Reframing "uneducated"

I'm staying away from television as much as possible and reading what I can about this primary election process, as I feel it's become more like something we'd see in Ancient Rome in the Coliseum. I don't get into that kind of violence: Bull fighting, dog fights, Republican debates. However, I am trying to read a lot, and that at least allows me to make some informed decisions and have somewhat thoughtful conversations. Even that's becoming more and more difficult.

I'm also trying to find some reason to be #grateful for what's unfolding, rather than simply dwelling in the terror-mongering and doomsday language that permeates so many Facebook posts, headlines, and tweets that I read. In many ways, this primary season is doing us a huge favor. The positions of several candidates that seem to resonate so deeply with so many people point to some unsettling things about our country. But I'm a little surprised by the number of people who find this all so shocking. People are behaving as if they can't believe that so many people have these feelings about immigrants, minorities, religion, marriage equality, and economic disparity, and I keep thinking, "Where have these people been? Are they paying attention?"  Advances? Yes, we've made many.  Problems and deficiencies still exist in a big way? Absolutely. We are not in some utopia where everything is better just because we think it is.

So in a naive response to these issues, many have simply attributed more conservative viewpoints to the so-called "uneducated," to the "backwards thinking," to the "evangelicals," and whatever other category they can lump people they disagree with into. Over the summer, as the candidates tried to secure their initial positions, I was thinking the same things, but I soon realized that I was making a huge mistake. People who have these positions and beliefs are not necessarily uneducated or evangelicals or backwards-thinking. I disagree with what they think, as much as a person can disagree with another, but that doesn't mean that I have the right to call them uneducated.  And even if a person does have less formal education, what does that really mean? I struggle with this question because education has such a profound impact on one's social mobility and class status, but I work in higher education surrounded by people with a lot of formal education. We're not always the best at making rational decisions, coming up with solutions that can actually work, or dealing with difficult situations. Yes, on paper we're very smart. However, paper smart and life smart aren't always in alignment.

So what's my point? We need to stop using the term "uneducated" to categorize people that we disagree with. It's not the right descriptor. And we also need to think about what it means to be "educated," and stop thinking that formal education automatically means "better."  It's this elitism that people are so angry about. When Donald Trump proclaimed that he loved the uneducated, his supporters cheered. So many people were mortified, but they missed the point. People cheered because Donald Trump somehow reclaimed and took back that term. A term that has turned into an elitist slur to put down people that we disagree with or feel so alienated by that we don't know what else to do. When we use the term "uneducated" as a slur, we're not being very forward thinking. One thing we could do is stop looking down our noses and start realizing that the path forward is not about forcing people to think what we think, to "educate" them about our much better ways.  Rather, we should be spending a lot of time listening and trying to understand why people feel so disempowered and helpless and formulating solutions that take everyone into account.