Saturday, December 3, 2011

33 Percent

In this difficult time, I'm constantly looking for things to feel better about, or at least feel some optimism. I'm a firm believer that when things look the most bleak, you've got to dig down a bit further. You know: if you fall off the horse, get back up right away. It's too easy to lose perspective on your own situation when it doesn't take too much to realize that many other folks have it a lot worse than you do.
I worry that so many of my former students must have placed their dreams and hopes on hold. Every now and then I see another college graduate, with increasing debt, and a new job at a temp agency. If I were in the classroom full time these days, I wonder just how difficult it would be to motivate kids given that the goal of a college education, and it's benefits, just might look a little hollow right now. And then this: From a recent Harper's Index comes this little statistic:
• Chance that an American who earned a bachelor's degree in 2008 will be paying off student loans in 2028: 1 in 3
I started thinking about my own history of student loans. After all, I paid for my entire college education myself. Through a couple of part time jobs I financed my undergraduate years. Of course, even as a commuter student at UCLA, the price of gas was a fraction of what it is today. But then minimum wage was under $2.00. I think I made about $2.25 at best in those days. Tuition at the UC system was unbelievingly low compared to today's figures.
When I secured a couple of loans and grants so that I could attend graduate school at UC Berkeley, I was motivated by the promise that if I secured a teaching position, especially in an under-resourced district with a diverse student population, that much of my debt would be deferred. That never happened because the government changed it's mind. The notion of a "National Defense" student loan morphed into a monthly payment and it took me about 5 years to repay it given I was making about 10k a year back then. What a bargain compared to today's costs.

If education becomes too costly for 1 in 3, just imagine how costly it becomes without it. Are we a nation that can't seem to meet the needs of our people without weighing whether or not we can afford it? Afraid so.
No, I won't vent here. I'm too lost in thinking how fortunate I've been. As a first generation college graduate in my working class family, I'm actually happy I bought the picture. I swallowed that star-spangled dream that promised a better life. For me it worked, to a degree. Retired teachers are hardly the epitome of the landed gentry. But with very few teaching jobs, even fewer factory or technology jobs calling the U.S. home, what's that leave? Service industry?
This morning I chanced to look at some children's books in a bookstore. Fresh from monitoring an online discussion on the Teacher's Learning Network about those Little Golden Books we all had as beginning readers, I marveled at how some are still in print. There are a few with copyright dates in the late 1940s and early 50s. Of course there are newer ones, but some of those like The Night Before Christmas still exist in their original form. Then I found one called Daddies.

Yes it was sexist, with all the jobs that men do. Kids were getting the message that only men were doctors or worked in factories, or were cops. You get the picture. The original drawings were just as colorful and charming as I recall. Those Little Golden Books are real treasures. Then it hit me. Most of those jobs that those daddies went off to don't exist anymore. Some do, but many were exported. That little book takes on new meaning. It's now a historical document. The way it was.

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