Cap and Gown

Just because you're educated, doesn't mean you're smart

We should have seen it coming. Everywhere we looked in 2011 there was strife and outrage. When you suffered through such a year, something had to go right for us.

And sure enough, it did.

As the year began we received a pleasant surprise. Yet another honor was bestowed upon Madison, lending even more credence to our quiet, humble belief that we are The Greatest City in the Universe.

Yes, Men’s Health magazine, second only to The New York Times in journalistic credibility, declared Madison to be “The Most Educated City in America.” And to prove their point, they cleverly gave us a grade of A+.  

Go ahead. Feel smug. We deserve it.

In fact, if you want to feel even better, we can cluck over the fact that Men’s Health gave Big Ten newbie Lincoln, Nebraska, a B+. Columbus, home of the loathed Buckeyes, managed only a B, while Austin stumbled its way to a C+. And don’t spread it around but Milwaukee got a D-. And Detroit, Las Vegas and Miami all got an F!

Man, wait until they tell their parents.

This new ranking comes at a time when ripping Madison’s biggest product, a college degree, has become fashionable. Some economists have suggested that many Americans are overeducated for the work that needs doing in our economy. They argue that colleges are a dusty old model, with too little return on too much expense, especially when knowledge resides no longer in just the college library or lecture hall, but in any fingertips ready to Google.

More than a few UW grads have discovered that a bachelor’s, or even a master’s, in this economy does not mean an immediate job and quick return on tuition costs. We’ve all met that overqualified Madison rogue with a doctorate driving a cab or making our old fashioned. Even my daughter remarked after receiving her diploma, “I learned a lot. But I wish they had taught me how to get a job.”

To put a more difficult, topical point on the issue, this year we had a downtown square full of protestors who discovered that just because you have a college degree and work for the state, doesn’t mean bad things will never happen to you. This was all the more difficult to take given the fact that the politician doing bad things doesn’t even have a degree himself.

How could this possibly be?

To make us feel even more insecure about our many Madison degrees, it is noted that some of today’s giants, like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, bypassed college matriculation altogether. Richard Branson, successful magnate of Virgin, even went so far as to say that “British entrepreneurs are overeducated and schooling does not prepare one for entering the business world.”

Whoa.

In a seminar in China with Branson, some businessmen opined that more educated people are more risk averse, and thus too analytical at the expense of speed and decisiveness. Thankfully other economists have responded to the anti-college theory by pointing out that college grads make more than those who haven’t done the years beyond high school, even if they are not working in the field they studied. So there.

Thank God someone quickly stifled this anti-intellectual banter. Madison’s educated population makes us a pretty damned fun place to live. The majority of us possess an entire mouthful of teeth and read books. How great is that?

Now that we have been recognized as the Most Educated City in America, surely it is only a matter of time before dozens of companies relocate here, increasing our tax base and providing much needed private sector employment.

But some of these words strike a chord. “Too analytical at the expense of speed and decisiveness?” “Risk averse?”      

We do love to study our decisions in Madison. And everyone in town is qualified to weigh in on every issue at length because we are all so incredibly educated. It says so right there in Men’s Health magazine.  

And a bias lurks here too. Some of my most brilliant and successful friends don’t have a college degree. Yet they have been incredibly successful at mastering complex issues, starting companies, writing books, creating jobs and making money for themselves and many, many others.  

These brilliant, accomplished folks remain quiet about the fact that they don’t have a college degree. They know that some people will look down on them for this perceived deficiency.

But they also know something else. Something worth remembering as Madison receives this new honor.

Just because you are educated, doesn’t mean you’re smart.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at johneroach@mac.com.

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