Tuesday, May 19, 2015

How the way we do College is Ruining Lives

Education is an important thing. You have been told this over and over by your father, your mother, your grade school teachers, your high school football coach, and anyone that has ever inserted an opinion on your life. However what they are really saying is a college degree is really what matters, and it is true. That little piece of paper that says you spent several years of your life slaving over homework and textbooks is essential to anything you may want to do when you finally decide to join the grown-ups.

I'm not saying that getting a degree is not a worthy endeavor. I am not saying that the time and effort put into the degree isn't incredibly valuable experience. It is always a valuable experience to pursue anything that stretches your mind, and encourages growth. What I am saying is that we have slowly and surely fallen into some practices with the college system that we have that has far reaching and negative consequences.

The first thing that comes to my mind is one of the most personal to me, since I have found myself in a situation where it is really relevant. I am looking for a job. I have spent  the last several years working hard to raise my children, a task which I put my education on hold for. I have learned many things in the time I have been away from school, things which are just as valuable and relevant as what I can learn in a college classroom. I work to expand my mind by reading good books, and constantly learning new things. I work hard to manage a household and balance a budget. I could be an amazing asset to any company that hires me, but half of them won't even look because I have no degree. They have made college degrees necessary for everything except the most menial of tasks. My story may not garner much sympathy after all I am just an unemployed twenty something who dropped out of college, but let me tell you another story.

There once was a man who worked for 17 years in the computer industry. He was good at what he did, and very knowledgeable. When the economy got hit hard in 2001 after the destruction of the world  trade center he got laid off. For two years he sought to find a new job with nearly two decades of experience and glowing references, but there were lots of young twenty somethings who gone to college and that little piece of paper that they had meant that what the man had to offer was overlooked and thrown away. I understand that at the time there were hundreds of people applying for one position , and companies had to make cuts based on quantifiable evidence of employee quality, but the attitude "degree or see ya" has endured past the initial dip in the economy. Thankfully this story had a happier turn. The man bravely went back to college in his forties, and graduated a year after his oldest child graduated from high school. It was a proud moment for his whole family. He now has a pretty good job, but may be paying on his student loans for the rest of his life, which brings me to my second point.

As of September 2014 there were 40 million Americans up to their eyeballs in student loan debts. The cost of a good education has gone beyond the point of ridiculous to absolutely insane. From hundreds of dollars for textbooks, to the exorbitant amounts of money borrowed for tuition, recent college grads are drowning in debt. The money that they had to borrow for that little piece of paper that they worked so hard to get may in fact haunt them for the rest of their lives. The higher cost of education may well extend beyond the monetary. South Korea, a country that highly values education, is now encouraging students to drop out due to a lack of viable jobs. Employers are being encouraged to hire more people with only a high school education because the amount of money being put into these educations is not proving worth it. 40% of Korean college students are unable to secure employment after graduation. In the US nearly half of graduates are unable to get a job that requires a college degree much less in their own field of study. We push and push our children to go to college, but wind up having millions of people completely overqualified, and unhappy. I fear for my children and the cost of education for them in twenty or so years.

Speaking of children, our drive to get them to a superb education is seriously stunting children who would have otherwise been thought of as intelligent and gifted. From the moment that they step into a public classroom the creativity and ingenuity that they posses naturally is suppressed to fit them into a tiny test passing, college bound  mold. Programs like no child left behind and common core are leaving children behind and cutting the core out of the amazing human experiences that they could have had otherwise.  Children spend increasing amounts of time sitting at a desk instead of breathing the fresh air and exploring. They spend weeks preparing for standardized tests, instead of learning at a healthy and more fulfilling pace. There are a few children that come through our education with a minimum amount of scarring, but I fear that those numbers may decrease as they are constantly pushed towards more academic and less creative pursuits. Mr. Holland's Opus says it all very poignantly  'You can teach them to read and write, but if you take away the arts, what will they have to read and write about?'.

