Education or Morality?

By Brian Carr

Americans have a fetish with education. Specifically, we have an obsession with formal, higher education. For numerous reasons we believe that one’s education has a lot to say about that person’s character.

We immediately associate education with intelligence. Your intelligence is intrinsically associated with your education. It’s a simple formula – the more education you’ve received, the more intelligent you are.

This ties in with Christianity because we also associate intelligence with morality. The more intelligent you are, the more moral you must automatically be.

Once again, if we take an introspective look into our own thoughts, I think most of us would be surprised at how our subconscious thinks about this. If you encountered two people—one with a Ph.D. and one who dropped out of high school—who would you assume was the more moral person? Your first instinct is to go with the person who has earned a Ph.D. How can they not be a moral person? Certainly they are smart enough to make good decisions, right?

Alternatively, we assume the high school dropout either wasn’t smart enough to finish high school or wasn’t dedicated or hard-working enough. How can we expect this person to contribute to the moral or ethical aspects of society then? They are vagrants, gangsters, or losers who are destined to make immoral decisions.

This is the common line of thought when it comes to education. This thought pervades our society at every level—professors, lawyers, and doctors are some of the most well respected members of our communities. They also have the most degrees of anyone around us.

But how do we know these educated people are automatically moral? Politicians are extremely well educated in terms of how many degrees they have, and yet they are often guilty of pushing immoral agendas. Some of the greatest atrocities of the world have been carried out by educated people. Yoweri Museveni, Kim Jong Il, and Joseph Goebbels all received degrees from higher education institutes.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Rosa Parks never received any formal education above the high school level.

The first group of individuals were considered the more intelligent group by educational standards. The second group would have been placed in the uneducated category.

And yet which group would you argue is more moral?

These people aren’t the exception to the rule either. They are not an extremely small sample size that I’m using to frame my biased argument. They are simply the most well-known examples of the millions of people who break this education-based assumption of morality on a daily basis.

We also assume as a society that educated people have more to teach us than the uneducated people. We should listen to what the people with Ph.D.s are telling us, and ignore and marginalize those who never earn a degree. 

How wrong this assumption is. I am not arguing that educated people have nothing to teach us, but simply that we should not automatically conform to the ideas of higher education while ignoring the ideas of the high school dropout. Both sides have something to teach us and both sides have something to learn.

Some of the most profound things I have ever heard and read have come from people without college degrees. Truth can be found in every person, regardless of your definitions of intelligence and its relation to morality.

Besides, actions speak louder than degrees.