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Editorial: What’s in a grade?

College transcripts are a poor measure in politics

Published: Sunday, August 7, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 21:07

The release of Governor and potential presidential candidate Rick Perry's Texas A&M transcript set off a media frenzy this weekend as commentators and columnists feasted on the underwhelming scores.While releases like this make for fun facts and cute analysis it should be asked, "Why should we care?"

College scores can be a great indicator of skill right out of college. They're helpful for getting into graduate school and ascending the ivory tower, and they indicate a student's proficiency in each subject. When evaluating a 61-year-old potential presidential candidate low grades are both meaningless and not uncommon.

George W. Bush joked about being a C student at Yale with a four-year average of 77. The "complex" John Kerry had a four-year average of 76 also at Yale. While Rick Perry, the face of the Texas economy, received a D in principles of economics, Al Gore, the face of global warming, received a D in Natural Sciences his sophomore year and a C-plus in natural sciences his senior year at Harvard. The Washington Post said in 2000, "[Gore's] generally middling college grades at Harvard in fact bear a close resemblance to the corresponding Yale marks of his presidential opponent, George W. Bush."

The point isn't to deride Bush, Kerry, Gore or Perry, but that college transcripts are only a snapshot of a person's life. Transcripts may give you a glimpse of Perry the student but they tell little about Governor Perry.

Drawing conclusions from information almost four decades old is a fool's errand.

It would be just as absurd to assess college students by when they began walking.

It would be nonsensical to observe that Rick Perry earned a D in economics as a democrat while as a Republican governor, Texas has created 37 percent of all-net new jobs in America since the recovery began according to Richard Fisher of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

While we're using old information to draw ridiculous conclusions it should be obvious that Perry is smarter and more driven than the college dropout Bill Gates.

The perversion of Perry's 39-year-old transcript is a manifestation of ivory-tower elitism at its worst.

This pervasive dogma tells us that our measured academic achievement during a four-year period is more important than all our life lessons.

It's absurd considering real world employers rarely care about college grades after a graduate's first job.

In the real world, a college degree quickly becomes nothing more than a checkmark among more important items like work history and special skills.

This dogma would have us believe Rick Perry's D in Shakespeare is more relevant than a record consisting of years as a state legislator, agriculture commissioner, lieutenant governor, and almost a decade as governor.

This dogma implies that Rick Perry's C in gym matters more than issues like Gardasil, the Trans-Texas corridor and the seven solutions for higher education.

This culture of elitism is the reason every administration has a parade of eggheads running back and forth between Washington, D.C. and the ivory tower. These experts and policy wonks are evaluated on academics by academics more often than on unemployment rates and economic growth.

That's not to say we don't need eggheads and policy wonks, every politician has them, but when evaluating a leader, an F in organic chemistry is far less important than the decisions made after graduation.

As the longest-serving current governor of the second-largest state economy, Perry has relevant points of criticism. His college transcript is not one of them.

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