Across the country, schools and parents are fretting about students' performances on standardized tests. SAT scores have dropped slightly in the Washington, D.C. area, raising questions about whether students are prepared for college, or whether it's just that more kids are trying to get into college and skewing the results. And school administrators and teachers worry that if their students don't do well enough on controversial standardized tests required under No Child Left Behind, they will lose funding or be forced to shut down.
And yet, the opposite message is being sent by political campaign professionals and some candidates, who—in a clumsy populist appeal—denigrate education.
The latest target of the so-called anti-elitist movement is Elizabeth Warren, who recently announced she will seek the Democratic nomination for Senate in Massachusetts. Warren is described consistently in Republican press releases as "Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren," and on second reference, "Professor Warren." Who would have thought being a law professor at one of the most prestigious and respected institutions of higher learning in the world would be a negative? What is the message to schoolchildren, then—study hard and do well academically so your school won't lose federal funding, but don't do too well, or you'll be deemed not good enough to make decisions affecting the economy and national security?
Campaign operatives seem to believe that Americans don't want someone more educated or more experienced to make decisions on complicated issues; they want someone just like them. What, then, is the point of an election? Why not just determine political representation by drawing lots? Advanced education doesn't automatically make someone a better lawmaker or decision-maker. But the idea that knowledge is a negative is not just silly; it's frightening.
A lot of people resent Congress now, and much of that is warranted, given the state of dysfunction in Washington. But the suggestion that electing uneducated or shallow-thinking individuals to Congress will result in a less-elitist (and therefore more effective) institution is ludicrous. The U.S. Senate is 100 people out of 300 million; the House is 435 members. They are by definition elitist. That's the point. We are not talking about emotionally fragile children, who now get trophies in Little League even when they lose (which would explain a misplaced sense of entitlement we see later on). These are adult problems, meant to be solved by adults. And if we want to send a message to young people that education is important, we shouldn't denigrate it in political campaigns.