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February 29, 2012

GESENHUES: Education, it’s not just for snobs

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — When did wanting everyone to have more educational opportunities become an elitist ideal?

According to a remark made by Rick Santorum at the Americans for Prosperity forum in Troy, Mich., last Saturday, the Republican candidate believes President Barack Obama is a snob because the president once said he wants everybody in America to go to college.   

My husband is not a college graduate. He chose to spend four years in the U.S. Marine Corps while I was earning my Bachelor of Arts at a public university in Alabama.

Both of us want our children to attend college — not because we are liberal elitists who believe people with college degrees are better than people without a college education, but because we want our children to have the necessary tools and skill set to succeed in an economy where the job market is getting more and more competitive.

I get what Santorum was trying to prove. You do not need a college education to be successful. There are vocational schools and other learning resources for people who may not want to take the college track. I agree, alternative training programs can be just as relevant as a college degree.

But, still. Why choose this line of reasoning? Why argue that wanting a well-educated society is for snobs?

As a country, don’t we want to be well educated? The higher our educational standards are the better our chances of building a skilled and talented work force to boost our national economy and remain competitive within the growing economies of other nations.

I met my husband three weeks after he completed four years in the service and I had graduated from college earlier that year. When we met, he was unemployed and I was working as a waitress.

Within weeks, he had found a job doing electrical work, wiring new homes and commercial construction sites. I landed a job at an advertising agency answering the phone and performing administrative tasks. That was 16 years ago.

Since then, my husband completed a few college courses early in his career, but decided a four-year degree was not for him. He received various computer certifications and improved his professional skills by attending a vocational school that offered technical training programs.

While we are both fortunate to be gainfully employed, there have been times in our lives when one or both of us have lost a job. During those times, there was no question that I — as a college graduate with a four-year degree — had more career options.

It’s not because I am smarter. And it definitely is not because the time I spent getting my degree was a more valuable investment than the time my husband spent in the Marine Corps. It is because my four-year degree offered a more expansive career trajectory which resulted in more opportunities and more money.

Isn’t this the national debate? How to create more job opportunities?

I don’t believe that everyone should go to college. But, I do want everyone to have the option to further their education if that is what they desire. I believe that is what President Obama wants as well for our country. For the life of me, I can’t understand how that makes anyone a snob.

The day after Santorum said his comment about President Obama, he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that a 1960 Kennedy speech made him want to throw up. Santorum has since told Laura Ingraham that he wished he had, “ … that particular line back.”

Santorum’s rhetoric makes me wonder if he truly believes the comments he makes, or if he is pandering to a specific voter segment.

Surely not.

Of course, the Republican candidate does hold a bachelor’s degree, an MBA and a law degree. Claiming that our president is a snob because he wants everyone to go to college sounds a bit disingenuous when you’re someone who has earned (and prospered from) multiple degrees.

Last week, while speaking about the recent candidate debates, a former Republican governor said, “… it’s a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people’s fears and emotion rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective and that’s kind of where we are.”

I couldn’t agree more.

The comment was made by Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida and the brother of former President George W. Bush. Just how bad has it gotten when a left-wing, liberal opinion columnist like me sides with a member of the Bush family?

— Amy Gesenhues is a freelance writer and syndicated columnist for CNHI. You can read her daily commentaries at www.AmyWroteIt.com or email her at amy@amywroteit.com.

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