Sunday, May 29, 2011

These are the people who need to be helped

Just the other day, a friend of a friend was telling me about said friend (we shall call her "amiga" for shorthand), that barely has a high school education and has not been in the workforce because she had been a stay at home mom.  However, a question arose about whether this lady should go to school and become something like a dental hygienist.  This person is otherwise screwed because they don't have any job skills and they can't rely upon nepotism.  While large cities like NYC have a strata of incomes, most other places resemble a third world nation.  You have a few people who have good jobs, while everyone else is busing tables at the Luby's.  There are some in-between jobs like being a nurse's assistant that require some additional training that a person normally can't receive in high school.  While those jobs offer some stability and full-time employment prospects, the trade off is that these people do not earn much more than a cashier (especially when you consider that they will now have student loan debt).  This creates a quandary where they are perched precariously on a ledge, and one tiny slip could have the student loan ghosts haunting the fuck out of you for the rest of your life and eating away what financial benefit the person would have gained in even bothering to go to school.

I thought about it. 

Honestly, we all know that you need some sort of training to have some job skills that don't involve being a cashier for the rest of eternity.  But what options are there for the poor? 

The jobs I'm thinking of require some training, but the wages aren't that amazing in spite of the fact that you forked out a few grand for schooling.  Naturally, you would have to get a loan.  However, we all know what happens the minute that something happens and you miss payments.  Suddenly, that piddling amount of money balloons in a way that would make a loan shark in the Ukraine smile.  Now, that debtor is turning tricks in a Turkish brothel and will be left paying the ever-expanding loan to their handlers until they are all clapped out and past menopause.

So, I seriously sat there and wondered if it would be worth the risk for such a person to go to school.  Sure, they're going to make shit working as a cashier, but if they show up and do their job for a few months and act motivated, you'd think they'd at least be whisked off to Hamburger U and become a manager.

That's when I started to reflect upon how the school system is truly failing its students.

Somewhere along the way, someone got the idea into their noggin that high school should simply be a preparatory institution to go onto other schooling.  In Europe, they divert students into one of two tracts.  They'll either put them on the university tract, or they send them off to learn a trade.

People in the Oprah Winfrey age can't handle this.  Saying that the child needs to learn a trade is like saying that this child is never going to be President.  Somebody is telling that child "no," and by golly, we should know better than to tell that child "no!"  We have irreparably crushed that child into thinking they are worthless if we don't demand that they take classes where they can read poetry.

They think that we can cram every last child into the few computer programming, doctor, lawyer, and teacher job, regardless of their abilities.  However, what ends up happening instead is that the school system ends up prolonging the agony where they puke out an 18 year old who is incapable of simply walking into a dental hygienist job and now must find money that they don't have to pay for additional schooling. 

How many more students would we keep in high school if the schools offered free training in a trade?  How many students look around them and see that John, who dropped out of school in the 10th grade, is working the exact same job as Mark, who actually graduated with a diploma?

Nobody wants to actually sit down with these people and learn what is wrong.  They're the same set that think that teenage pregnancy is being glorified because these women were placed in front of a camera--never mind that teenagers were popping out babies for centuries before this show came along.  They're the same people who thought that keeping rap music off of the radio would make gangs go away.

The sheer fact that so many students don't finish high school should be a big enough clue that the current system isn't working.  Yet, we continue to press onward in a fantasy that every single child will eventually graduate from college in the same way that we choose to believe that we can completely eradicate teenage sex and underage drinking. 

Maybe Oprahfication is responsible for the lack of technical training.  Sometimes, I wonder if its simply cheaper for the school to not offer technical training in the way way that its great business for law schools to pack as many people into a classroom and charge them out the wazoo.  Instead, they can make the colleges happy by making sure that their territory isn't encroached upon.  If that's the case, surely we can just bus the high school students over to the community college and let them take those same classes on the taxpayer dime.


  1. It's educational inflation that is taking place. As more and more people get degrees, the value gets watered down to the point where, for the most rudimentary of entry-level jobs, employers can now ask for SOME type of degree. Others have called it the "educational arms race", and rightly so.

    For the older Boomers, "higher education" to a large extent did pay off. For this narrow bracket of Americans, who came of age in the Post-WWII economic boom, a liberal arts degree in and of itself got many of them into real, paying white-collar gigs in large corporations. That was a temporary and very artificial set of conditions which the Boomers took instead as their own precious generation's accomplishments. They benefited to a large degree from the aftermath of a destroyed Europe and Japan, the pent-up consumer and industrial demand that resulted, and the fact other international players had not yet economically come to the fore.

    Now, these same early Boomers have kids going to college and grad school. It is still unthinkable for them to imagine their Bobby or Susie working on cars for a living or repairing HVAC. Nonetheless, the whole set of conditions which had underlain their college and work lives no longer exists and the realization just hasn't gotten to them yet. The economy certainly has changed and certainly not in the way many thought it would. This economy just will not support everybody being "white collar". But until the tuition bubble finally bursts, and legions of these kids end up unable to ever pay back these student loans, the higher education gravy train keeps rolling down the track.

  2. A former classmate from Third Tier Drake told me that her 17 year old son just graduated from high school. He graduated one year early. He will enroll in community college, and enter the iron and welding department.

    His total bill - over two years - will amount to $7,000. He will have a valuable trade, which requires a skilled human to perform. Anyway, she told me that her family is upset with his choice. After all, a "smart" kid should go to a REAL college.

    My friend and her husband support his decision. She took out $120K in student loans, to attend law school. The fact that her friends and family are upset with this smart financial decision shows you the psyche of Americans.