I was motivated to think about politics, culture and the human condition this morning by two seemingly unrelated news items.
Joplin’s Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School is a small, expensive private el-hi, attended for the most part by the children of Joplin’s affluent. It is successful: all 18 graduates this year are going on to college, two of them to Yale. Significantly, the speaker at their graduation yesterday was Robert Ballard, the scientist famed for finding the Titanic. But what caught my eye in the Joplin Globe news item was something the class valedictorian said:
Alex Oserowsky, valedictorian, told his classmates that the close-knit environment and heavy workload at Thomas Jefferson prepared them for the challenges they will face in life. He said the school is unique when compared with other institutions. He said,
“I believe this school is an anomaly in regards to the typical American educational institution because, unlike the other schools, attaining a high graduation rate and high standardized test scores are not the ultimate goals of this institution,” Oserowsky said. “Obviously the trend has been that T.J. does have the highest graduation rate, and students from this school have been the most successful on standardized tests and acceptance into institutions of higher learning, but the true objective of this school is to develop individuals.”
“To develop individuals.” Alex gets it. It’s not about grades, it’s about the whole person. It’s about maximizing a person’s full potential, whether that be in math, science, dance, technology, art or archaeology. Alex and his classmates have already learned to think outside the box. The synergy of their class makeup, aided no doubt by a creative faculty, has allowed them to be motivated by the learning itself rather than by mere competition.
The other item that caught my eye was the USA Today headline, “Gallup: Romney tops Obama with veterans”. Why should that be? As Gallup says (emphasis added),
Why veterans are so strong in their preference for the Republican presidential candidate is not clear. Previous Gallup analysis has suggested that two processes may be at work. Men who serve in the military may become socialized into a more conservative orientation to politics as a result of their service. Additionally, men who in the last decades have chosen to enlist in the military may have a more Republican orientation to begin with.
Veterans’ strong preference for Romney in this election occurs even though Romney himself is not a military veteran — though Obama shares this non-veteran status. This will be the first election since World War II in which neither major-party candidate is a veteran.
As the article notes, President Obama has been strongly supportive of the military, both in his policies, statements and in acts of public empathy, but this is not politically persuasive among this significant bloc of men voters. The reason would seem to be
obvious: one’s politics tends to be more cultural than cerebral, and the current crop of veterans, mostly from Korea through Vietnam, are from a cohort which has its cultural roots in the middle class work ethic, one which identifies with independent self-reliance even as it participates enthusiastically in Social Security, Medicare and the V.A. Hospital system, a vast and generally successful matrix of socialist programming.
Is Gallup’s assessment correct that, as the number of veterans in the population declines, the male electorate may grow more progressive in its politics? It seems to me that it should. The 1% of the population currently in the military have every reason to value a liberal government. The armed services, multicultural and non-discriminatory by fiat and self-sacrificing by ethos, exist to protect the greater society, one great tribe. And if public education improves such that more voters might be more inclined to apply reasoning to their politics, won’t that also make them more progressive? If all schools were more like the Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School, I think it would.
It seems to me that liberals tend to see the nation (with individual exceptions of course) as one big tribe, and conservatives as an arena for competition (albeit, with infrastructure underwritten by all). But I am sure of one thing implicit in these two news items: our culture is not static, it is evolving. How can politics not be affected in the process?