Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Gap Between State Legislator Education and the Populace

The Chronicle of Higher Education releases its report revealing nationwide statistics comparing college education among the fifty states lawmakers and their constituents. Which is more important--an formally educated legislative body or learned voters? 

"How important is it for state lawmakers to hold college degrees?"

Arguments exist to support both sides of this argument, but one thing is for certain-- a huge disparity between the education level of state lawmakers and the populace in general is not a true representative government according to John Adams' side of it. James Madison held the opposing view and the debate continues 215 years later:
It's a tension that dates to the founding of the country: In our representative democracy, should those who make the laws reflect the entire citizenry, or should they be chosen from an educated elite?
Or to put it in terms that matter in the pages of The Chronicle: Should lawmakers be people who have seen the inside of a college classroom?
In Federalist No. 10, James Madison debated the merits of republics and democracies, arguing that delegating government to elected representatives should "refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country." That sounds like a point for the ivory tower.
On the other hand, back in 1776, as the colonies were faced with creating new governments, John Adams wrote that the representative assembly "should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason, and act like them."
An educated populace should make a difference at the polls. Higher learning generally fosters a thirst for knowledge outside one's geographical area and imparts an ability to possess critical thinking skills. In the current atmosphere of propaganda overdrive, dizzying to follow PAC mazes and frequent political sleight of hand, possessing the ability to see beyond the convenient promises of a candidates is crucial to electing good government representatives.

Education is only as good as the teacher and the institution

State colleges and universities in Alabama have some areas they can brag about--degree programs in business and the medical fields rank respectably. We've produced some sharp minds from both over the years. What about other areas of higher learning like communications, legal and political science? Most of these programs are co-opted by a segment of donors and influences possessing a mindset that follows a narrow agenda--one that is somewhat antiquated and non-responsive to a new way of doing things.

Even if the universities did make real efforts to break the ingrained model, the usual suspects would still be waiting for the 'best and brightest' as graduation day approached:
In another popular Big Mule tactic, a corporation such as the Alabama Power Company would buy the loyalties of recent law school graduates by placing them on a monthly retainer. They rarely did any work for the corporation, but its status as a client would prevent them from taking any cases against it. If any of these men had political ambitions, they would be beholden to the corporation. These retainers represented a major source of income for lawyers just establishing their practices in Alabama's small towns and cities.
Higher education in Alabama is difficult to obtain for the average person--we're not a personal wealth state with a high earning populace in general. The state attitude compounds the problem by not placing higher value in educating the 'smart enough' but less fortunate. This could be changed by providing more programs for our citizens who want and demonstrate the academic prowess to excel above a high school diploma. Productive teachers should be empowered and rewarded with all available tools to foster excellence, but Alabama doesn't ensure that even the teaching system has the 'best and brightest' in place to instruct the minds of our future.

What's happening instead is a push towards technical and trade instruction in lieu of a four year degree. It's comparing apples to oranges and serves to keep the population dumbed down to a certain degree. 

The argument for and against: aspiration vs perspiration

In a 2010 ad campaign for Go Build Alabama (GBA) this absurdity soared to new heights when spokesman Mike Rowe (of "Dirty Jobs" fame) was scripted to phftttt on camera against the benefit of a college degree. Rolled out in a state sponsored PR push through the Alabama Construction Recruitment Institute (ACRI), the slick campaign was designed to reach "displaced workers, career changers and even eighth graders who have yet to decide their futures." GBA was reportedly conceived because fewer and fewer people were choosing to enter into the professions of carpentry, welding, and other technical fields.

The ACRI through GBA went so far as to advertise that these technical jobs "out-paid jobs available to four year degree earners" and "have better benefits" and "we need to get word out" according to ACRI executive director Tim Alford.

Trade and technical schools might be the only option for a percentage of the population and we'll admit they have their value, but by instituting a state sponsored push for trade work education, over programs designed to benefit Alabama's less fortunate citizens chances in reaching higher formal education status, seems wrong-headed and one-sided. 

We suspect this has more to do with the economic benefit of the road building and development gang's profits than it does the citizens of Alabama's own economic futures. Economic strategists have dispelled the myth that road building is the path to economic revival as a "short term fix with long term consequences to a sporadic and temporary work force." A large segment of technically skilled workers are without the safety of union representation (Alabama is a right-to-work state) and without the security of a four year degree.

A dumbed-down population is a politically malleable population

Recent legislation from the 2011 session signaled a renewed vigor in the all out war on an already troubled education system. Once again, the Education Trust Fund went into proration, further reducing monies available to our already-underfunded-at-best learning framework. Higher education in Alabama seems to be an attainable goal reserved mainly for the elite, the "best and the brightest."

