The Broad is Back!

January 27, 2017

Too Big to Fail

When the financial crisis of ’07-08 was addressed by incoming president Barack Obama, many Americans were unhappy with the resolution. Yes, we got “back on track,” and things did get better for many. But banks were declared “too big to fail” and were bailed out.  That, I think, was one of the seeds that led to our current president.

For good reason, people blamed the banks. When banks got help and no punishment, many Americans who had lost homes, cars, jobs, and even a lifetime’s work got rightfully angry. And for the next six years that anger brewed.

Sure we got the ACA, which to me will always be Romneycare as I first encountered in when I came back to the US in ’07 and lived in Massachusetts, but I know people who literally had to choose between insurance and food. Even the subsidies through the ACA were not enough. It depends, of course. When I came back to the US the second time, I used the ACA because I had no health care in my part time jobs. I paid a lot but got excellent coverage. My subsidy was about $500 a month, but since I literally paid more into the government in taxes than American Airlines, United Continental, and Hewlitt-Packard, and now it seems, President Trump, my conscience is clear. I have always paid every penny of taxes due, and I am willing to pay them to cover things like medical care and roads and so on.

So in spite of the ACA, we have millions of people who realized that they were unimportant to the government in spite of all its propaganda. Protecting the banks was protecting them, we were told, because if the big banks failed, the economy would suffer.

Well, you know what else is too big to fail? The United States of America. And failing we are.

We have a sitting president who is totally unfit for the job. Yes, he is a businessman who gets things done, (including bankrupting himself and many, many small businesses left in his wake) but countries are not businesses. It’s not about the bottom line. It’s about people’s lives. He has not divested himself from his businesses. He has named unfit people for almost every position in his Cabinet. Most are now in the position to make the very wealthy even wealthier. Many of them have outright conflicts of interest.

Many don’t know a thing about the departments they’ve been nominated to head. I could see Ben Carson as Attorney General. I wouldn’t like it, but the man is a physician. But as head of HHD? No experience. And don’t get me started on Betsy DeVos. As a career professor, I am appalled. I have been teaching students who have suffered at the hands of federal interference in education for decades. I’ve seen the steady decline in knowledge and skills. Not intelligence—preparedness. The thought of her policies literally makes me shudder. And I know the meaning of literal.

Ironically, in light of people’s growing fears of more wars, I think one of his best picks for a Cabinet position is Gen. James Mattis as Secretary of Defense. While more hawkish than I’d like, he has the experience needed and is respected by folks in the Pentagon.

But the worst thing I see is the polarization between every day Americans. It’s been growing since the 2016 election cycle started, but instead of calming down, it’s getting worse. We are hating like we haven’t in a long while. We’re mean, petty, bitter, snide, personal, not only to people in government, but to one another.

We call each other names, generalize and stereotype. We’re more openly prejudiced than we have been in the past 50 years, not just against race but against one another based on political beliefs. I was never a fan of being “politically correct,” but I have always been a fan of trying not to offend people. I try to use non-gendered and people first language. I try to use the identifiers people prefer. To me, that’s just good manners and a fulfillment of the Golden Rule. Many quip that the new Golden Rule is “He who has the gold makes the rules.” Not a quip, the truth, and always has been the truth. But if we say we are the best country on earth, let’s treat each other with respect and humanity. Let’s act like the nicest people on earth. Bullying and hatred are not parts of greatness.

Don’t like someone’s choices? Think their life is a sin? Fine. But don’t curse them, threaten them, harm them or kill them. That’s not acceptable. And I’m not looking at one side or another or another here. I see people on ALL sides of the political spectrum acting unacceptably.

The true core values of our country, democracy, equality, and freedom, have eroded at a pace that frightens me. America is the only thing that’s too big to fail. And we are. America is an idea. And ideal, really. And because we are no longer living up to our ideals, because democracy was trampled on for decades, because corporations have the same rights as citizens, we’ve been a functional oligarchy for a long time. Equality in this country is a joke. Some lives are just worth less. Many see this on color lines, but I believe it’s more on wealth lines. The poor of this country have been abused, manipulated, lied to, and used as tools of the ruling powers since the beginning.

