Tag Archives: environment

Higher (Cost of) Education

Let me first say that my son is at the school of his dreams, in the place of his dreams, with people who are extremely important to him, enjoying learning and being part of a community far more than he did at, oh, one of the top high school in New Jersey. So…I couldn’t be happier for him. I have have much to be grateful for, and only wish he were not quite so far away, as making the 7-hour drive there and the 7-hour drive back frequently is not possible. But Vermont is his true home. He can’t wait to go snowshoeing and camping in the snow, and I allowed the purchase of a student pass to Stowe and Mad River Glen, a skiers delight. Now we need some snow!

I honestly do not mind economizing. Nevertheless, I was meditating on the issue of ever-increasing college tuition, and how that is shaping our society. Bigger children, bigger problems, as the cliche goes. The same is true of wants, needs, and expenses. There are probably preschools in Manhattan with tuition that rivals or surpasses the cost of college tuition in Vermont, but since we have never lived in Manhattan, nor sent children to “competitive” preschools, college tuition is our biggest expense child-related expense thus far.

We are educating our child at our personal expense. This wouldn’t seem so strange if we did not have European backgrounds, and his first cousins in Germany weren’t simultaneously receiving their university educations largely at the expense of the society which will benefit from the investment. Since Germany is home to the “one percent” of Europe, with the healthiest economy, best healthcare, lowest unemployment rate, and and among the most stringent policies of admitting immigrants. Someone must be paying. Presumably the people in Southern Europe, whose economies are in shambles, and who don’t have generous parental leave, and can’t afford to have children, are the people having their pockets picked for the good times in Germany. But that is the situation in Europe today. Maybe there will be a change when Italy leads the EU, as it will soon do, when Germany’s term as head of the EU is up.

Chances are that the young man currently in Vermont will, not long from now, be employed and paying a handsome portion of his paycheck into social security. He is, in fact, employed part time right now, so though I have neither opened his mail, nor looked at his pay stubs, he is very likely already making such a contribution. Society will also benefit from his college education, because once he has a college degree, he is less likely to be unemployed. No guarantees, and rare is the individual who is not unemployed at some point, but statistically speaking, he is likely to be a net contributor. Will that make him a happier person? Probably not if he is forced into the corporate or wage-earning world. He wants to work in environmental agriculture, to help create a more sustainable world, and until he grows old and tired, will flourish in an outdoor environment rather than behind a desk. His will, therefore, be a double contribution: his career choice, as he sees envisions it now, will benefit all, not only himself and any eventual dependents or co-dependents. Food–and the water, and chemical and radiation-free soil on which food depends–are his concerns. He would probably make more money if he elected to major in economics and work in the business world. His brother majored in environmental economics, and will practice law one day soon, hopefully also protecting the environment.

Wherein will the greatest benefit to society lie? With the typical business major, or with the student working to save and protect our environment? Brokerage statements are of low nutritional value. One study showed that rats who ate Corn Flakes cardboard boxes, and nothing else, lived longer than the rats who ate only Corn Flakes cereal, and nothing else. So I could be wrong. Maybe your statements are printed with soy ink on hemp paper, and are extremely nutritional. Check with your broker, and be sure to have them sent via post, not only online, if this is the case.

Our young student will not be burdened by loan payments after he graduates, but many of his peers will. What, then, is their incentive to bother with college, and ever-higher tuition? Should we expect a generation of autodidacts and entrepreneurs not ensnared by government loans? The interest rates of student loans remain unconscionable! Why, when their degrees will benefit the elders in our society, do these same elders stack the deck against the struggling student, and for the profiteering banks? Why are student loan rates higher than mortgage interest rates, and far higher than the rates at which banks borrow money? Who is profiting from these high interest rates? Banks, the U.S., and other governments? The “starving student” is no mere cliche, but a sad fact of American life. It is also unfortunate that our culture has become such that all must, or at least should, attend college. We depend on a variety of people, but as trade unions are weakened, the paths through university or even professional school–not without their burdensome costs–have become more alluring.

Preschoolers do grow up and many practice a trade or use their college education. That this benefit to society-at-large should burden the individual and family is unethical. Along with raising the minimum wage, we must lower the barriers to equal educational opportunities.

An education is not, however, all a child needs. It all starts with parents, preschool, and cupcakes. The intangible needs and wants are costly in terms of time, productivity, and earnings. And that cost is mostly shouldered by mothers. Hence the enduring gender gap in pay and career advancement. But parenting is an occupation that provides the richest rewards, as well as heartbreaks unlike any other.

Thanks to Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts for supporting students, and honoring the contributions they make to our society, and for helping keep interest rates on Stafford loans reasonable. Not low, but at least reasonable. Or so it seems to one who is not struggling to find a job and pay back a loan that matures with graduation, even if the student’s maturation isn’t quite so instantaneous.

Click on the link to see and hear Senator Warren speak about student loans:


And in case what I wrote about the fee schedule–or basic lack of same–at institutions of higher education in Germany seems entirely too good to be true, here is a recent article on the subject:


A Bouquet of Memories by Circespeaks

No Disinterested Act

No disinterested act is possible. No matter what we do, no matter how altruistic our actions may appear, we have our own best interests at heart. We can’t help it.

