David Brooks offers a strange anecdote in his New York Times piece titled “How We Are Ruining America.”
Was this woman overwhelmingly confused out by Italian food words or did she just not feel like having a ham sandwich that day? The piece assumes the former.
Brooks finds it “insensitive” to take someone “with only a high school degree” to a “gourmet sandwich shop.” And Brooks uses “with only a high school degree” as shorthand for “uneducated, not classy, afraid of fancy lunchmeat.”
This kind of condescension against those without a college degree is exactly why kids who don’t need a degree go to college anyway. Those who don’t want corporate careers take out massive loans for degrees they need to get a job, but not to actually do their job. The degree becomes more about status and less about garnering a skill set, thanks to comments like Brooks’.
Our country needs mechanics and plumbers and cooks, and those workers do not need college degrees. Without a college degree, mechanics and plumbers and cooks can make north of six figures.
Even if you adhere to the outdated and incorrect assumption that working with your hands is somehow demeaning – and you’re wrong – there are non-degree jobs for you, too. Pilots, IT managers, and real estate brokers can all build careers without a college diploma.
College curriculum – if you do it right – is supposed to expand your horizons, challenge you to think critically, and train you to carry on the traditions of Western philosophy. It’s not to teach you fancy Italian words on the off chance your friend brings you to a new deli. Not everyone wants to subject themselves to expanding their critical thinking process, and that’s okay.
To Brooks, though, it’s not a lack of college education holding people back. Brooks thinks working-class Americans cannot rise up in society because they literally do not speak the language of the elite. It’s not insensitive to bring a less educated friend to a high end deli. It’s insensitive to assume that your friend isn’t sufficiently well-bred to understand a sandwich menu.
Sure, you might feel more at ease among the upper crust if you’re toned by Physique 57 and smell like Santal from Le Labo – you know, the type that gets home from a busy day, sets down her Birkin, and lights a Diptyque candle. But if you just shook your head because you don’t know what those words mean, none of it is holding you back in your career.
The less educated among us aren’t disadvantaged because they might not know what pomodoro is. They’re at a disadvantage because people like David Brooks assume they don’t know what pomodoro is, and therefore treat them differently.