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Wanted: President of the United States: Educational Background, Not a Factor

10/06/2008 05:12 am 05:12:01 | Updated May 25, 2011


Wanted: President of the United States: Educational Background, Not a Factor.

Everyone claims to be for better teachers and schools. Both Democrats and Republicans, to say nothing of independents, fervently believe that American children should receive a first-rate education. After all, democracy is great but not a democracy of dunces. It is, however, ironical that for all the nods to the paramount importance of sound schooling, many Americans don't give a hoot about the educational credentials of candidates for our highest office. While scholastic success would be an important consideration for someone seeking an executive position in a company or organization, it is, for many voters, a matter of indifference when it comes to selecting the person who will take the helm of the American ship of state.

The primary task of the President is to defend the Constitution. Anyone intent on performing this task would seem to benefit from an expert knowledge of that foundational document. Barack Obama was arguably the best student in his class at Harvard Law School. He has also taught constitutional law and was offered a tenured position at one of the nation's premier law schools, the University of Chicago. Joe Biden earned his JD at Syracuse University and while a senator, has been teaching constitutional law at Widener University. On the basis of the job description, one would think that the academic background of Senators Obama and Biden would stand on the plus side of the ledger. Not necessarily so.

You don't need a Harvard degree to know that global politics are becoming increasingly interrelated and complex. Given this complexity, an outside observer would assume that Americans would seek leaders who, among other things, had a proven capacity for assimilating and analyzing facts. If nothing else, demonstrated academic excellence attests to this power and training of mind. And yet, whether you were the president of the Law Review at Harvard (Obama) or struggled to attain a bachelor's degree (Palin) is something to yawn about for much of the electorate.

As though it were an argument for the irrelevancy of one's educational background, Senator McCain literally chuckles over the fact he was fifth from the bottom of the class at the Naval Academy. The Associated Press reports that Sarah Palin attended at least four different colleges before finally grasping her sheepskin from the University of Idaho. These are not the kinds of accomplishments that would make for a strong resume- unless perhaps you aspired to become president or vice president.

Gumption, grit, and common sense are all that many voters want to hear about. Many of these same folks have the strange sense that success in school undercuts these virtues of the gut as well as the ability to make judicious political decisions. Still, like everyone else, the gumption and grit brigade is willing to carry placards "Support Education." But if they really believe that education is so important, then why shouldn't the education of our candidates count for something?