The Educated Elite vs The Unschooled Masses

It seems like Academia can breed a pretentious kind of person. A friend who recently became a PhD. now thinks she’s better than me and knows everything about everything even though she studied one very specific part of history. Does everyone become this way? Do people get over it eventually?

Sarah Bowman
Sarah Bowman, Humanist studied theology, social work, some philosophy, anthropology

I must say that after completing two university degrees, an undergraduate and a graduate, I encountered a lot of teachers (professors) who had PhDs. I can’t say that they were any different from other people. Most of them knew what they were talking about when it came to course material they were teaching but once in a while I asked a question and the answer was “I don’t know.” A person who can admit to not knowing comes across to me as being honest and humble, not arrogant or elitist, which tells me that not all PhDs are like your friend.

Then again, maybe you’re imagining stuff. I don’t have a PhD but I do have more education than some people. What bothers me is when people with much less formal education put me down for not having a black and white answer to some simplistic question. They are skimming the surface of a major issue but they don’t know it. They think it’s a deep topic with only one right answer but it’s not. They don’t know how big an issue it is because of their limited education.

For that reason, before I can answer their question I have to provide context. That means educating them, delving into a lot of extra information that seems unrelated. They become impatient, they want me to “just answer the question, don’t show off how much you know!”

What I’m saying is that it can be a serious challenge for the more highly educated person to relate to the person with less formal education and the fault is not all on the side of the academy. Some less educated folk tend to disrespect book learning and/or feel intimidated by a person with advanced academic degrees. To make up for their insecurities they accuse the educated person of arrogance, elitism, and other uncomplimentary terms. It would be more constructive for all concerned if both sides would acknowledge the difference in level of formal education and type of life experience and then take discussion from there, each respecting the other as a person worthy of dignity and respect.

In my opinion, a person who has not been in school but who has in other ways supported him/herself and/or contributed to the life of society and community is just as smart as a person who has spent twenty years in school training the intellect. Such a person must feel neither inferior nor superior. A farmer or fisherman who can wrest nourishment for the world’s hungry from the harsh elements of our planet is of necessity a highly skilled person, but the education and skills differ sharply from those taught in the academy. In turn, the academy with its specialized training and equipment contributes to the methods and technology of the farmer and fisherman. We are all in this together. Let us therefore respect each one with our differences in education and skills.

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