Opinion » Shredder

This doesn't add up


It might just be my dread about the holidays talking. Or the gallon of spiked eggnog I drank on my way to work. But somehow, at some point, ruddy-faced Saint Nick started to morph into a community college. And more specifically, Cuesta College.

Think about it: They’re making a list. Checking it twice. Gonna find out who’s out of a job.

Wait. That doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, huh?

So maybe the Freaky Friday Santa Claus/community college body switch was all in my head. The important point is that, while the rest of the world is wallowing in bicycles with streamers, day-glo hula hoops, and goodwill, many of Cuesta’s faculty members are wondering how long they’ll continue to receive a paycheck. And students are pondering whether they’ll have to transfer to another college in order to pursue their career path of choice.

Which seems fair, right? We’re in a recession, depression, something, unemployment rates, Rasputin, housing market bubbles, crashes. And we all have to share the burden. Downgrade that latte from a 16 ounce to a 12 ounce, maybe give up the vacation home in Tahoe, squirt out two kids instead of three. Consider trimming the fat from the $707.5 billion allocated to the Department of Defense for 2012. I’m just brainstorming here.

I don’t know how or why it happened, but at some point someone—I don’t know who yet, but I’m on the case—decided education wasn’t terribly important. That we could bear the fiscal burden of waging war on the Middle East, but teaching America’s youth another language, or how to find the countries we’re waging war against on a map, was superfluous.

And the direct result of that shift from prioritizing education above, well, anything, is that instead of focusing on how to improve the scope of education they offer, Cuesta’s top brass is poring over reports and numbers trying to figure out how best to do exactly the opposite. What’s the best way to offer less to students? Which programs will they miss the least? How best can we diminish their education, limit the classes available to them?

Maybe I’m just being melodramatic. But once upon a time most, if not all, high schools offered courses in German, French, geography, dance, and drama. Now, we’re forced to confront a future in which our community college might not offer any of these programs. And I had always been under the impression that college offered more diverse fields of interest than you might find in a high school. Maybe that was just the colleges of yesteryear, when jobs were plentiful and if you wanted to study German, or drama, or go into broadcast communications, your college was there for you.

And it’s not just about being able to carry off a credible guten tag. It’s about America’s youth growing up with the certainty that their country believes in them, is willing to invest in them, wants to prepare them for something more than a minimum wage job at Walmart where they’ll spend their holidays striking for a fair living wage. It’s about arming them for a workforce with fewer jobs than ever; preparing them to take their place in a tumultuous world, parts of which are quite hostile to Americans; giving them the confidence and skill set to take on all of the problems they’ve inherited from us. If they are our future, and if we intend to pay lip service to the importance of that future, why are we short-changing them when they need us most to teach them well and let them lead the way?

Everybody likes to talk about how it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe it would be more honest to say that they’re happy to cuddle and coo all over your baby, but they’re not so interested in financing that baby’s education when he or she grows older. But the real kicker is how we’re all so happy to talk about how America’s youth are lazy, disconnected, uneducated, impolite, our generation was the last generation to get it right, to play outside. Maybe the problem isn’t lack of passion or intelligence on the part of the country’s youth. Maybe they just look around and are smart enough to recognize that there are no jobs for them, that they’d have to be a millionaire to buy a house in California—unless they’re willing to settle in Fresno. Yeah, I said it: Fresno. Maybe they realize there’s no real place for them here, that the only education we’re willing to help them finance is lessons in killing on the other side of the world.

And maybe they’re even smart enough to recognize that’s not good enough for them. That there’s no point in chasing something that doesn’t exist anymore.

Maybe it’s time to rethink our priorities. Because the price of education is steep, but the cost of ignorance is greater still. I wrote that. Don’t Google it or anything to learn otherwise.

And if we’re willing to take the time to make our kids believe in Santa, why can’t we also take the time to make them believe in themselves?

Shredder knows the three R’s—rollerskating, racketeering, and reading other people’s mail—but little else. Send some knowledge to [email protected].


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