Race is also a problem. A middle class person of color does face stereotypes and prejudice. I am not unaware of the problem, and I’m not stupid. My own son identifies as “non-White” and has faced prejudice both from law enforcement and regular folks. But a poor white person has more problems and inherent difficulties than that middle class person of color. I live in a predominantly white place and the problems of poverty I see are only slightly different than the ones I saw in NYC. Drugs, poor education, lack of family structure (I’m not saying a traditional family is necessary, but when mom and dad are meth dealers, life is nowhere near normal), poor nutrition, poor medical care, and the list goes on.

This economic disparity, this racism, this throwback to “traditional Christian values” of intolerance and hatred for those who choose to live outside one’s ideas of Christianity, these are also seeds that led to Trump’s shocking victory.

Folks like to argue that race is the only reason he’s president, but that’s balderdash. Back in ’92, Bill Clinton’s famous campaign reminder was “it’s the economy, stupid” hasn’t changed these 24 years later. We allowed the oligarchy to grow, and now the White House has become the Palace of Versailles, especially the gilded New York White House in Trump Tower. Cronies and supporters are put into positions of power, regardless of ability, and dissent is harshly treated.

I’m not buying into Trump’s rhetoric of “make America great again.” It has needed work my entire life, but it’s always been a great country. Things are possible here. I am the daughter of a construction worker who earned a PhD. I have taught young people who have literally gone on to change the world, young people who grew up in poverty, or were immigrants, or were people of color, or all of the above. They are America. I love my country, and I love its people. We are what’s made America great, but America has failed too many because money rules.

Greed is not one of America’s values. We’re too great to fail, and this is something that needs to be addressed. I am not calling for communism. That was tried and failed in the USSR and China, among other places. I’m calling for competence in government, experts in charge of departments, not political cronies, corporations losing the rights of citizens, and support for measures that give a leg up. I’m calling for democracy to come back, unhindered by lobbyists, restrictive voting laws and outside manipulation, for freedom to come back through solid educations so that people can make good choices and for humans to live as they wish as long as they remember that their rights extend no further than the tip of their noses. That’s what I learned in 7th grade social studies. My rights are for me, and I can not force others to do what I think is right unless it’s something protected by the Constitution. And finally equality. No human being is born better than another. There is one race, the human race. Because of my personal beliefs, I believe we are all brothers and sisters, and I should treat you as I would a sibling. You may infuriate me, you may test me, but at the end of the day, I do love you. But you do not have to share my beliefs. Believe me, most people don’t as I don’t identify as any specific religion. But as members of the same race, we have to work together.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is my manifesto, I guess. We’re too big to fail. We’re an experiment in democracy that needs to backtrack a bit and see where we went wrong. I’m pretty sure I know where that was. Who will join me?

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June 12, 2016

Broken Country, Broken Heart

When did it become ok to kill people we disagree with? Whose choices we disapprove of?

Oh, never?

People aren’t getting the message.

We’ve been beating and killing folks in the LGBT community for eons, and even here in America, where people are free to choose, where freedom is an enduring ideal, we don’t allow people to be free to be who they were born to be.

Most religions are hetero-normative. Fine. If your religion tells you that being gay is a sin, you deal with it. I hope you weren’t born gay, though.

Because people are. They just are. It’s not a learned trait. No one can “turn” someone gay just as no one can “turn” someone hetero (I dislike the term straight because it implies something else is crooked or off).

Someone can learn to unpeel the socialization that makes us behave in a certain way, that makes us hide who we really are. Then when someone comes out, some may think “they were ‘turned'”.

Today our country suffered the worst mass shooting in our history. The first reports didn’t even mention that it was at a gay bar.

But 50 people were killed because of who they were and because someone thought gay people are evil. A kiss disturbed him is the going rumor.

Some are saying “oh, he’s Muslim, that’s why”. No, that’s not why. He was a selfish, mentally unstable person with a gross sense of entitlement.I know many Muslims. None of them are killers. They might think gayness is a sin, but they don’t kill people for it. Nor do they condone Islamic countries that do. They consider it barbaric.

