March 19, 2010

My generation, part 3

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 12:07 pm by chavisory

A few weeks ago, a note went out on the listserv of the Demosthenian Literary Society, the debate society of which I was a member in college at UGA, alerting members and alumni of extreme budget cuts that the state of Georgia would be asking of educational institutions, as well as cutbacks in a variety of state and local resources and services.  Potentially on the chopping block are hundreds of faculty and TA jobs, Athens’ NPR affiliate radio station WUGA, 4H programs and cooperative extension branches across the state (cooperative extensions are usually departments within a university’s agricultural program, which provide a wide range of assistance and information to local farmers, or anyone really, on agricultural issues, natural resources management, or livestock care), and the state Botanical Gardens.

It was suggested by a chancellor that the budget gap could be closed by a 77% tuition hike.

Naturally and understandably, these proposals caused fear, concern, and anger among the student population, and a lively listserv discussion ensued about the most effective methods of protest.

One alumna, on the other hand, thought that when so many people across the state are suffering the loss of crucial resources, that college kids who weren’t paying tuition to begin with just looked spoiled and entitled for complaining about the loss of a radio station.  (Most in-state students at UGA have eight semesters of tuition covered by the HOPE scholarship, which was the model for Missouri’s later A+ program.)  Called out for appearing to suggest that college students who do, after all, pay taxes, don’t have a right to protest in their own interests, the alumna replied, “Again, didn’t say you didn’t have the right to complain, only pointed out that you look spoiled and petty for doing so.”

I argued that some of the resources in danger of being lost, like the Botanical Gardens, were not the “fringe benefits” that she characterized them as, but part of the very soul of Athens, GA, critical components of our education, that the cuts would hit students who DO pay tuition as hard as those who don’t, and that a 77% tuition increase would put the price of UGA on par with private schools for out-of-state students like me, which could gravely hurt UGA’s academic future.

This is what she said:

“[W]hether or not you like it, the public perception of college students, particularly those who have a free ride care of the state, is that they are relatively spoiled. You’re in that strange stage of life where legally you’re an adult but still rely so much on others to provide for you. (As one student earlier in this debate stated, “if I need more money I just call my parents.”) While few students past freshman year receive state sponsored educations, I also gather that few students work while in college to pay their own tuition (for beer money–yes, tuition–not so much.)

So yes, complaining that you’re losing a radio station does seem incredibly petty and selfish to a parent who has just heard his/her child’s school is going to increase class size and/or eliminate extra-curricular activities. It does seem silly to a person who has found out his/her local health clinic is reducing hours and services. To those people you do look like entitled kids pouting.”

In other words, it’s not that you don’t have a right to complain, it’s just that you’re spoiled, entitled, silly, petty, and immature for actually doing so.  Shut up and take it like everyone else.
Then the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC, on Tuesday, hosted a discussion of the student protests in the University of California system (several university systems witnessed student marches and walk-outs on the National Day of Action for Public Education), where students are facing a 32% tuition hike.  Not quite a 77% increase, but enough to make college unaffordable or student loan debt unbearable for many low-middle-income students and their families.  A Wall Street Journal op-ed (unfortunately you have to subscribe to access the whole article; another brilliant response here reprinted a little bit more of it, though) had charged that while the student protests co-opted the language of earlier civil rights movements, it was really about nothing more than money, “entitlement mentality and self-absorption.”  Brian’s panelists, thankfully, countered this characterization.
For my part, I’m behind these students all the way.
Just when middle- and high school students are being sold ever more aggressively, by the President no less than their teachers and parents, on the idea that every one of them MUST go to college to be competitive in the global job market, they’re being told to pay more and more for college degrees that are worth less and less.  They’re being sold more educational debt with less assurance of any kind of job security, or that they’ll be able to find any job at all at a salary that will allow them to make loan payments while still maintaining any kind of quality of life.  They work their fannies off in high school in anticipation of a world where they’ll make it by virtue of their hard work–a world that turns out to be a lie.  And when they graduate into an economy stacked against them, they’re blamed for being sheltered and unprepared.  But isn’t everyone sheltered and unprepared, until forced to face real hardship?  Isn’t a 1-year, 32% tuition increase unconscionable enough for the student body to rightfully be up in arms about it?  This is their entire future we’re talking about mortgaging here.
There was so little protest of social injustice when I was in college–there was a small group that regularly protested the racial imbalance of the UGA student body, and a Take Back the Night group, and I’m sure there were small protests of the start of the Iraq war, but nothing that I even remember as an event.  The angriest I remember the student body as a whole was over the perpetual lack of sufficient parking spaces, if you want to talk about entitlement.  So I’m actually proud and hopeful to see so many students taking a serious, unified stand on real problems.
Also, I think kids my age were raised to be uncomplaining, to be rule-followers, and to solve our own problems without making a fuss.  And I don’t want to completely discount those values, which can certainly be adaptive under certain conditions, but I think it went too far, and a lot of my peer group, the early Millennials, wound up too afraid of what any kind of disciplinary record or clash with authority would do to our “permanent record” and chances for college, scholarships, and jobs, that we were too paralyzed with anxiety to seriously challenge unfairness in an organized or visible way.  I know I was way too terrified to risk getting arrested for anything.  Then, at the start of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, I think we felt a sense of futility–Brian Lehrer asked where were the big student movements in protest of those issues, or world poverty, etc.–we knew that storming the dean’s office was not going to stop the war in Iraq.  It just wasn’t.  On the national level, two presidential elections in a row were quite possibly stolen, so it seemed apparent that government was not going to be responsive anymore to the voices of its citizens.  I’m glad to see the kids in California tipping the balance back to where teenagers feel some kind of confidence in their ability to get things changed.
And at the end of the day, if they can’t advocate in their own self-interest, what can they do?  What will they ever be able to accomplish, if they can’t speak up for themselves?  They’re demonstrating that they can, though, and I think it’s perfect preparation for what this country will be going through in the next few years.
{To Be Continued}

