Friday, 8 July 2011

Looking at the World Through Rhodes-Scholared Glasses

There's a saying, "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing," oft thought to be a warning to the aristocracy to keep the proletariat in the dark, for if the unwashed had even a little knowledge it might spark a revolution.

Not so.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, because a little knowledge is not enough.  In fact, it is arguably dangerous to proceed with only a little knowledge.  Yet we purchase, make medical decisions, and choose education for our children based on a little knowledge.  We elect based on a little knowledge, we run for office based on a narrow idealism and a little knowledge, and we condemn others based on only a little knowledge, we reject (or embrace) religion based on a little knowledge.

Worse, we hold in contempt those who have pursued a higher education beyond the norm.  Witness the last Canadian federal election in which the ruling party effectively turned public opinion against a credible opposition because, besides his crime of having pursued a career outside of  Canada, their leader dared to ask, dared to know.

Yet, overwhelmingly, the educated and the worldly are the ones who have the best opportunity to turn the word's attention to the needs of the many, and in fact are the ones who are more likely to show a preferential option for the poor.  They are the ones who can influence policy, and do.

The Rhodes Scholarship "requires that the candidate be a well-rounded individual, having shown not only academic excellence, but also active engagement  in their community and evidence of a strong commitment to leadership in improving the state of the world."  Andrew Wilkinson, Canadian National Secretary, Rhodes Scholarship Trust.

These Canadians are Rhodes Scholars, to pick a few from the many who have made and are making a difference.   I should confess, in this world of educated, uneducated and uber-educated, I fall somewhere towards the lower end of the scale.  I am schooled in my craft with a measure of theory, a sprinkling of practice, and a heap of experience.

John Turner - MP, former Minister of Justice responsible for reforms in the way Justices are appointed.  Canadian Prime Minister  - He used to sit in front of us at church.  He'd tousle my oldest son's hair and call him "sport" and "champ".

Marc Kielburger - with his brother Craig, challenging the world to "Free the Children"

Bob Rae - MP, MPP, Ontario Premier, current interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada - is it possible he may be the best Prime Minister we'll never have, joining the likes of David Lewis and Robert Stanfield in the great "what could have been"

Roland Michener - Ontario MPP, MP, Speaker of the House, Governor General of Canada, populist, fitness enthusiast - I met him once when he came in to get a haircut at Jimmy's wearing his trademark retirement track suit, still looking great at 85.  I was in awe; I could barely choke out a "good morning, your excellency."  I still remember the Star Weekly interview with him, in which the reporter was invited to join Michener on a morning run if he wanted an interview.  Thirty years his junior, the reporter could barely keep up with Michener.

David Lewis - MP, father of the aforementioned Stephen Lewis, socialist and avowed anti-communist, once the leader of the federal NDP and the only Father - Son team to head political parties at the same time (Stephen was leader of the Ontario Provincial NDPs while his dad was leader of the Federal NDP)

Rex Murphy - studied at Oxford, this CBC commentator is thoughtful, provocative and a defender of democracy and of the little guy.

This Canada runs the risk of being a tale of two solitudes, the uninformed and the educated,  in the fashion of Dickens' Tale of Two Cities, in which the poor rise up against the aristocracy.  We ought not to hold the  educated in contempt, but listen to them critically and welcome higher debate and an intellectual meeting of the minds for the good of the many.

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