My heart is broken for all those lives lost, for the fears that my LGBT brothers and sisters are facing. All people are my brothers and sisters, and I am called to love them. I don’t  hate the shooter. I pity him his twisted mind that drove him to kill and be killed. I hate what he did.

In the coming days, let’s see what we can do to help the survivors heal, the mourning be comforted. It’s time to reach out in love, not anger or hatred.

 

 

August 8, 2014

The End is Near

I am writing this with something of a heavy heart: this is one of my last The Broad is Back columns. Faithful readers won’t be shocked to learn that the Broad is going to be abroad again. After seven years back in the US, I’m leaving again for a job.

My heart is heavy because I don’t really want to leave. Once again, I’m being pushed to leave my family, my friends, the familiar, but I’ve done it before, and I can do it again. I don’t have much of a choice, because since I’ve been back in the US, I have not been able to find full time work. I’ve been working two, three, sometimes four jobs at a time trying to make ends meet. There have been a few “flush” times, but for the most part every year I’m back in the US I fall deeper and deeper into debt.

Luckily, much of that debt is to the National Bank of Mom, so the terms are easy and it doesn’t impact my credit rating. The only other debt I have is my student loans, another debacle facing Americans. Every time I have to get a low income payment adjustment or that double edged sword, the deferment, the interest added to my debt goes up and up and up. In fact, my debt is now twice what it was when I graduated, purely on fees and interest. I paid for years, but then hit a stretch, going on 10 years now, of financial difficulties. I could pay off the principle, but the interest and fees are killing me.

Full disclosure: I have to admit that I did get two job offers, both in the NYC area, where I am from and where I’d theoretically like to stay. Both offered salaries that would have meant my rent would have been over 50% of my gross income. A doctorate and experience were required for both, but neither was going to pay a living wage. I had to turn them both down for economic reasons.

The dean at one school, a publicly funded one, mind, actually admitted in the interview that their salaries were geared for people who were in a dual-income situation—someone’s spouse or partner. I had a teenager and a husband working on getting a visa with no promise of a work permit for at least nine months. That’s just bad policy. I should be paid what I’m worth and what my job is worth. I have a doctorate; fewer than 3% of Americans have that degree. Tells you what Americans value, doesn’t it? We say we value education, but we don’t. I didn’t go into teaching to be rich, but don’t insult me. If I can’t afford to house, feed and care for my family in a reasonable commuting distance, I can’t possibly take the position. This past year, I commuted 20 hours a week, so my idea of reasonable is rather generous.

Again to be frank, if I were offered a position at that salary now, I’d take it and moonlight. But why should I have to? My doctor keeps telling me that I am destroying my health working 60-80 hours a week. And I am, so this must change. But if I worked less, I’d be homeless.

So I applied to a position in Dubai, and three days later was given an interview. A few interviews later, I was offered the position with a salary and package that blows away anything I’ve been offered in the US. I won’t be anything like “rich,” because I’m still a humanities professor, but I’ll be able to pay bills and support my son.

To be brutally frank, I feel like I’m being exiled from my country. I’ve applied for US teaching positions all over America, so it’s not like I didn’t try. I’ve sent out over 300 applications in the past seven years, and actually had a number of interviews. I’ve been a sub a few times and a visiting professor, but nothing permanent. I’m an award winning professor with 25 years of experience and a PhD from a very highly regarded school. I’ve done scholarly work, as much as I can, while teaching seven to eight courses a term, usually 11 months a year. Believe me, every term, I turn down adjuncting work because I’m that good at what I do. That’s not hubris. It’s the truth.

Am I angry that I can’t get a full time position in this country? Of course I am. On some levels, I’d even say resentful of a system that is destroying higher education and taking advantage of people who have a vocation for teaching. I am not a nun! I’m not a missionary! This is a profession, but I’m certainly not being treated like a professional. I’m not alone in this. It’s a national disaster that I’ve written about many, many times.

But there’s no use crying for water from the moon.

