Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Essence of Education and the Lack of Magical Realism

Eduction is once again front and center of the recent bubble issues facing our economy. And yes, this issue is directly related to autism. Issues accessing higher education for the population in general will lead to: less teachers, less support, less therapists, less psychologists, less psychiatrists, less neurologists...well you get the picture. Its not as if there is already a glut of people who know how to work well with and educate those on the autism spectrum. We need to increase the numbers of educators and therapists in this nation, not curtail them.

The economic forecasters are painting a big doom and gloom picture about the level of student loan debt held by recent underemployed or unemployed college graduates in this country. They discuss the disastrous effects to the economy if these college grads just up  and decide not to pay their loans back. They talk about the disastrous effect and the pull on the economy because these former students use their income to pay off their student debt as opposed to buying homes, cars or other material goods. Honestly it seems that today's students simply cannot win in the eyes of some pundits and know-it-alls. Damned if they do and damned if they don't is truly not a beneficial way of looking at today's young people.  Oh and just for the record, this is not the first time in history we as a nation have had this discussion, albeit the amounts discussed were not so high.

As a recent law school  graduate (back in the 1980s), a dearth of jobs both in the law market and in the economy in general, led to a round of naysayers and economic gloommasters who predicted the end of higher education. There was also a different  generation who defaulted on their student loan debt as well. Already there had been talk how post secondary education cost too much. That a liberal arts degree was worthless. People should think twice about going to graduate school and should instead become plumbers or electricians. (As if  these are career choices for those without any intellectual ability...I find it rather laughable that the elites in this world are such snobs that they fail to see that a good electrician or plumber is most probably a lot smarter than those with a PhD.)

The arguments however have completely changed. The new approach to higher education is that you are not getting your money's worth for what it costs. Not simply that there is a poor job market. Now granted $50,000 a year for an elite private college education is ridiculous. I don't know anyone who can avoid huge debt without some scholarship help, even if there is scholarship help. Yes there is the state school system. Guess what, they give out scholarships too. Here's the secret...most state schools (including community colleges) are much better than these elite private colleges. It's again the snob appeal as to what they consider to be the best schools in the nation.

If you look at some of the most successful businesspeople in the nation, you will find that they attended state schools. Even began their educational life in community colleges. However, they in turn send their children to elite private schools. But this has nothing to do with education quality but everything to do with pushing into a social level where they were never welcome in the first place. Just like these self-made millionaires need to live in once exclusive-formerly-restricted  communities and belong to once just as rigidly restricted country clubs, the formerly middle class now snob elite, lost something of themselves along the way to their financial success and deride non-elite academies and individuals.

The same elites deride our college-age young people for drinking too much, partying too much, fraternities, sororities, sports enthusiasm and lack of academic prowess. As if they never had a drunken night out in college, went to football games or frat parties, nor blew an exam because of a hangover.  I also find it unusually hypocritical that those who already have their higher education, the pundits and doomsayers, seek to limit someone else's access to that same education.

In all honesty what really does society gain from a journalism degree as opposed to a history degree or any liberal arts degree that these know-it-alls have earned? Journalism, as learned decades ago, is for all intense and purposes dead thanks to the Internet. Economics, finance and business degrees are not what they were twenty years ago either due to technology and the ever increasingly smaller international markets. These ancienne degrees are useless in today's economic models. Perhaps those who have useless degrees from twenty years ago need to rethink their hubris and check their egos at the door. For it is they and not the young who waste our precious resources. They need to stop promoting the end to youth education/betterment/enlightenment. They seem frightened of the competition instead of looking forward to answering society's real future needs.

Yes, without a doubt, there are issues with education today. However, if our young people cannot write a research paper, then it is the education system's fault. Not the student. If our young people are not held to a proper academic standard, it is not their fault. If there is an over emphasis on extracurricular activities it is not the young people's fault. As with raising a child, if you do not set limits, boundaries and create expectations a child will neither learn, develop nor progress. If our children cannot access the good old-fashioned three-Rs appropriately, it is we who are to blame and no one else.

