Florida Governor Rick Scott is messing with the wrong people. Recently, Scott used anthropologists as an example of the type of degree that the state could do without. Anthropologists have reacted across the country, suggesting that Scott should be re-classified as a Homo Moronus. I would be careful before you tick off people (in the case of forensic anthropologists) who dig up bodies for a living. In the academy, we have long viewed our anthropologist colleagues with a certain fear and intimidation. When you confront one of these guys at a faculty senate meeting, they make it clear that there are “a lot of still active tar pits around the country where mammals can disappear for thousands of years.” When a critic for another department disappears, they just shrug and say, “Louie, is sleeping with the aquatic vertebrate.”
Here is what started the anthropologists digging into Scott from the Marc Benier show:
We don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state. It’s a great degree if people want to get it, but we don’t need them here. I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering, and math degrees. That’s what our kids need to focus all their time and attention on, those types of degrees, so when they get out of school, they can get a job.
Scott wants to cut funding in the area of anthropology.
That led the American Anthropological Association to issue a statement on behalf of “over 11,000 scholars, scientists, and professionals who are dedicated to studying humankind in all its aspects, including through archaeological, biological, cultural, medical, and linguistic research.” The message to Scott is clear: “our children will gnaw on your bones.”
The AAA noted “[p]erhaps you are unaware that anthropologists are leaders in our nation’s top science fields, making groundbreaking discoveries in areas as varied as public health, human genetics, legal history, bilingualism, the African American heritage, and infant learning.”
Scott however was not done. He continued to use anthropologists as an example of a deadweight loss for the public in a speech to the Northwest Business Association:
“We’re spending a lot of money on education, and when you look at the results, it’s not great. Do you want to use your tax money to educate more people who can’t get jobs in anthropology? I don’t.”
It is a false premise that public education is measured by the “results” of charting how many people go into a job in their field. First and foremost, public education allows people to develop as independently thinking and intellectually alive citizens. Education is essential to realize the full potential of being human. Every citizens should study in a field that engages them intellectually and exposes them to a greater reality.
Second, most graduates go into jobs that are not directly linked to their course of studies. Many lawyers do not practice law. They go into business or management or entirely different fields — benefiting from their legal education but not directly working as practicing lawyers. Likewise, political science majors generally do not become politicians. For their part, Anthropologists may go into public health or city planning or any number of collateral fields. Their degrees have many of the same component as other fields in learning statistics and research skills etc.
Finally, despite my jokes above, anthropology has gone a long way from the classic image of a desert excavation. It is a field that covers a wide ranger of social and political questions. These areas include Anthropology of religion, Biocultural anthropology, Cognitive anthropology, Ecological anthropology, Economic anthropology, Evolutionary anthropology, Forensic anthropology, Media anthropology, Medical anthropology, Palaeoanthropology, Transpersonal anthropology, Urban anthropology, and Visual anthropology. Besdies, anthropologists do not make for very good political foils. Flashing a picture of Franz Boas on the screen is not likely to have the same impact of Willie Horton.
What is truly tragic about Scott’s comments is that they strike an anti-intellectual note that is increasingly common during this campaign period. People like Sarah Palin have demonized intellectuals and “smart people” who over-think our problems. Florida universities have had incredible success in the last few decades. They have fantastic faculties and facilities. Florida is on its way to becoming a new California as a center for higher learning. With beautiful beaches and top schools, higher education should be a priority for politicians as a major contribution to the state economy. That is not going to happen when the governor of the state is referring to higher education as little more than a trade school system.
There is nothing wrong with calling for more engineers or doctors. However, leave the anthropologists and higher education alone. Indeed, some might say we need to cut back on our political science departments. After all, do we really need more politicians when we do not want the ones we currently have?
Besides, Scott does not exactly look like he is doing well in the survival of the political fittest, according to polls. He might want to keep in mind that no one knows how to dig up dirt like an anthropologist.