I’m off to start another adventure. I’ve never lived in the Middle East before, and now that I’m reconciled to leaving behind my family and friends, I’m looking forward to new exploits. Nothing beats living somewhere for learning about the culture. And Dubai is a very international place, I hear, so I’m sure it will be exciting and vibrant.

The Broad is Back is a reference to my original blog, A Broad Abroad. I will be starting A Broad Abroad Again in order to record my adventures overseas, and I look forward to seeing you there. I will post the link when it’s up and running!

I came back to a very different America, and sadly, more and more I feel like a stranger in a strange land. Sometimes it’s easier to feel like that when I truly am the stranger.

Thanks for your time and your faithful reading!

December 5, 2013

Eating Crow and it’s NOT Delicious

Earlier today, I posted a blog, written in part with my cousin,  with incorrect information.  It is now taken down, but I’m still angry, at me, and at the reality.

I apologizing for disseminating misinformation. I should have fact checked more carefully.

Noting the post, a friend commented on my facebook,

actually you, or your cousin, should get your facts straight… MSNBC never suspended Bashir.. they did however suspend and then fire Alec Baldwin for a gay slur. Bashir did NOT say Palin was full of sh*t.. instead he suggested that she should have someone urinate and defecate IN HER MOUTH! this is why he was ultimately (i’m assuming forced) to resign. the fact that you twist the story, and that not one liberal female or female group defended palin from this disgusting attack speaks volumes I do believe.

I totally agree with him.

So, Martin Bashir is just as bad as Rush Limbaugh, and the fact that I didn’t even hear about the Sarah Palin comments, and no one jumped to her defense is despicable, as well.

I’ve read the transcript of his comments, and they are vile.

The fact that it took 19 days for his resignation is a travesty.

I may not agree with Palin, but that doesn’t mean she’s not a human. No one should be tortured. No one. Can we no longer respect people with whom we disagree? And if we don’t respect people’s intelligence, must we belittle and berate them?

Bashir’s comments were totally disproportionate to anything Palin said to spark his “anger” (much of which I suspect was manufactured for the same reason Limbaugh manufactures his “rage”–ratings and shock value).

Actually, this entire incident (the Palin-Bashir one, not my posting) underscores the terrible state of American “journalism”. I no longer watch television “news” as it’s neither true nor real news. It’s infotainment at best, pure fiction at worst.  I ferret out news sources on both sides of the political spectrum because both sides have an agenda. The truth is in there somewhere, but digging it out takes time.

There was an excellent article in The New Yorker a few years ago, “America is a Joke” which I highly recommend for its discussion of the creation of media narrative and who controls “news” in this country.

But frankly, and I think most readers realize this about me, I’m disgusted with both the Right and the Left.  Pubic discourse in this country has denigrated to the point where both sides hurl insults at the other side and people shrug it off.

I responded to the comments about Pope Francis because they were just so ignorant of the basic precepts of Christianity.

But people have become so entrenched in supporting their “side” that partisan politics have trumped reason. I’m constantly reminded of Emerson’s “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

I’ve been thinking about Emerson a lot lately. As he said in “Self-Reliance,” where that quote is from, if our culture is not true, if it promulgates lies, we should not follow it. He called for a social revolution.  So do I.

November 12, 2013

Learning a Cornerstone

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

So begins one of the shortest yet most powerful presidential addresses in American history. And this year, it will be 150 years old. And younger generations don’t know a word of it.

The bulk of today’s post is by my favorite guest blogger, my cousin Dolores, a very aware and involved woman.  You can tell we’re related sometimes! Today she sent me this email, so I’m sharing here because it’s important.

Ken Burns, famous producer of some outstanding documentaries, was a guest on Morning Joe this morning talking about a new project he has put together celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.  He set up a website that you can access –www.learntheaddress.org  – & he has an incredible array of people each speaking a sentence or two of the speech….every living President does it, in addition to a varied group of well known celebrities.

He talked about a boys school in Putney, Vermont – all of their students are dyslexic & he said each & every student has memorized the speech.  He also said one of the saddest statistic is that 83% of college graduates do not know one word of the speech!!!  Unbelievable.
November 19th is the anniversary of that speech….might be a wonderful idea if every parent and grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc. accessed that speech for their loved ones…..explained it, give its context, & ask their children to learn it!!!

