Snobbery 101: Back to Those Old College Grades

by Victor Davis Hanson

Maureen Dowd, channelling a new liberal narrative, argues that at least Romney is not an anti-intellectual dunce like Rick Perry, and to prove her point, she returns to Perry’s college transcripts. To the coastal elite, college grades are always proof of intelligence and legitimacy:

“Studying to be a veterinarian, he stumbled on chemistry and made a D one semester and an F in another. “Four semesters of organic chemistry made a pilot out of me,” said Perry, who went on to join the Air Force.

“His other D’s,” Richard Oppel wrote in The Times, “included courses in the principles of economics, Shakespeare, ‘Feeds & Feeding,’ veterinary anatomy and what appears to be a course called ‘Meats.’ ”

He even got a C in gym.

Perry conceded that he “struggled” with college, and told the 13,000 young people in Lynchburg that in high school, he had graduated “in the top 10 of my graduating class — of 13.”

It’s enough to make you long for W.’s Gentleman’s C’s. At least he was a mediocre student at Yale. Even Newt Gingrich’s pseudo-intellectualism is a relief at this point.”

When Dowd trashes Perry and Bush (why not quote the hardly impressive Kerry record?), she is arguing that long ago college records and scores are a good barometer of presidential success (that is dubious if one were to compare a Lincoln or Truman to Wilson or Carter), and, by inference, that the current president is also apparent proof. But does she have inside information about the Obama undergraduate record at Occidental and Columbia? If not, why not, given the supposed importance of undergraduate grades to liberal observers? I suppose we are to conclude that supposedly poor students like a Perry or Bush released their grades or had them leaked, but brilliant undergraduates earning top slots at Harvard Law have no need to release obviously straight-A transcripts and no worry that anyone would care?

Dowd then warns, ”Our education system is going to hell. Average SAT scores are falling, and America is slipping down the list of nations for college completion. And Rick Perry stands up with a smirk to talk to students about how you can get C’s, D’s and F’s and still run for president.” One need not approve of Perry’s C grade populism to wonder whether the problem is not a C student Perry as presidential candidate, but a current president that for some reason does not want to remind us that he was, of course, the sort of straight-A student that op-ed writers pine for.

Finally, some of Perry’s education reforms would probably do more to raise SAT scores and improve undergraduate education than the current race/class/gender industry that has turned a once classical curriculum into therapeutics, and tried to apply an illiberal equality of result standard of college performance rather than the old ideal of an equality of opportunity. In regard to Dowd’s sneer quote of  ”What appears to be a course called ‘Meats’,” it might, in fact, offer more real knowledge (about animal science, nutrition, and physiology) than, say, any of hundreds of classes in our universities like  ”Queer Mobilities” at Yale or “Desire and Repression: Economic Anthropology and American Pop Culture” at Princeton or “Of Mean Streets and Jungle Fevers: Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee” at Harvard?  

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