Is this what the Alabama republicans meant when they justified not repealing their 62% pay raise and defending the heist hike by claiming repeal would not attract "the best and the brightest?" If it was, it calls into question the standard of determining who the 'best and brightest' is, and who and what that ultimately benefits and represents. From all indicators it isn't the people's interests.

The absence of vox populi representation

Alabama voters have a long history of being easily manipulated by wily politicians and special interests. The gubernatorial election preceding the writing of the 1901 Constitution is historically recorded as the 'stolen in broad daylight election.' It's one of the darkest stains on Alabama's political history steeped in manipulation, bribery and corruption on a grand scale. Similar shenanigans still go on in our elections from state to local races, but the operatives have gotten better at concealing their methods, and in some cases they've even legitimized them through legislation.

If more Alabamians had access to a formal degree, encompassing the study of history and our political process both of which are required in most degree programs, they would be able to critically think about numerous issues and subjects on a wider scale. This enlightenment would work against the less-than-honest 'educated' politicians and they wouldn't be able to fool their way into office so handily. 

In the simplest terms, If we knew better we would vote better.

It would be interesting to know what percentage of our legislators attended school on the public dime. Those figures are probably fairly high and assuming that is the case, why don't they give back and make it easier for others to attend college?

What if they had been told to not worry about that law or business degree because it isn't as important as repairing septic tanks or working in weltering and unforgiving 100 plus degree blazing summer heat laying down asphalt? If that had happened, we would have a statehouse full of plumber's cracks and cement jockeys crafting our laws.

As bad as that might sound at first blush, it would be 'closer to even' with the people, according the Chronicle of Higher Education's statistics comparing lawmakers education stats to the populace stats, than what we have right now: a statehouse full of know-alls, flash harry's and show mules that do not in any way, shape, form or fashion represent a "portrait of the people at large." 

And how great would it be if the stats swung in the other direction? If the education of the people caught up to the education of the lawmakers? That would be a giant step forward for this state mired too long in mediocrity, and it would be a life and liberty changer for everyone in Alabama.
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  1. It's much more convenient for the politicos to keep the pops down low than it is for them to be figured out. Bad deal but that's the way it is and has been for years.

  2. The shiny new republicans are not just slashing the fat, as they define it, from education, they're gnawing on the bone. No new ideas on education funding, same old idea of cut, cut, cut.
    Nothing at all was done during the last session to fix education funding and that seems to suit them fine. But they made sure that their pay raise and big campaign contributors stayed in the black!
    You make an interesting point about how many of them befitted from public funds for their own educations and their inability to give back in kind. I would like to see those figures.

  3. "Plumber's cracks and cement jockeys"
    I am just loving that! HaHaHaHaHa!!!

  4. I was not aware that Go Build was working on middle school students. Who gave that okay and in what school systems was this allowed?
    That's troubling on so many levels.

  5. Goat Hill is proof positive that being educated does not always translate into having a lick of sense.

  6. Governor Bentley travels to Paris with 50 unnamed Alabamians

    Living the high life for Mr. Frugal?
    Bentley, a Tuscaloosa Republican, will join Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and industry officials today at a reception held on board a yacht in the Seine River. The invitation-only event is hosted by the Aerospace Alliance, a multi-state marketing group.
    Bentley said he is continuing to reserve a package of cash and other tax incentives for EADS in Mobile, though he acknowledged that his administration is facing pressure to use the money for projects elsewhere in Alabama.
    I can appreciate him wanting to increase jobs, but after the huge slashes to state budgets this reeks of elitism!
    Governor Bentley is an educated man, why doesn't he understand the value of education and do as much to improve that for Alabamians as he does chasing after big companies to hand over vast sums of state money too?
    Can someone name me one project that was commensurate with the number of jobs to state incentives lately?

  7. The politicians idea of higher education is a higher position over all of us. Easier to dictate from a lofty perch.

  8. Annette in AlabamaJune 20, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    Proration has always gotten on my last nerve. And speaking of nerve, they have some kind of nerve taking education monies at the very first sight of budget woes. Never mind there are other options. There are always other options. With education in Alabama, it's the very first item on the list to cut.

    And this is moronic, in my opinion.

  9. Again, this is 'Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain'.

  10. Excellent work, Max. I trust this article will be a tool to kick start the people and get some folks motivated.

    It whets my appetite and makes me want to go light some fires.

  11. For a supposedly educated bunch the goats on the hill do some of the stupidest things I have ever seen.
    And let's not forget the infamous doorway stance by Wallace at the U of A when integration became law, even if a number of Alabamians could get into some state universities racism and classicism would still be a factor over 50 years after Wallace.
    I think that goes back to your point of education is as only good as the teachers and the institution.

  12. Trade school will never take the place of a well-rounded education period. There simply is no comparison between the two.

  13. The number gaps are significant and telling. No wonder we keep electing bible banging charlatans who swear to us what great guys they are; we obviously aren't equipped enough to figure it out.
    Great article Max.


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