Scott Walker's Sons to Carry On Family Tradition of Skipping College to Campaign

Scott Walker’s Sons to Carry On Family Tradition of Skipping College to Campaign

While not admitting that he’s running for president, Republican Governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker announced that his 19 and 20-year-old sons would forgo college in the fall in order to help dad campaign.

“They twisted our arms to figure out a way to maybe take part of a semester off next year, next fall, to come to New Hampshire, to come around the country and talk to young people like themselves,” Walker said.

Whether the young men made the decision on their own or not, Walker’s prioritizing of his campaign over education has been a major theme of his career, so it’s no surprise that he is continuing the tradition. Walker is well known for having a rather dim view of education. An editorial in Wisconsin’s The Cap Times from 2012, entitled “Scott Walker’s war on teachers” explains that

“Walker has allied himself with powerful out-of-state special interest groups that seek to downgrade and ultimately privatize public education.”

This has led him, just in the last couple months, to propose to water down the requirements for becoming a teacher, and to lie about who a Teacher of the Year was, in a lame attempt to make a fake point about unions.

Walker never finished college, and the circumstances of his departure remain mysterious, even though he falsely claimed that he had released his records. But while he was in college, his grades were middling, and he was at the center of political controversy, unusually intense for student government campaigning.

When Walker started as a freshman at Marquette University, he had already campaigned for Republican gubernatorial candidate Tommy Thompson’s successful election campaign. Walker was soon heading up a student-led investigation of student government leaders described as a “McCarthyite investigation.” As a sophomore, Walker ran for president of student government. To his adversary,

“it seemed Walker and his organization were campaigning as if the prize was the presidency of the United States.”

Walker was penalized for violating campaign rules. Administrators got involved following widespread complaints that Walker’s supporters were throwing away copies of a student newspaper that had editorialized against Walker’s campaign. Walker lost the campaign. A year before graduation, he dropped out of college with a 2.59 GPA, never to return to higher education.

Many in the media have questioned whether Walker is fit to be president without a college degree. Certainly, a degree is not everything. President George W. Bush earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, and was not exactly known for intellectual curiosity, as governor or president. Walker’s supporters will argue that he has been governor, and this alone qualifies him to be president, and perhaps they would be right. But in an era when the nation and the world are increasingly educated, and education is a prerequisite for any high level employment, Walker would be significantly out of touch with a key aspect of American culture: education and its relation to leadership. Is it enough for a president to be street smart, but not book smart?

Walker has addressed this directly, saying, “you don’t have to have (a college degree) to be successful.” That is true, but people like Bill Gates who dropped out to become wildly successful are the exception that proves the rule. They usually had some brilliant idea, were highly original thinkers, and weren’t being held back by the kind of standardized testing that conservatives want to force on all children. They are rarely political leaders. We can think of politicians in two ways. If we think of them as civil servants, they need years of decent grades, to demonstrate the ability to read and understand the nuances of both qualitative and statistical reports, to understand the interconnection of various trends. They need to be able to see the big picture and the minutiae, at the same time. This, ideally, is what a higher education trains someone to do. Walker’s record does not inspire confidence that he looks at the big picture or the details, beyond what will benefit his own political career.

This speaks to the second way that we think of politicians, and that is, as cynical opportunists. Walker has proven himself, time and again, to be this brand of politician, almost exclusively. A decent education should impart a sense of personal and public ethics and respect for various points of view. If Walker’s education has been strictly through the school of hard knocks that is the trench warfare of politics, then the only thing he’s truly educated in, is politicking itself. Should we not hold our leaders to a higher standard? Shouldn’t they offer us some degree of expertise in fields important to leadership? Shouldn’t they offer some vision of where they would lead us? Some theory of what leadership truly is?

If Walker were to become president, he would be the first Commander-in-Chief without a college degree since Harry Truman, in the 1940s. But Truman was an anomaly, even for his era. Prior to Truman, to get to a president without a college education, you would have to go back to Grover Cleveland, the only president to serve nonconsecutive terms, in the 1880s and 1890s. In the 19th Century, about a third of the first half or so of America’s presidents had no higher degree. One of them was Abraham Lincoln, who had little formal education. But he read voraciously throughout life, and essentially educated himself, at a time when that was far more common. In the second half of American history since the Constitution was signed, there has been one president without a college degree. It’s going to be a very tough sell for Walker to convince America that it makes sense to have a second now, as the nation still struggles to shake off the anchor of the Great Recession, and increasingly complex problems stack up in the international arena. Walker’s cavalier attitude toward education is apparent in his own family. It raises questions about Walker’s decision-making that he apparently encourages his children to prioritize politicking over their educations. I suppose we can at least conclude that he doesn’t tell his kids, ‘do as I say, not as I do.’ And if his young men put off their educations, I’m sure their dad can pull some strings.

Feature image via Flickr.

Marc Belisle is the Reverb Press World Affairs Editor. He is a writer, activist and teacher. He has a Master’s degree in International Conflict Analysis from the Brussels School of International Studies. READ MORE BY MARC.

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Marc Belisle is the Reverb Press World Affairs Editor. He is a writer, activist and teacher. He has a Master’s degree in International Conflict Analysis from the Brussels School of International Studies. READ MORE BY MARC.

ReverbPress Mobile Apps ReverbPress iOS App ReverbPress Android App ReverbPress App