I wholeheartedly believe that the future lies in education. And not just in a high school education. College and beyond is essential in our technologically advanced society. For the USA to compete on any level with the up and coming nations of the world, we must revamp our education system so that the basics are once again taught. Children and not placating the unions need to be our emphasis. (I speak as one whose father was a teacher's union member and whose grandfather fought for the union movement in the 1920s/30s.)

Our children need to know how to read, write, analyze and think. Our children need to be able to think outside the box, be creative and invent the future. Without this ability our society will stagnate and lose its forward momentum.The issue we are confronting at the moment however, is how to accomplish this goal.

There is a genre in literature called magical realism. This is where the author inputs into a rather mundane day-to-day world, elements of magic. Spicing up the real world if you will. For us as a society to develop and grow we need to inject into our society out own version of magical realism. We need to think outside the box and find a way to promote education as the ultimate in accomplishments, not merely as a means to a paycheck.

Growing up, the idea of education was simply to garner education for education's sake alone. Education was the way to better yourself, your soul and your world outlook. Education was not only the door to a better paycheck but the door to a better world; one of imagination, the ability to question and to learn how to view the magic that the world had to offer. It was the door that opened up into the world where we were taught how to think....

I know Steve Jobs, did not graduate form college and neither did Bill Gates nor Zuckerberg. But they are anomalies in history. Just as was Mozart. And unless you are on that level of genius, you do need to educate yourself and you owe it to your children to educate them. Very few of us can see the magic that the future holds without understanding our present.

So yes, this is why the boys go to college. So that they can see and understand the world around them. To learn to think, read, write and analyze. They learn to ask questions and seek out the answers. They learn to stand up for their principles, even if they stand alone. They go to be educated because it furthers who they are as human beings. They go to be educated to see what magic lay within their own minds and within their grasp.

The question isn't whether everyone should go to college. The question is how to enable everyone to get to college and beyond. Or atleast attain the educational height associated with their academic ability. The question is how do we ensure that everyone can further who they are and allow them to see their own potential.

Society has a way of seeking the easy answers. Sometimes a cost-benefit capitalist approach is not always the best. Everything doesn't always come down to pennies. Sometimes it comes down to what is best for humanity. It comes down to organizing the world to better all of us, not just the professional politician, the elites or their enablers .

*****

Note: Just as an aside. I am still paying off my student loans from college and law school. I had to put them into deferment when CM1 was diagnosed with autism. We couldn't afford the medical bills and pay the student loan debt. One thing that we did not realize was that the interest accumulates and adds to the amount owed. You do not get a pass on the interest. My loans were in deferment for the full length, almost ten years. So on top of my original amount I also had to pay back the accumulated interest and there is interest that accumulates on top of that which I now owe. But at the time we truly had no choice.
     Also back in my college days the interest rate was 9% on student loans. The loan company (Sallie Mae in my case) has the right to refuse to allow you to lower your interest rate even if you find a loan company that would renegotiate your rate. The original intent of the law was that loan companies could not raise the loan rate on the borrower (student). This is what is called the right of first refusal if someone tried to change the rate. It was supposed to be a stop gap measure to help the student. Instead the student loan companies use this loophole to prevent people from lowering their interest rate even in an era of 2 and 3% points.
     No, I am not the only one that this has happened to. We contacted our representative in Congress and they said there is nothing they can do short of rewriting the law. Something tells me that Sallie Mae has more pull than I do and is not going to allow that to happen.
     Meanwhile, I am paying back my loans, with all the interest incurred. As my parents told me, no one can take your education from you. Who cares how long it takes to pay it back?
     Sometimes there are issues that arise and things you need to deal with in your life that are unforeseen, no matter how many college degrees you earn. But in truth my parents were right. My education enabled me to help my sons. It taught me to think outside the box, analyze the situation and figure out what was the best, most effective approach to helping my children. My education helped me to stay on top of what they were entitled to by law, analyze the most current trends in therapy and education and push them along the way to become the best that they can be.
     If it means that my student loans won't get paid off until  after the boys are granted their graduate degrees then so be it. There are worse things in this world then debt. Any special need parent, or any parent for that matter, can write a list of those fears. There is nothing magical about that ability. It's simply called parenthood.

*****

Elise