September 2, 2013

A Call for Labor

Because today is Labor Day, I want to make a plea for those who would labor in this country but who can’t. I want to make a plea to bring manufacturing back to America.

We keep saying the jobs of the future are in technology. Many of them are. And factories don’t need as many people as they used to before robotics. But because Americans want to buy cheap, cheap, cheap, we’ve taken bread out of our neighbors’ mouths.  And hurt the country in the long run.

Why should a company pay a living American wage to a craftsman or a worker when work can be done in a developing country by someone with no union, no laws protecting workers? I may be thought naive because I’m going to answer, “it’s the right thing to do.”

Our country prospered when our working class prospered. When a “working man” or in many cases a working woman, could support a family with an honest wage. I hear many people blaming the unions. Hogwash. Unions got you a weekend and safe working conditions. Unions make sure you’re compensated if you’re injured at work.  Is there corruption in unions? Yes. Is there anywhere humans are that does not have corruption? No. Unions, churches, governments, corporations. It’s humans who are corrupt, not unions.

Since I’ve been back in America, I’ve gone through countless small appliances, clocks. chairs, the list can go on and on. Things break. They just stop working. I’m not saying one country or another is doing shoddy work, and I often think, in my paranoid moments, that companies do it on purpose to up their bottom line. But I know I would rather pay more for something that will last than keep throwing things in the trash. Living in a disposable world is wrong on so many levels.

But I’ve started to look at labels very carefully. I’m buying more things built in Germany, Switzerland and England because I want better quality. Yes, I’m paying more, but in the long run, I am sure I will save money.  I would rather buy things made in America in order to support my fellow Americans. But I can not find them!

I’ve said it before, more than once. If a clever person opened a factory here and made kitchen appliances, he or she would make a mint. Yes, I would pay twice as much for an American made toaster. I did it already for an English made one.

Not everybody wants to go to college.  Not everybody wants to work in an office. I’ve never worked in a factory, but I’ve worked in a factory lunch counter. It was not pleasant. It was hard work. But it was 9-5 with a regular and good paycheck.  The more skilled workers got paid more, which makes sense, but they had jobs. Now the jobs are gone.

Don’t tell me that working for a subpar wage with no health care or retirement benefits at a big box store is less stressful or easier on people.

My late father-in-law was a machinist in a mill. He and my mother-in-law raised nine kids on his paycheck. It was tight. Very tight. He supplemented his income with providing much of his own food with gardening, hunting and fishing, but his children were fed, educated and went on to good lives. But there’s no mill anymore for any of them to work in. The area they live in has been hit hard economically, and not just in this century. Things were getting bleak there in the 80s and they’ve never truly bounced back.

There are only so many tech jobs that can open up.

We’re being sold the story that we live in a service economy. That the jobs have moved overseas and there’s no getting them back. Why not? Prices will go up if people get paid a living wage. Americans have to say well, I will pay $6 for quality that will last instead of $1 at the dollar store. I’m no stranger to dollar stores. But how many times have I thrown out things in a matter of months and then had to replace it?  That’s false economy.

I feel like I’m on a soapbox right now. There are so many issues that are part of this problem. But I know there are people who want jobs and we keep telling them: “There are none. Learn a new skill.”  We have the factories, shuttered, many being turned into luxury housing for those in the professions. Housing is good. But so are jobs. Why repurpose a factory into housing when we could reopen it and start bringing in jobs?

I’m not an economist, so what the hell do I know? I read, though. I know history, though.  We see what happened to Detroit. We’re at a crossroads. Time to start a revolution in thinking about this country. Americans have to wrest America back from corporations and governments, local, state and federal, that pander to their needs.

August 28, 2013

One Summer that’s Not Fading Fast Enough

“The sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

On today’s 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech, it is more than appropriate to quote from it.  This is a speech that looms large in my life. I was only two when it was given–and at the time, I had a brand new baby brother in the house, Just two weeks old. The actual speech didn’t register.

