Do Bad Grades Mean The Governor Is Dumb? Or; Why Am I Defending Rick Perry?

August 8, 2011, 11:38 am

Haskell County, Texas, pop.3,332, home of Governor Rick Perry

When we are arguing education policy, do the Governor’s college grades really matter?

On Friday, Jason Cherkis at the Huffington Post leaked Governor Rick Perry’s undergraduate transcript from Texas A & M.  Highlighting the C’s, D’s and F’s, Cherkis speculates that Perry’s desire to run higher education on a business model is a revenge narrative that Perry is playing out because of his own failure to thrive in the system.  As Cherkis explains:

A source in Texas passed The Huffington Post Perry’s transcripts from his years at Texas A&M University. The future politician did not distinguish himself much in the classroom. While he later became a student leader, he had to get out of academic probation to do so. He rarely earned anything above a C in his courses — earning a C in U.S. History, a D in Shakespeare, and a D in the principles of economics. Perry got a C in gym.

Go here to view the transcript yourself:  actually, the guy got a bunch of B’s too, although he seems to share the Tea Party academic weakness in U.S. History.

Much as I detest Rick Perry and his policies, a barrel full of bad grades doesn’t necessarily mean a person is stupid.  The C in gym, for example suggests that he simply didn’t go to class much, maybe because he was desperately trying to catch up in organic chemistry.

Bad grades also don’t mean a person is lazy or has character flaws. Does Perry have a learning disability? My own governor, Daniel Malloy, is severely dyslexic and without tremendous support throughout his schooling and career would not have had the opportunity to make the most of his intelligence.

Perry may have been ill prepared for college work, having attended a small, rural high school that probably did not offer the advanced courses that would have given him a good grounding in any subject, much less the science courses that were required for his major. According to the transcript, Perry attended Paint Creek Rural High School in Haskell, Texas (pop. 3,332) and matriculated at A & M in the fall of 1968.  The Paint Creek ISD is still so small that they play 6-man football.  If Perry struggled in school, he wasn’t alone: only 40% of Haskell County residents have a high school diploma, and fewer than 18% have attended college.  Currently 0.0% of Haskell County residents are enrolled in graduate or professional school, and 39% of Haskell households have an annual income of less than 25K.  Employment seems to be split between agriculture and energy extraction.

Why am I making excuses for Rick Perry who, I am dismayed to say, wants to do to the entire country what he has done to Texas? (After the last round of cuts to education, several school districts, in addition to laying off teachers and raising class sizes, are now charging students to ride the school bus.) Because somehow I think our national press has lost its grip.  The popular liberal press has adopted the tactics of mockery that Lee Atwater brought to politics back in the 1980s, and by doing so helps distract us from anything that resembles substantive debate.  Exposing people’s errors and flaws is not, in itself, critique.  Furthermore, if a reporter wanted Rick Perry’s transcript, he should have obtained it through an FOIA request.  Being passed such a document, one that contains no evidence of criminal or other wrongdoing, that would otherwise be considered private, does not compel a reporter to publish it — particularly if, by doing so, the point is made that grades matter more than anything else a person might accomplish in his or her lifetime.

Rick Perry ‘s education policy is not some weird revenge, or the irrational response of a stupid and lazy man.  It is part of a conservative effort to gut the public sector that he thinks will take him to the White House.  We don’t need a psychodrama, or a stolen college transcript, to tell us that, and it detracts from the real point:  we need to stand up for public education, we need to do it now, and — since we are years beyond the time when Abraham Lincoln scratched out his school exercises on the hearthstone with a piece of charcoal — we need to affirm the fact that more money does buy a better educated population, not that you are qualified to make education policy (or not) depending on how well you did in college forty years ago.

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