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5 Comments »

  1. chavisory said,

    So apparently WordPress starts dropping paragraph breaks and formatting when a post goes over about 900 words. *sigh* Sorry, readers. Being concise has never exactly been my forte.

  2. Emma said,

    The image of the student who worked their fanny off in high school to earn a college ride unfortunately hasn’t been the modus operandi at USF. (Here in FL we have a bright futures program that also pays full to half tuition based on grades in HS.) Yes, there are many bright and hard-working students who then go on to work even harder in college to earn their degrees. However, there has been much grade inflation in Florida high schools to help many of these students get to college under one of these scholarships, and once here they don’t seem to have an adequate background of schooling or the drive to really succeed at a higher institution. So what’s the answer? It seems to be grade inflation again. I see professors bullied and nagged by undeserving students all the time and giving out higher grades than they want to. Even my boss’s student reviews are going down the toilet because he has refused in the past to give away the grades and now he threatens to give them the good grades to improve his reviews.
    I appreciate your romantic view of the hard-working student who is an easy target for budget-crunchers, and there are many people in colleges for whom this is a real tragedy. Yes, we’re mortgaging their futures and maybe we should be ashamed of ourselves for doing it. But the real tragedy in my mind is the dilution of the educational system. Too many students are graduating from college with an inadequate education.

  3. Catherine said,

    Did you read the New Yorker article about the Berkeley protests a couple of months ago? I think it’s very difficult to compare the culture of protest at UGA (barely existent) to that of Berkeley, and while I think UGA students would do well to protest at the state capital especially, the more you read about the Berkeley protests, in terms of targets, methods and goals, the more ridiculous they seem. I am heart-broken over the prospect of some of the UGA cuts, but a 77% hike seems a far too heavy burden for students to have to bear. Hopefully a compromise will be reached.

  4. chavisory said,

    Emma–I think you’re talking about a separate but not unrelated issue: that too many kids don’t get a real education in high school, aren’t prepared for college work, and have unrealistic expectations of what college will ask of them. I think that’s related to middle and high schools not wanting to be seen as failing too many kids, so the material gets dumbed down and not much asked of them. I mean, I know you graduated early from PH, and people like Jess and I did ridiculous amounts of work for AP classes, etc., but look at how little was actually required to graduate of kids who weren’t in the honors/gifted track. And I think there’s a class-based phenomenon, too, of parents who take it for granted that their kids will go to college. And then the state colleges are left to clean up the mess; I think something like 25-30% of all college students require at least one remedial class. And I’m sorry, but kids who can’t write a complete sentence should never even have gotten TO high school, let alone out of it. And I think it definitely contributes to the unaffordability of higher education, that colleges have to deal with that. So, to start with, I’d like to see both high schools and universities stick to their guns about what a rigorous education really means. They’re not going to do it because education is not really what high school is about, but that’s another story for another time. But colleges shouldn’t even be admitting kids who can barely read or write. When too many kids who graduated from high school, supposedly ready for college, can’t get admitted because they’re barely literate, is when the government might sit up and ask what’s really wrong with our whole school system. For all the talk of education reform, they’re not asking it now. Almost everything they’re actually talking about is a red herring.

    Then, when colleges have their pick of students, because there are SO many supposedly college-ready students, instead of truly prepared and excellent students having their pick of colleges, there’s no downward price pressure. So yes, everything you’re talking about is a contributing factor to school being too expensive.

    Regardless, a 32%, one year tuition hike is so egregiously unfair (let alone the 77% hike that Georgia’s talking about, though I seriously doubt that that will happen), and it’s going to hit the academically prepared as well as the unprepared. It’s going to hit the kids who DID do real work in high school, who are doing real work now in college, and it’s especially going to hurt non-traditional students like young parents who are trying to finish their educations, young adults who are working to support themselves and trying to stay in school, and kids whose parents aren’t able to help them out financially who are going to graduate tens of thousands of dollars in debt. It’s economically crippling to start your adult/working life that way.

    So all in all, I’m with the student protesters. They may be naive, they may be unprepared, both academically and for the hardships of regular life in a recession, but what’s being foisted upon them economically is unfair and unreasonable. They’re being made financially responsible for the failures of both an economic and educational system that they did not create, and they’re right to stand up and talk back.

  5. chavisory said,

    Catherine–I agree, the student protests in Georgia and California are hardly comparable. The Demosthenians on the listserv were talking more about letter-writing/e-mailing campaigns to protest the cuts, not so much marches (the DLS listserv is my main source of UGA news; I don’t know what if anything other Georgia students are up to), so the scale of action of what’s being talked about in Georgia, versus what’s being done in California, is not even in the same ballpark. But my point is that the rhetoric being used to attack them is much the same: that they’re self-centered and entitled and don’t really have any right to be complaining.


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