But as I’ve mentioned in the past, I was blessed to have a mother and grandmother who believed in equality, who raised me to know that we’re all brothers and sisters, end of story.  So Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, these were childhood heroes whose influence stays with me today.

I’ve taught this speech in many settings for decades. Over 22 years ago, in a memorable public speaking class of adult women (there were just no men in that course), all at least a decade older than me, we watched the video of the speech. All of us sat there, tears streaming down our faces, not just because of the beauty of the words and the eloquence of the speaker, but because we realized the dream hadn’t been achieved yet.

In the past 50 years, there have been some cool days–some thought that summer was ending–but it never seems to stick. People say to me, but the president is Black! Two secretaries of State have been Black. Look at Oprah!

Yes, I know this is not the America of my childhood. Things are better. Marginally. But I teach in schools that are predominantly non-white. I see the difference between the lives of Black folk and White folk every day. More Black young men got stopped and frisked in NYC last year than there are young Black men in NYC. My students get to college primed for lives of mediocrity, and it breaks my heart.  Ask them. I go on rants weekly, because I expect magnificence, not mediocrity.

I live in a country that is not fulfilling its great promise, and this infuriates me. Yesterday, in my other blog, I also quoted Dr. King: “There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.”  I was writing about my students, but it stands for my country, as well. I love this country, truly and deeply, but I am sadly disappointed in the place it has become. Or perhaps I am disappointed in the place it has not become.

The rich are getting richer and the poor are in worse condition than they have been in decades, and a disproportionate percentage of non-White folks are on the poor end of the spectrum.  The middle class, the hope of America, is disappearing at an alarming rate. I like to think that it’s not a racial problem, but a class problem, but that’s me ignoring facts I don’t like.

How can I look my students in the eye and say we were ever on an even playing ground? Me? The green-eyed blonde? That they have the same opportunities as my child, my nieces and nephews? That it’s no harder for them? That people aren’t pre-judging them?

Actually, I do know the truth quite well, as my son has a Arabic name. Try being a 20-something young man with an Arab name on your passport in this country.

There are glimmers of hope. Proportionately speaking, young people today don’t “see” race. They understand that it’s a meaningless societal construct. After all, these are the kids raised by my generation, and many of us bought the message of the Civil Rights Movement.

There are other indicators of progress, but for every indicator, there’s something to remind us that it’s dangerous in this country for people of certain complexions.  A Black young man in a hoodie is perceived as a thug. A White young man in a hoodie is perceived as a skater boy. A Black young man in a nice car is perceived as a drug dealer. A White young man in a nice car is perceived as a hard worker or the scion of rich parents.

On the other hand, a young Black woman dressed in sexy club clothes is seen as tart. So is a young White woman. Ah, equality. I oversimplify there. Black professional women aren’t always seen in the same light as their White peers.

So the conditions of the summer of ’63 stretch out. Many of the things I’ve read in the anniversary of the March on Washington have asked: “What would Dr. King think?” No one can answer that. The one person who had the deepest insight was Coretta Scott King, a brave civil rights activist who probably knew her husband’s true attitudes better than any of the rest of us. But married people can tell you, even wives don’t always know how husbands will react. And anyway, she’s gone, too.

I think he’d see some progress, but not enough. Not enough. That promissory note  has yet to be redeemed.

August 21, 2013

Free Might Not be Better

I saw a tweet today, and it prompted me to write. The tweet said, “It’s this simple #education should be #free #strikedebt” But as an educator, and as someone who has lived in places where education is free, I know it’s really not that simple.

First, education is not free. You may want to screw capitalism, young tweeter, and yes, your professors are usually rather idealistic, but I have to eat, too. I need to pay my rent, get healthcare, and buy clothes. Researching isn’t cheap. I must get paid. And I’ve invested years and hundreds of thousands of dollars into my education. I have loans, too.  So first you must pay us. And then there’s the equipment, the buildings, all the things that make up a university. It all must be bought and maintained. Running a university is an expensive endeavor.

So free education is actually paid for through taxes. That’s the whole idea of state schools.  In fact, I work for a public college.  And here’s part two of the “not simple” part.

