Schooled

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_D5C5045brianby Brian Clarey

My old philosophy professor and drinking buddy John was a quote machine. He once told our student newspaper: “Not only do I consider myself a feminist, I consider myself a lesbian.”

At our small college in New Orleans, he would always assign intro-level philosophy students a paper due just a few days after the Mardi Gras break. “You’ll be a different person after your first Mardi Gras,” he would tell them.

My favorite line he held in his pocket for the one time in every semester — and there was always at least one — that a standoffish student, usually a Yankee, would interrupt a lecture about Xerxes or Anaximander with a burning question: “How is this going to help me get a job?”

“It’s not,” he would say, often with the kicker, “It will help you live your life.”

John came to mind last week when news about cuts to academics across the UNC System found me: 46 of 221 programs deemed “low performing” by the board of governors will get the axe.

Among them: Comprehensive science education at NC A&T University, biochemistry at UNCG, film-music composition at UNC School of the Arts, and, at Winston-Salem State, in a city that has just assembled a prestigious biotech corridor in its downtown district, the bachelor’s program in biotechnology has been eliminated.

More than half, 27 of them, were in education — UNCG alone lost five secondary education programs.

That means we’ll be turning out fewer teachers, who I suppose are becoming sort of a nuisance to this General Assembly, and surely cannot be counted among reliable Republican voters. A general decline in poorly paid personnel creates the self-fulfilling prophecy of low-performing public schools, which will make some people in North Carolina very happy.

Our state’s newfound disdain for education could find resonation here in the Triad. Just one-third of Greensboro residents have bachelors degrees or higher, even though the city boasts five colleges with more than 30,000 students. The rate is 28 percent in Winston-Salem, with four colleges, and 21 percent in High Point. Charlotte does not fare much better than Greensboro at 36 percent, but Durham weighs in at a muscular 39 percent. Raleigh hits 45 percent. Of the 10 biggest cities in the state, only Fayetteville ranks lower that the cities of the Triad.

It’s enough to make you start to think you’re surrounded by people who don’t have any books in their homes. It’s a terrifying notion.

Because while a college education is not necessarily an indicator of personal success, having the lowest rate of educational attainment of all the state’s big cities is surely nothing to brag about.

Like my old friend John promised, I use my education every day in the decisions I make, the causes I espouse, the opinions I hold. It’s the lens through which I see the world, one that brings most things into sharp focus and gives me the internal resources to figure out the rest of it.

And I like it here. Where else could a guy like me be in the top third just by showing up?