Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Marco #Rubio vs. the Philosophers: Why #Rubio2016 is confused about what education is

In last night's Republican debate, Marco Rubio said, "We need more welders and less philosophers." 

Oh, c'mon. 

For one thing, it's "fewer" philosophers, not "less" philosophers. Even a literate welder knows that. "Less" philosophers means you want smaller philosophers. Now there may be a crisis of over-sized philosophers (I have seen a few), but, if so, I'm not aware of it. 

But then, I'm just a guy with a philosophy degree. What do I know?

Why is it that every time we go looking for places to cut our education budgets, we go hating on philosophers? Particularly since one of the things we say we want out of our education system is to teach students how to think? Do these people not get that that's practically all they do in philosophy departments?

I heard a law professor say recently that when he was on his law school admissions committee, he gave students with philosophy degrees extra points. I asked him why, he said, "because every philosophy major I ever met was brilliant."

I'm not sure, but I'm thinking that a degree in welding would not have impressed him quite as much.

And why is it that when we go looking for places to cut in college curricula, we go after legitimate disciplines like philosophy instead of, say, "women's and gender studies"? Is learning how to think about important ideas less important than the ideological goose-stepping of radical gender ideology?

Why didn't Rubio go after Black studies departments (another fake discipline) instead of a discipline with a 2,500 year history that is the only field in which the most important human questions are the exclusive concern (and in which you learn, not only how to think critically, but how to read difficult and complex readings and how to write technically)?

In fact, Rubio even got his facts wrong. He said, "Welders make more money than philosophers." As Talking Points Memo points out, that doesn't jibe with the findings from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Postsecondary philosophy and religion teachers earn an average annual wage of $71,350 while welders pocket $40,040 annually, according to the agency's May 2014 survey.

Rubio could have made his point about stigmatizing vocational education (about which he is right) without stigmatizing a legitimate discipline. Rubio isn't the only one who thinks the two are in competition when they are not. And this, in turn, is the result of the confusion between training and education.

Education aims at wisdom and virtue through mental discipline and the mastery of ideas and values. Training aims at functional competence in specific practical skills through manual or technical training. This is why, if you had only a philosopher and welder at your disposal, you would put the philosopher in charge--because, while the welder knows how to weld, the philosopher is better equipped to decide what should be welded and why, and for what purpose.

The problem with our schools is not that we have too little of one and not enough of the other, but that we think we have to judge between the two in the same institutions. We should have separate and distinct institutions for these separate and distinct goals (this is the whole point of technical colleges). And we should stop thinking that the training of welders requires an education. It doesn't. It requires training, which is a very different thing.

And I'll qualify that by saying that even welders--who are trained, not educated to weld--should have an education too. While not everyone needs to know how to weld, everyone needs to be able to think and to know. Mortimer Adler once said that not everyone is a scientist, or a construction worker, or a teacher. "But everyone is a citizen and everyone is a philosopher."

We live in a democratic republic, a form of government which requires an education (though not trained) citizenry because we are supposed to be able to govern ourselves. And we are human beings, which just means that we are more than merely physical beings. We are beings who aspire to the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. And if those are the things to which we aspire, we ought to know a little about them.

And besides, doesn't he understand how important the philosophy vote is in this election? Sheeez.


Anonymous said...

What we need are welders with philosophy degrees.

Martin Cothran said...


Michael Janocik said...

Except welders are smart enough to be paid in cash.