I was walking on the grimy upper level of the 179St. subway station in Jamaica, Queens today when I saw something strange. All of the payphones had been removed from the thick pillars lining the walkway — that’s not the strange thing, I’d noticed it before — but something hanging from the ceiling lightly brushed against my jacket. It was a black, insulated wire that was plugged into an electric outlet at the top of a pillar. The wire was attached to a cellphone that hung there in suspension. Curious, I stepped a little closer when I heard someone call out “Hey!” One of the homeless men I often saw sprawled on the benches in the station had noticed me. He stood, a bit unsteadily, cautiously taking a step away from his belongings in a large, plastic garbage bag. He wore long underwear, suspendered pants and a frayed woolen cap. I could see that something was bothering him as he squinted in my direction, glowering protectively. Then he made a sweeping gesture with his arm, warning me to keep away while he was recharging his phone.
Archive for February, 2012
The President has declared a campaign to fight rising college costs so that a college education is affordable for every high school graduate in the country. He has said that we should have the greatest number of college graduates of any country, as we did in the past. He has used the term “college ready” as a touchstone, as a reachable goal for every child. The message is that the standard for a successful public school is whether its graduates go on to higher education, or could if they wanted to.
What I find bothersome is the assumption that the American people support this goal, even though there has been little discussion of what it really offers us. Higher education never used to be considered essential for success, even after World War II. The G.I. Bill did a lot for this country, but not every veteran chose to use it, and yet many were able to lead productive lives, raise families and be financially independent with a high school degree alone. But if the message is that our economy has changed so much since then that high school grads can simply forget about finding a place for themselves, I am not convinced of it.
I’ll come to the point. I don’t want to get behind a campaign to make more high school grads “college ready” without a better picture of where they are without the higher ed degree. I still feel that a solid basic education, the traditional K-12, should give anyone the chance to get a job, even a career, that satisfies their personal goals and, at the same time, keeps America competitive. But that can only happen if we double down to make sure that the degree has genuine CONTENT, and is not just a label for second-rate citizens. We have to measure the real SKILLS of that graduate, and make sure that he or she knows what they are capable of. They should know exactly what they can offer the economy on graduation day, and decide if they want to pass that up for greater rewards in the future. And, while we’re at it, they should also be told why those “greater rewards” may not be worth what they have to pay for them.