Sandra and I just got back from Jonathan’s graduation at the University of Florida. It was a heart warming occasion. Family members came from far away to attend the ceremony and we had a great time. Naturally, I was proud of my grandson (second from left in photo below, with parents Frank and Grace, and brother Adam). Very proud. And I was even more proud of my daughter, Grace, and her husband, Frank, whose sacrifices and commitment had made this moment possible.
Sitting among the droves of camera-flashing relatives and friends of the graduates, I had lots of time to think. There were dozens of graduates in Business Administration to be acknowledged one by one before Jonathan and his peers from Accounting were called to the stage. Each bright-eyed graduate receiving the key to the future in the time honored academic tradition… What is in store for them, I wondered. How well are they really prepared to face the challenges ahead?
Are they now “educated”? After all, the University of Florida is an institution of “higher education.” But I suspect the process to which they were subjected was more like training than education. It seems to me that education (especially in America) has evolved into job preparation, that making a living has become more important than living a full and informed life.
Don’t get me wrong; job training is important. The economic future of the country – of the world – depends on the ability of office workers to execute their tasks skillfully and reliably. And like the sophisticated factories of the future, the medical and legal machinery will need highly trained operators… As the workplace becomes increasingly complex, the demand for trained workers intensifies. But…
But what about the greater theater of life? Wouldn’t it be nice if we had an “educated” electorate? And what about our politicians? When I read or hear the things they say I wonder where they went to school. And I am often surprised at the academic achievements listed in their biographies.
The hate crimes debate is a case in point. Canada recently closed a gap in its hate crime laws by adding sexual orientation to skin color, race, religion and ethnic origin. And the United States is in the process of doing the same. But in the U.S., the debate is more personal. The bill is named for a young man named Matthew Shepard (photo at right), who (according to the court) was beaten to death for being homosexual. And the debate inexplicably strayed into discussions of the victim’s life and the motives for his murder.
Leading the Republicans in the Congressional debate was Representative Virginia Foxx, from North Carolina (photo below). And her argument against the measure included her insistence that the Shepard murder was not a hate crime but a “hoax.” The real motive for the killing was robbery, she asserted. Naturally, that has set off a tangential furore. (Apparently nobody is asking whether beating anyone to death because of his or her sexual orientation is wrong.)
Doesn’t that remind you of the story about an ancient Chinese emperor who assigned his procurer of horses to bring him the “finest horse in all the kingdom”? You might recall that the procurer of horses went away and after a long time sent a message to the emperor saying he had found the finest horse in all the kingdom. The emperor sent a message back asking for a description of the horse. The procurer of horses replied that it was a dun-colored mare. When the horse arrived at the emperor’s palace, it was a black stallion. The emperor was furious.
“You told me it was a dun colored mare,” he said. “But it is a black stallion.”
“Isn’t it the finest horse you’ve ever seen?” asked the procurer of horses.
The emperor had to admit that it was. Obviously, the details of the horse’s appearance and gender were irrelevant.
And, also obviously, Representative Foxx did not appreciate the irrelevancy of her argument. Yet this is an “educated” woman. She even has a doctorate in education, and she was a college professor and a dean before deciding to go into politics.