I was watching a commercial for Southern New Hampshire University. No doubt you’ve seen the commercials about online degrees and how they go around the country giving diplomas to students who couldn’t make it to the physical graduation ceremony. This particular commercial actually showed the graduation ceremony. A gentleman at the podium, who I assume is the president of the University, was asking various demographic groups to stand. He called upon those who were the first in their family to go to college, single parents, military members, and others who might have had to overcome difficulty in their personal lives to get the degree. No doubt it’s inspiring to see people who had other obligations in their life that might’ve made it difficult for them to attend college much less get a degree, achieve their goal. But he said something towards the end of the commercial that I thought was incredibly wrong. What the speaker said was, “the world in which we live equally distributes talent but does not equally distribute opportunity.” I’m sure he thought he was saying something profound and philosophically significant. He was right, it was profoundly stupid and philosophically so wrong that it left me dumbfounded.
Whether you believe in a higher being such as God or just random acts of nature creating and controlling this world, there is one thing I can say with absolute certainty, our world does not equally distribute talent in any way shape or form. If that were true, there would never be Michael Jordan or a Tom Brady who stand above others in their chosen sports. There would never have been an Einstein or Tesla. They would not have stood out in their fields and nobody would stand out in any field because we’d all be equally talented in every way shape and form. Clearly we are not. My daughter is much more adept at mathematics than I could ever hope to be. I’m not the greatest golfer in the world, but I’m better than a lot of people and that’s because somehow I have a physical ability that adapts to the game of golf better than a lot of other people have. I think you can all agree with me on this point, talent is not equally distributed.
The second part of his statement is a little more accurate but not in the way I believe he meant it. This country distributes opportunity more equally than any other country in the world or the history of the world. It’s true that people in Third World countries do not have the same opportunities to attend college, gain access to adequate healthcare, gain access to adequate sanitary facilities or food as countries such as America or Germany or England. But I believe he was talking about the opportunity to get an education in America when he made that statement and he could not be more wrong. With the number of colleges available including the financial aid available, the only thing keeping people from taking advantage of the opportunity to attend college is themselves. We all have heard stories and probably know someone who got themselves in difficult situations whether through their own life choices or those of others that put them in situations where it would not seem to be an easy decision to attend college, but they did anyway and were able to get a degree. So to say that that opportunity is not equally distributed is actually wrong because anyone in America can attend college, they may not succeed at it for various reasons but they can attend college.
But you know what I think underlies his statement? A belief among the educational and political elite that so many people in our country are victims of oppression or bigotry or some other force that is outside of their control and is put upon them by another group of people who are privileged. That in a nutshell is what’s wrong with our college system, so many people in academia hold that point of view about America and our citizens and the opportunity this country provides to everyone. You know, maybe part of the reason that the opportunity is not equal is that the cost of college education is astronomically outpacing inflation over the last 40 years. I think he could probably do something about that, don’t you?