I believe in education. I believe in all education, the reading and the writing, the math and the science, the art and the music. I believe in college classes, and in the life experiences gained outside the classroom. I don't know the answers, but I know that they will never be solved if we continue to ignore them. It will never be solved if "an education" remains simply a way to go to college and get a job. We need to find a way to remove the stress and bring the joy back into learning.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Service Glasses

The kids were all down for a nap, or at least quiet. I wandered into the study and flipped open my laptop. Tired and bored I pulled up something mindless and funny on YouTube. After far to short of a time the girls started quarreling over something stupid. I sighed and paused my video. I took care of the argument with some warning about punishments I would never delve out, probably torture on the rack or something along those lines. They obviously didn't believe me, but realizing that mama was feeling a little testy they complied and there was peace once more.
I dragged myself back to the computer and resumed watching, the boredom quickly turning to frustration and anxiety. I began to mentally berate myself, for the things that I wasn't getting done, for the mound of clothes in the laundry room, for the scary state of the dishes. Tears began forming in my eyes as I thought about doing all those things all day every day for the next twenty years or so. I turned off the now blurry video and searched for a tissue to wipe my now streaming eyes and nose. 

I called up my mother. I always seem to feel better after talking with her. She wasn't as sympathetic as I wanted, but enough. "You need to do something outside yourself. Make someone a plate of cookies, or stick some sweet little love notes in your husbands clothes for his trip this weekend." 
I kept back the words that rushed immediately to my lips. "I don't want to go do something for someone else right now, I do stuff for other people all day every day." The words sounded melodramatic, even in my own head, and besides I knew that they weren't completely true (who was that You Tube video playing for anyway?).

I got off the phone dissatisfied with my mother's advice. I tried turning back to my video now that I was calmer, but my unhappiness increased as I could only distract myself for a moment before the negative feelings came rushing in between videos. Reading a book wasn't an answer either as the thought kept running through my head "As soon as you finish this your going to feel miserable all over again." I shut the book, harder than necessary and did my best to set it down gently. 

My mom's words kept coming back into my head. I finally gave in and started thinking about what I can do. On one side my neighbors are diabetics, so a plate of cookies for them seemed a little insensitive. I don't really know any of my other neighbors yet, so I didn't know whether or not cookies from a neighbor would be a welcome thing for them. The local leader of my church lives a few houses down so I started considering what I might bake to take over there, but to my chagrin I didn't really have ingredients to bake anything. I slammed the cupboard door in frustration. I'd have to clean the kitchen to bake anyway. 

The rest of the day passed in a haze. I know that I interacted with my children, got the baby up from his nap, unwillingly did a few dishes, made lunch and put something in the crock pot for dinner. After my husband got home I went to a book club. The adult conversation was refreshing, but over too soon. I dragged my unwilling feet up the porch to my front door after my ride dropped me off. When I got in the house he was there playing a video game instead of packing. My anger flared up and I bit my tongue to keep back the vicious and poisonous words I knew would do nothing but cause a fight. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that he needs breaks sometimes too. I gently reminded him that he needed to pack and began helping him gather his things.  
Observing the dozen or so pockets he has on his uniform I remembered my mom's suggestion. When he went out to the car for something I quickly went into the study and wrote a bunch of little notes. I sneaked back into the bedroom with them in my hand. Striking up a meaningless conversation about something I knew I could get him talking about, I stealthily placed notes in every single pocket of every item that I placed in his bag.  A smug grin of satisfaction spread across my face as  I closed my eyes to sleep. 
The good feeling lasted me throughout the weekend. I kept imagining him finding the notes, and laughing about it or smiling at them. It made it easier to get the dishes done, and to work on the laundry. I could see his smiling face in my head when he saw how clean the house had gotten in his absence. Even my interactions with people at church were more satisfying. Just a handful of silly little love notes seemed to make all the difference. 
I'm not writing this to discourage hard working, Occasionally burnt-out mother's like me from taking time for themselves. I know that there are lots of times when "me-time" is just what the doctor ordered. I'm writing this so that I will remember a pretty decent answer for those days when I am tired and cranky, and no end of my misery is in sight. First even at almost twenty-eight there are times when listening to my mother is the best thing I could possibly do. Second making the things you have to do about serving someone else is a great way to make tasks easier. Third, doing something extra for someone else can brighten a lot more than just your day. 

