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Stateside With Rosalea: My 4 by 3.83

Stateside With Rosalea

By Rosalea Barker

Let me hit you with my 4 by 3.83

Last Sunday, for a couple of hours, I was the proud possessor of the holy grail of the US education system: a GPA of 4. By the time my second course grade was added, I had slipped to 3.83--on account of the minus sign after that second A--but that's still pretty damned good, if I may say so myself. (And I do!)

It's not that I'm bragging or anything. Much. I have sense enough to know that a grade point average like that for a distance learning Associates degree from Western International University Online, doesn't hold a match, let alone a candle, to a GPA of 4 from a prestigious bricks-and-mortar university. What is more, an Associates degree is only equivalent to some sort of diploma that can be used to count towards a Bachelors at a later date. But I'm finding the whole experience most interesting.

The United States perceives higher education very differently than in other countries. Having your children go to university--or college as it's more commonly known--developed in the late nineteenth century as just another middle class status symbol along with owning a home. To get a job, even a blue-collar job, you relied on your parents' friends and their networks, so a college education wasn't expected to provide anything other than a certain middle class cachet and a certain way of viewing the world.

That certain way of viewing the world was the notion of civil society. Because the US is founded on principles that accentuate the role of the individual citizen over the role of government, educating people to create a civil society without government coercion was of paramount concern. It's not like you went to university for a rigorous Middle Eastern- or European-style education.

The statistic that bears that out is that by 1890, already half of the undergraduates in US public universities were women. Considering that at the time women were not allowed to vote and few middle class women worked, their college education in how to be part of civil society was unlikely to be one that encouraged questioning and critical thinking. Women were kept out of the private universities, which is where you went to get into the old boys network thus ensuring a more powerful job.

In fact, the US education system today still turns out the same three products: the ruler, the expert and the person with a degree to put on their resume. George W. Bush is an example of the first, and the tens--if not hundreds--of thousands of unemployed people with a degree on their resume are examples of the third. And you see the "experts" being asked to interpret events on the news every day as part of their role in creating a civil society by doing the thinking for you.

The biggest downfall of liberal politics is its reliance on experts. And the fundamental reason for that is that the very notion of a few people knowing more than the many violates the most basic creed of the US Constitution: that everyone is equal. Intellectual superiority cuts no mustard with people who can't even afford a hot dog to put it on.


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