of the United States is like being the CEO of a global superpower (this may not be true by the time you read this, but that’s another story).  Can you imagine someone hiding her educational credentials while applying to lead a Fortune-500 company?  No.  And she wouldn’t even get a moment’s consideration without them, even if you’d want to have a beer with her.  So why are we so comfortable electing “normal” people president?

The average American is not qualified to lead the country.  This should not be debatable (although with enough preparation, one could childishly pivot to talk about job creation instead).  Nor is it contrary to the American Dream.  There are plenty of successful people who don’t live in the White House and unsuccessful ones who do.  Being able to pull yourself up by your bootstraps does not mean that anyone can be president, regardless of what your mother may have told you.  I wanted to be a lion.  Life’s not fair.

Compare Bush (or Sarah Palin) to the early presidents in our nation’s history.  Picture them having a conversation.  It hurts.  I doubt Thomas Jefferson would think highly of our recent selections.  Now I’m not saying that the founding fathers got everything right – for example, I imagine they might be surprised to learn that a black man is now running for more than 3/5 of the presidency.  But they understood the value of a meritocracy.  Or at least that it takes more than an ordinary person to succeed in a decidedly extraordinary position. 

Let Average Joe enjoy his 6-pack.  I’ll drink with him (although the case is my weapon of choice).  Our president should wash down his arugula with a glass of fine wine.