The recent U.S. election has produced a number of thoughtful essays about America and the shared human experience. This represents my small contribution to the respectful dialogue.
I recall a conversation from about 12 years ago with a relative about the divisions in America. This was during the height of the GOP/Tea Party fervor. As we munched on holiday snacks, I opinioned that the next big divide would not be along already established racial or economic lines, but rather along those of education level: The Educated vs. the Uneducated. The solution, I recall saying, was to make sure the electorate was educated, both by traditional and other means. The family member politely said that my idea was interesting. We returned to our card game and holiday snacks.
An idea. That’s all it was back then: patterns in the sand; shapes in the clouds. Now years later, it appears there was actually a sand castle lurking in those grains of thought—or was it Old Main? Perhaps it was prescient. Then again, maybe I was being an elitist, already speaking from privilege. Who knows? I’m no deep political thinker, merely an armchair philosopher. But, I am educated. Ideas have a way of taking root and helping formulate well-formed conclusions. This is a result of the education I received.
I wake today to find myself on a clear side of that imaginary line. In terms of philosophy, belief and voting record, I’m a clear progressive. Perhaps, I’m also a member or the so-called liberal elite, even though I do not officially affiliate with a party. I’m a white male who has an education, holding advanced degrees. I read—a lot. I value digging to learn what I do not yet know or understand. I work at a liberal bastion—a state university—and have a modestly successful career in the arts, both long-time congregations of progressive-minded citizens. I lean left, supported Bernie and accepted, with some reluctance, Hillary. More importantly, I rejected the fear-mongering hatred espoused by President-elect Trump and his supporters.
I’m somewhat in shock that I appear to have been correct all those years ago. According to the pundits, much of the election was indeed decided by level of education for the voters. I’ve no bone to pick with anyone, and don’t think I’m being elitist or egotistical here. This is a fact. Yet it is clear that the contents of our lives have a way of defining us. Having an education can be dangerous to those who prefer narrow, and sometimes baseless, definitions. A good education provides ways of seeing things that we have no idea are there until later, sometimes years later. It takes time to percolate: ideas; musical possibilities; poetry that is yet to be written. It takes energy, time and commitment to bring those out. That is exactly what an education should train us for. It is never easy or a knee-jerk reaction.
I make no apologies for my level of education. I make none for my life in the arts, either. I firmly believe we should never apologize for the searching for beauty and knowledge. And while there may be much wrong with both the arts’ business and educational system, the benefits of both are undeniable. Of course, we must remain open to debate and revision. Like all aspects of our country, it must be tweaked and improved when the need arises.
I do regret, however, if I’ve ever made anyone feel less-worthy because I have an education. I realize is an honor, and yes, a privilege. If there was perceived smugness towards others, the fault is entirely mine. But I will not apologize for the fact that I obtained an education. I will not apologize that I use my education daily. And certainly no apologies that I continue to make a variety of art, imperfect though it may be. I realize that will make some uncomfortable. The oyster needs the irritation to make a pearl. And it is never easy.
It is true that once you learn/see/hear something, it stays. It does make a difference in the lives of those it touches. This keeps me going in tough times , especially when the pendulum swings against my current. But when that happens, I can only follow the path of knowledge, beauty and passion that has enriched me throughout my life. It is my sincere hope that is also does so for the many others who have met my path. In the very least, it is a chance to heal both the individual and the collective soul of the people.
Copyright, 2016. Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat