During his victory speech following the Nevada caucuses, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump raised eyebrows and chuckles when he recounted the groups which had voted in his favor. “We won with poorly educated,” he said. “I love the poorly educated.” Within twenty minutes, television pundits had picked up on this. References started appearing on social media. Even National Public Radio got in on the joke.
Finding humor in a candidate appearing proud of supporters’ lack of education might be understandable, but the reaction also exposed something ugly in our society. This laughter wasn’t really directed at the candidate; it was directed at the people, revealing a grain of truth behind stereotypes of liberal intellectual elites as snobs who don’t care about ordinary folks.
Our culture conflates formal education with human worth far too often. Degrees, especially from elite universities, become symbols of status and privilege, while people labeled “poorly educated” become targets for derision. Many fall into the trap of assuming that all education takes place in schools, or become condescending to people they believe to be “less educated.” Formal education gets confused with intelligence, leading to a worldview in which people become problems to be solved or burdens to be dealt with rather than human beings who deserve respect. However unintentional such disregard is, its effects are real, lasting, and harmful. Whatever our political leanings, we can and should be better than this.
Of course, it is one thing to talk about love and another to show it. A politician’s highest expression of esteem becomes patronizing and cynical when it isn’t backed up with policy. Real love requires action.
In policy terms, love in action means giving all working people a living wage, so that the kinds of jobs typically taken by people with less schooling don’t result in a lifetime of poverty. It means funding public schools fairly, so that less affluent communities aren’t victimized by generations of educational neglect. Love means increasing access to college, but it also means honoring the needs and accomplishments of those who follow other paths.
On a personal level, love means treating all people with equal regard, whatever our education and theirs. It means finding the courage to connect as equals across educational lines, gaining wisdom and insight from all kinds of life experiences. Love means letting go of the assumptions and stereotypes our culture too often promotes, along with all remnants of condescension and judgment. Love means being able to value education without undervaluing any group of people. At its most basic, love means eye contact.
We should all love one another, whatever our respective levels of education, and our love should lead us to work for a more just and equitable society. If that can happen, we will have taken a step closer to creating the genuine community our world needs. Perhaps the “better educated” among us might even learn a thing or two.