The return we receive for the time, effort, love, resources–financial and other–we invest to help others is sometimes obvious, and at other times veiled or opaque. It is obvious why we go to work and to school. We receive a paycheck, a degree, and possibly elevated social standing, as well as increased self-esteem, in return.

The same, minus the paycheck, is true of volunteer work. Volunteer work or charitable work is a particularly controversial subject. In order to volunteer to help others, we must live in a stratified society, where some people do not have the basics. Everyone should have health care, housing, food, access to a good education, employment opportunities, and–unless a violent criminal–freedom to live unincarcerated. Since this is not the case, a crazy quilt patchwork of volunteers and volunteer organizations attempts to help those who are deprived of life’s basic necessities.

The disparity between those who have, and those who do not, continues to grow in the United States. Thus, to be in a position to provide charity to others, we must have, somewhere along the line profited by inequality. My grandfather was wealthy, so my father was born wealthy. Not extraordinarily wealthy by any means, but wealthy enough to attend a university, and thus to enlist in the Korean War and immediately be granted the rank of captain, and a pleasant service in New Mexico. He did not go to Korea and freeze to death, or I would not be here today. Eventually, with some help from his parents and the G.I. Bill, my parents bought a home in a safe place with good schools. We were financially strapped–Thomas’s English Muffins were the basis of many a meal–but we were not hungry and lived in a safe environment.

In many another country we would now be comfortable and saving for retirement. Instead, we eke out tuition payments to an out-of-state university. We have not put a dime into retirement savings in six years. I have placed my bet, instead, on my sons: they should be able to attend college and graduate debt-free. If not, they would be the first generation burdened by student loan debt at an unreasonable interest rate. The government profits doubly by our actions. No income is sheltered from taxes in our retirement account, and we are providing society with two graduates educated in the sciences. (Not quite yet, since one son started his university education less than a month ago!) We just hope to die young. No, I am not kidding. But it is natural, and not noble, for people to put their children’s interests ahead of their own.

Those who work to promote social justice, to convert others to their religion, to protect the environment, to risk their lives protecting the lives of others, to care for their children or aging parents have objectives for the society in which they live. They also have the resources to put their beliefs into action. One cannot participate in unpaid work when bills are unmet. The preponderance of women doing unpaid work in our schools– to cite one possibly controversial example — arguably does disservice to women, while, at the same time, promoting the interests of their children, and possibly their own social standing in their community. These women are, however, not amassing social security, pension, retirement benefits or job experience which they may later need. Meanwhile, their male peers are working in the traditional economic sphere, in which such benefits are collected and amassed. Younger and middle-aged men working in the sphere of economic power are able to capitalize on their work in many concrete ways, while younger and middle-aged women continue to work in the highly rewarding, but unpaid, volunteer sector, are not.

Are Bill and Melinda Gates saints? Certainly they are preferable to Donald Trump, who is clownish in his bombast and self-interest. They are, most would agree, “good people,” doing more for others than is strictly necessary. But having amassed their fortune, why wouldn’t they want their children to grow to adulthood in a world plagued by fewer diseases, and in which more people are grateful to the efforts of Americans?

I am now on my way to pick vegetables at our local, organic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm. Not so short-sighted as to want to consume organic produce only for the sake of my own health–I do breathe the same air, drink the same water, and walk on the same earth as all other living creatures–it is more for the precious earth, to spend time outdoors, to protest all things Monsanto, and to help a small, organic farm to succeed even in hard times that I go.

And since I have my own small, organic garden, I go for inspiration. But more than inspiration–I will stick with easy crops and let the farm family struggle with managing the difficult ones–I go to be close to the earth and the food. I also go to make a small stand on the issue of division of labor. Not wanting to deprive workers of their jobs, I still want to participate, side-by-side, at getting down in the dirt. And, yes, unless I must do this in order to feed my family, and unless I must do this five-to-seven days a week, it is really only a symbolic act. Symbolic acts, as sociologist Pierre Bourdieu pointed out, perpetuate and reify the existing social order. So maybe I do more harm than good. I have not thrown in my lot with farmers or farm-workers, but I have a son who thinks he would like to be a farmer. My son’s interest in sustainable agriculture is a recent development, subject to change. We have participated in the same CSA farm for many years, both the good and the bad. This has been helpful to the farmer, but it has not been a disinterested act. I fear for the future of the earth, the health of my own children, all children, and future generations if the agribusiness industry continues to have its way with us.
When I make a bi-monthly pilgrimage into local fields, in good weather and bad, I am closer to the earth I love to smell and touch, and also make a small, quiet political statement, and an attempt not to become “Comfortably Numb” (Pink Floyd, 1979.)

The tomatoes we eat, and, more than anything, the flowers we pick, feed my soul. Today, together with other family members, I visited our family memorial garden. The pink cosmos, purple verbena, feathery yellow and red celosia, and globe amaranth, red, pink, and purple, now decorate the site where my father’s ashes are spread. Carefully selecting each flower in the field, sharing them with family members, and gently placing them where my father’s physical remains lie, was a powerful, loving ritual.

A Bouquet of Memories by Circespeaks