Once upon a time, CUNY was free. If admitted, one earned a top class education for the price of books and supplies. An excellent deal.

The kicker was not everyone got in. And not everyone got into his or her first choice.  My mom was a top NYC high school student, graduated Long Island City High School, class of ’50. She had her heart set on going to Hunter College. But Hunter only accepted X number of women (it used to be a women’s college) from each of NYC’s high schools based on the woman’s class standing. Mom was X-1. She missed getting in by a less than a full point on her average. She went to her next choice, Queens College, but she still talks about missing Hunter with regret.

This still happens in countries with free education. Not everyone gets in. There aren’t free options for everyone. Students get in based on academic merit. In some countries, especially Asian, there’s a national exam and students get placed into a university and a major based on numerical test results.  In other places, students’ high school transcripts are the main bulk of the determination of if and where they get in.

Students who don’t get into a free education can still go to school, but they choose private options and pay.

CUNY did have open admissions for free for almost a decade, but the financial realities ended that in 1976. Open admissions also meant remedial classes were instituted. These are intensive classes with more hours than regular classes, and they are very expensive. I teach remedial or developmental or pre-credit (pick your label–they mean the same), and I believe in the rightness of having them. If high schools aren’t doing their job, my colleagues and I will do it. I’ve had students in my remedial classes go on to graduate from the community college I teach in and transfer to NYU, Columbia, Yale and all of the CUNY senior colleges, which are some of the best schools in the world.  Proud doesn’t even begin to cover it.

But. And there’s always a but. But the drop out/failure rate in those remedial classes hovers around 50-60%. I start each term with 28 and end with 12-15, or in a good term, 16. And not all of the 16  pass the class. They just finish it, often passing the second time they take it, if they haven’t lost the desire.

That’s a lot of money. Yes, these students are paying tuition, but one subsidized by the state and city. I have also taught at a private school, and earning an associates there costs about $20,000. Currently an associates at a CUNY school is $8400. And most of the students have financial aid, so they are paying substantially less than that. That’s a heavy subsidy, and that’s the tax burden.  Someone is paying that money, just not the students or their parents.

So, free education is great, but it closes the path of education for many people. That’s a negative.

But I also believe that the requirement for a college education in this country is out of control. Some companies now will not hire someone as a word processor, mail clerk or office assistant without a college degree. This is madness.  A college degree now holds the weight of a high school diploma when I graduated. Something is wrong with this picture.

In the countries I have lived in with free or incredibly inexpensive public education, college is not required for career and life success. In America we have devalued college educations by making them required for everything.  But that’s a blog for another day.

So, it’s not so simple. Free education is a wonderful and worthy idea, but nothing is free. What are we willing to trade for it? Higher taxes? Less access to higher education?

I do realize the counter argument: we could afford to provide education to all students if we stopped the war and ended the military build up. Totally agree, but I live in the real world. Don’t always like it, but so it goes. I do think the war will end. Eventually. But obviously the war is still rewarding, somehow, somewhere. I don’t see it, but then I don’t play in that schoolyard, so to speak.

I admire the young debt strikers, honestly I do. The student debt crisis in this country is the next financial disaster. It’s bigger than the housing debacle, and it’s not going away.

But as a thinker, I do not like reductionist arguments. Granted, Twitter isn’t the place for nuanced argument, but things saying things are simple when they are not is never a good start to a conversation.

July 10, 2013

Past Wisdom

Looking through some inspirational quotes today, I found this:

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.” Franklin D Roosevelt

When I read it I thought, “Oh dear. How will this decade, this century so far, be judged?”  We’ve done a very good job adding to the abundance of a few, but we’ve actually made it harder for those who have little.

That’s just not right. Now of course, I am the result of two generations of Roosevelt Democrats. Perversely, I actually like his cousin Teddy better and will occasionally call myself a Roosevelt Republican (which, by the standards of today’s GOP, means not a Republican at all), but I do think FDR’s administration tried to do something to help people.