As I have been keeping those things in mind today I have felt like I am looking through a pair of service glasses. Things I have to do just look different. I have found more patience with my kids, and more desire to be around them and to play with them. Comforting the four year old over invisible owies has been turned into an extra chance to cuddle instead of a chore. Pulling apart a toy to get at another one inside it has turned into an adventure instead of a bother. Teaching my children to work and to play is a greater joy today. Serving my family may not always be the thing I need to pull me out of a slump, but right now, today, and probably most of the time it's a great place to start. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Broke Stay at Home Mom

I want to preface this by saying that there will be complaining in what follows, but I want to start by saying that being a stay at home mom is such a joy in my life. I delight in seeing my sweet little babies learn to walk and talk. I am also homeschooling so watching the light bulb flicker to life as my six year old gets the "CH" sound is one of the highlights of my life.

I recently read an article called  "Being a Stay at Home Mom is not a Job". Despite my blood beginning to boil at the very idea of it I read it anyway. It was a women who felt that staying at home is a privilege but those of us who choose that lifestyle and are unemployed have no right to call it a job, and though I found a lot she had to say loud, obnoxious, and distasteful there were a couple points I agreed with.

One, it is a privilege. I know that. There are definitely days that I forget it it, but I know it. I know that I would miss out on a lot if I sent my kids to daycare. First steps, first words, and funny phrases are just some of the many things I would be missing out on if I was not the primary caregiver. I know that there are many working mother's out there who would give just about anything to watch their kids growing up from the perspective I get to see mine.

The second thing that she was right about is that it is not a job. Calling it a job would be an enormous understatement.  It is much more time consuming and much less fulfilling on the short term than a job. I am on duty 24/7. I get no vacation days, I get no sick time. I get no paycheck. It's not a job its a long never-ending slog. I spend all my days with three little people who need to be fed, clothed, bathed, cuddled, comforted, entertained, and educated. There are moments of wonder, moments when I can't believe how lucky I am but there are many more moments of isolation, irritation, loneliness, desperation, and exhaustion.

It is frustrating being a passenger in my own life. 6 years ago I made a decision to let my husband drive because I put my education on hold and gave up a having career to raise our children. I have watched as my husband has struggled to determine our path through HIS education and HIS career. I have shed many tears wondering how we are going to stretch our pennies and feeling helpless, especially lately.I don't want to give up my life with my kids, for any reason, not because I am broke, and not because I sometimes want more in my life than being an unpaid cook, maid, and child care giver.

Now we are hitting a major snag in our lives financially. I won't go into to many details, but I will admit that a good portion of it is poor decisions and money management. My husband and I are talking about me trying to find a job I can do from home. I have begun wading through the scams and real jobs on the Internet. My lack of education and experience are a hindrance to any job I might apply for. With a six and a half year gap in my resume I probably only qualify for something like burger flipper, however I  still don't want to be stuck doing something I absolutely hate.

What I want is to be a writer. I have wanted it for a long time. I want to be a real writer, not just a mom who writes a blog. I spend hours thinking about stories, reading books, typing on my computer and scribbling in journals. I would LOVE for someone to pay me for this task that I already do. In my desperation for extra funds I began a search online for writing jobs. One thing became clear very quickly I do not have enough education, nor enough experience to qualify for anything. Most people reading this will probably think that I am foolish and naive to think that I  could jump in and just get into my field of choice without some serious changes to the way I currently live, and maybe they are right.

You may wonder about what the point is in all of this. The first is I want to be a writer so naturally I
 am writing. I am writing what I know. I am writing what I am passionate about.  the second point is that I hope that someone who is struggling like me will read this and feel some comfort in the fact that they are not really alone in what they are going through. I hope that someone will come to the understanding  that stay at home parents do not have to feel guilty for wanting more, or wanting it all. Maybe I will someday learn that lesson myself.