Let Bartlet Be Bartlet

Since the beginning of time, people have often found themselves divided down the middle of different categories. Male/Female. Black/White. Rich/Poor. East/West. Republican/Democrat. It seems unfair that, as a society, we consistently polarize each other. “If you ain’t for me, you’re against me.” You know, that kind of thing. One of the most profound divides is between those who are educated and those who are not.

Writers have been showcasing this distinction for hundreds of years. Stories like “The Sculptor’s Funeral” by Willa Cather in which a dead man is berated by an entire town for being an academic, and “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” by Mark Twain, where Twain’s tone proves his distaste for small town, uneducated mindsets.

The divide between educated and non-educated seems more entrenched than ever. Typically, the rhetoric generally implies that there are two groups of people: A) the academic elite, snowflake liberal who wouldn’t know a hard day of work if it hit them right in the Prius and B) The ignorant, bigoted redneck that can’t take their head out from under their butt long enough to understand what’s really going on in the world.

What if I told you that most of us fall somewhere in the middle of those two close-minded interpretations? It’s true. Generally, we all just want the health and safety of our families. We want to get through every day, paying our bills and avoiding disasters of all kinds (natural, political, local, etc). The primary differences lie in both how we get there and who else in the world we also want to get there.

One of my favorite shows of all time, The West Wing, most definitely had a liberal slant. They sprinkled in some diplomatic storylines and characters but I won’t lie, it had one of those liberal agendas you hear about. However, the writing on the show was so stellar and smart that fans of any political affiliation liked the series.

There was a storyline in particular in which President Barlet’s staff was struggling to appear “in touch” with the every day worker in America. He was an educated man oozing with privilege and the American people weren’t buying that he could understand them. Whatever tactics they tried failed because anything he did to seem more connected felt inauthentic.

Eventually, they came to the conclusion that they should just “Let Bartlet be Bartlet.” They decided that there was no need to hide his intelligence or background because there was nothing wrong with him being smart. The truth is, your level of education shouldn’t be a defining factor in the way you are treated in society. It’s the way we treat each other that is disturbing.

I grew up in a house with parents who made my academic achievement a priority. A’s were rewarded and expected. When I got into high school, the only strategy that mattered was one that earned me a scholarship to college. Not going to college wasn’t even a blip on the radar. My parents wanted me to excel in areas they wished they could have. They wanted the absolute best for me and to them, that meant going to school and getting a great job.

They also taught me the value of hard work. I’ve had a job since I was 16 (other than a couple short-lived dry spots) and I’m a goal-oriented to a fault. As I grew older and more hormonal, their academic and life training backfired. Now I was an all-knowing monster ready to defy anything they said with snotty comebacks and news articles to prove they were wrong about literally everything.

I was their Franken-teen creation and they had nobody to blame but themselves. I extended this attitude throughout my college years. I was on the debate team so there was always some new issue I could throw in their face using the evidence I’d found. I was truly exhausting.

Since then, I still believe most of the things I was saying, but I’ve realized that the only people I was reaching were people who believed the exact same way that I did. Being in your 30s is much, much different from being in your 20s. I come with a lot more perspective than I used to have. I still have the drive to learn. I still believe that we should treat each other with love and respect. I just approach my students and the other people in my life a bit differently than I would have a decade or more ago.

My Dad can pretty much get along with anybody and I’ve inherited that. When I’m friends with someone I know I don’t see eye to eye with on everything, I tend to stick to more common areas of conversation. Few views on politics have been changed while tipsy in a bar or lost in a Facebook comment battle.

However, I can say that I believe, with 100% certainty, that there is no excuse for ignorance. Ignorance just means that you ignore the details, facts and history of a topic and just believe the headline you see in the news or on Social Media. As adults, with the privilege of living in America, there’s no excuse for that. I’m a chronic apologizer but I’m unapologetic about the fact that I only speak passionately on issues in which I have at least a modicum of knowledge.

It’s OK to educate yourself on certain topics. In fact, I find that once I talk to my students (rationally and with respect) about critical thinking, they almost always discover an untruth about something they’ve always believed in. It doesn’t mean they change their whole belief system, it just means they started thinking. Thinking is good.

Education doesn’t always come in the form of a degree. It can come from questioning pretty much everything you read. Always go to at least the second layer of research. Y’all remember that cheesy theme song from the old kid’s show that said, “Knowledge is power?” It is y’all. It really is. Don’t be ashamed of it.


Author: Heather Wyatt

Heather Wyatt is a writer for The Leaf and English Instructor at The University of Alabama. Follow Heather on Twitter @HeatherMWyatt and checkout her website, mylifewithoutranch.com!

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