My mom’s cousins and my great uncle were in the Civilian Conservation Corps, giving them work during the Depression. Social Security was introduced making retirement easier for many of my older relatives who would have ended up living in poverty once they could no longer work.

But now I live in an America where corporations have the rights of  people, very rich people, even though America was never supposed to be an oligarchy. I have a government that bails out banks and huge corporations because they are “too big to fail,” while saying those corporations should be allowed free reign to drive the economy. Make up your mind, corporations. Do you want federal help or freedom? If the free market says you fail, why then you should fail. Companies have failed since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Why not now?

Like many Americans I have reached a tipping point. I’m well beyond the “last straw” phase. The camel’s back was broken years ago, so now each fresh illustration of a world gone mad just pushes me further into despair.

Today’s Washington Post headline: “Wal-Mart says it will pull out of D.C. plans should city mandate ‘living wage'” summed it up for me. Wal-Mart has done more to ruin this country than I care to think about. People who work there full time still need government assistance. It destroys local businesses and has forced many American manufacturers to either move to China in a bid to keep costs low or plain put them out of business.

The 2oo5 documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price pointed out some of the problems caused by this behemoth but it’s not the only critic. Google “Wal-Mart dangers” and you will find articles from the New Yorker, BusinessWeek and MSN Money, a report from 60 Minutes from 1996 as well as reports from a number of watchdog groups. But the mainstream media seems to be aware of the threat Wal-Mart poses. But Americans still flock there to save a few dollars, dollars that then flow back out of their pockets to support Wal-Mart through taxes and lost opportunity.

Six years ago I started this blog to chronicle my return to America after 12 years abroad. I have gone from happy to be back to wanting to leave more than anything. This kills me because I truly love my country. But I had a better life in the three other countries I’ve lived in. Since I’ve been back it’s been six years of working part time or temporary jobs because in spite of my PhD, 23 years of teaching experience (during which I’ve won teaching awards), there are few jobs to be had. Twice I’ve had to turn down college teaching positions because I couldn’t afford to live on the salaries offered.

One college president even told me, “This is really a position for someone who has someone else in the household bringing in a second income.” Yes, truly, that was said to me.  And this was not at a small, private college. This was at a state school.

I’m looking for positions in other fields, but it’s not easy. I send out over 75 job applications a year–sometimes closer to 150. (The real lesson here is not to earn a PhD in the humanities. Seriously.)

Oh, America, what’s to become of you? Have we taken nothing from the past? The path we are on is not a viable one.  What is my son inheriting?

 

July 4, 2013

A Thought about a Declaration

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” From the Declaration of Independence of the thirteen united States of America

I really can’t say it any better than this section of a document written 237 years ago before this was the United States. We were just united. This is what we’re celebrating in America today.

And this is a very long segment from that Declaration, one of the main documents forming American culture. But when I read it today, it makes me think. And it makes me think hard.

I do think that the American form of government is a fine one. But I have to wonder if the Government itself is protecting our citizens and allowing us life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Daily I see a “long train of abuses” done in the name of the American people that are actually causing nearly irreparable harm. Change is scary. Revolution is a hard word. The men who wrote this document knew that they were taking a destiny-changing step. They were either about to change the world or die trying, quite literally. Had the revolution failed many, if not all, would be hanged as traitors.

I would truly hate to see armed conflict in this country. But I also hate to see my country run by corporations and oligarchs. And from what I see, this is what it’s become. Maybe I’m alarmist. Maybe I’m crazy. Or maybe I’m just paying attention.

I believe in the ideals of this nation. I love this nation. But when I see what’s happening to my nation, my heart breaks.

We need change, change we really can believe in. A number of times in my adult life, I’ve thought there was going to be real change. But so far all I can think is: “The king is dead. Long live the king.” A few things change, but nothing of substance.

I know this isn’t very cheery and holiday-ish. I should be barbecuing and picnicking with family. And later today I will be. But I couldn’t let this solemn and important day pass without voicing some very real concerns. If we want another 237 years–another 50 years–something has to change.

*****

This is another blog inspired in part from Patchouli Haze, my daily inspirational blog. I realized that it had turned dire, so I moved it here and expanded.

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