Rich Lowry: The education of Scott Walker

  • By Rich Lowry
  • Monday, February 23, 2015 1:46pm
  • Opinion

Scott Walker belongs to an embattled minority that happens to be most of the population.

The root of this paradox is that Walker is an outlier among the political class in not having graduated from college, at the same time that a solid two-thirds of the country lacks a four-year degree.

Such is the domination of not just college grads, but specifically Ivy League grads, at the upper echelons of our government that the nation’s political competition can be seen as one big intramural battle at the Harvard or Yale Club.

And here comes Scott Walker, who dropped out of Marquette in 1990. For all that we celebrate the do-it-my-own-way pluck and creativity of the nation’s great entrepreneurs who didn’t graduate, we tend to consider a four-year degree an indispensable stamp of respectability and capability. It shouldn’t be.

Walker’s example stands for an important point: Success in America shouldn’t have to go through a B.A.

This is something that the nation’s elite has trouble grasping. Howard Dean expressed the liberal id on this question the other day on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Discussing the flare-up over Walker ducking a question on evolution in London, Dean said: “The issue is how well-educated is this guy? And that’s a problem.”

The Washington Post ran a piece headlined “As Scott Walker mulls White House bid, questions linger over college exit,” although no questions linger over his college exit. He left to take a full-time job with the American Red Cross. Mystery solved.

The dirt, such as it is, from the Post report is that Walker “had trouble showing up on time for French” and was bored in “a class on the politics of the Third World.” Can we at least contemplate the possibility that the class on Third World was genuinely boring? The Post characterizes Walker’s failure to graduate as one of “a string of defeats” he suffered at the time, yet the defeat was simply getting on with his life.

Do we really believe that Scott Walker would be any more or less impressive if he had — to choose from some of Marquette’s current offerings — finished up his final credits by acing such classes as Economic and Social Aspects of Film, Sociology of Gender and Sex, and Principles of Peer Facilitation Among College Students?

Perhaps, if he had been more diligent in his studies, he would derive great pleasure from being able to read Flaubert in the original and discuss with fluidity the 1966 coup in Nigeria that brought to power Maj. Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi. But clearly none of this interested him, as indeed it wouldn’t interest anyone but the most devoted Francophiles or Africanists.

As a practical matter, Walker used college as vocational education for what was his true passion: politics. He took up political science, but studying political science has about as much bearing on becoming a politician as studying marine biology does on becoming an Olympic diver.

Politics is something you learn by doing. Walker ran for student office repeatedly at Marquette, then for real office almost as soon as he left school, building a career that has made him more successful and influential than world-class political science Ph.D.s.

We shouldn’t overlearn from Scott Walker’s example, of course. For many people, it’s better to graduate from college than not. But not for everybody. It would make more sense if we had a postsecondary system that had ways of training and credentialing young people that wasn’t so overwhelmingly dependent on a four-year degree, which is controlled by a lazy, inefficient and tuition-hiking academic establishment.

If Scott Walker wins the Republican nomination, Democrats will of course attack him as anti-education, but they will be falling into a trap if they make his lack of a degree an issue. When it comes to college, Walker is a representative of the 68 percent, and a symbol of all that is possible even without a diploma hanging on a wall.

Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

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