Tag Archives: skiing

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbDaO4jdyuk‎

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:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/26/world/europe/Germany-Backtracks-on-Tuition.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

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Altered States: Body-Surfing & Biofeedback

No. I don’t mean redistricting on a state level or using any substance more remarkable than morning tea.

Having lived in Southern California, I am familiar with many legal practices that induce altered states of mind. I lived in Encinitas, CA, where yoga was introduced in the US.

Being in the ocean, immersed in the salt water, scent of kelp, and covered with small specks of black sand induces an altered state of mind. I am truly regretful that I did not overcome fears and learn to surf at the well known Swami’s Beach in Cardiff-by-the-Sea. Body-surfing and ocean swimming induces a different rush. Surfers, far beyond the first and second set of breakers, in the early morning hours, sitting alert, ready, but still on a surfboard must enter a contemplative, yet highly aware, state of mind. Swimming and body-surfing in the Pacific in North San Diego County lacks that contemplative element.

Always alert for the next set of waves, the body-surfer hops over the ones she judges too small to be worth the effort, dives through the ones she judges too big for her level of competency and confidence–and takes an occasional pounding nonetheless. The body-surfer looks over her shoulder and starts paddling furiously when a wave of the right size begins to form. This is an art requiring concentration & practice, like any other. Hasn’t every bodysurfer paddled wildly only to have mistimed a wave that crests before she is in motion and ready to ride, or that simply flattens out and ripples by? The keys to the joy of bodysurfing are ordinary: a true thrill, a body rush that requires at least a slight amount of risk-taking. Sometimes that rush requires jumping into very cold water, very quickly, because to delay would be to sheepishly turn back to shore.

Warm or cold–and the water in San Diego is never very warm–there is something energizing and particular to a full-immersion saline, negative ion, kelp & iodine bath. The effect is not realized unless you literally soak your head. This can be particularly salutory after an overly festive evening. But it is the every day experience of surrender to higher power and strength, and letting go, and riding along with, fear that makes swimming in the ocean an experience of renewal. Those who live in San Diego and are not 6am surfers lead normal grocery-shopping, child-rearing, working lives, so the beach is not a daily experience for all. It never was a daily experience for me. But the ability to go to the beach just a couple of miles away, swim for half an hour, and lounge for a bit, is an experience I sorely miss.

After toddlers or young children have spent a couple of hours of ” making castles in the sand,” digging for sand crabs, pail & shovel triumphant, or making new, momentary friends while digging a pool and moat, it is time to pack up and go home. Making the beach part of the day, not the day in its entirety, and going to “my” beach in my home town are experiences that cannot be replicated in Central New Jersey. Having also lived in and visited Sweden, where beach access is free and open to all, paying to step onto the sand rankles. Other family members are equally disturbed by being told when they can or cannot enter the water. The sight of tawdry mansions and cheap thrills or fast food behind are also distasteful to some who spent more years in the ocean with the bluffs as backdrop than I. In that case I remind them that they have a choice which way to look. Look to the sea! Some day, some where we will find our East Coast beach. Since we can’t afford a home on the sand, it may not be on New Jersey. Where is your favorite beach? What are the smells and sensations you love best? I may have to import some kelp. The smell of kelp washed up on shore, stepping on and popping the light brown nodules, and picking up a kelp rope are inherent parts of the beach experience for me.

Other meditative practices which allow the mind to enter different states are prayer and biofeedback. A relative beginner, I tend to need the “right setting” for prayer. Vacillating between belief, doubt, and agnosticism complicates prayer practice.

Not a calm person by nature, “I am open to persuasion” (Joan Armatrading) and will try various practices, pilgrimage among them. I am distinctly post-New Age and perhaps unreasonably prejudiced against Exkhardt Tolle, The Secret, and their ilk. My prejudice extends to listening to the preaching of the Health & Wealth Gospel. I eschew practices that openly confuse peace of mind with financial gain. (Discussing religion, power, and the SES–socio-economic status–necessary for time to indulge in meditative practices is a discussion for another day. But I do not misrecognize (Pierre Bourdieu) all of the implications.)

Thus I am now embarking on the practice of biofeedback. The psychologist and scientist from who developed the biofeedback techniques I will be learning is the renowned Les Fehmi. Does anyone have experience with biofeedback, positive or negative to share? While I don’t anticipate achieving a state of nirvana, I hope to glimpse Wallace Stevens’s “palm at the end of my mind.”

I love self-hypnosis. Too easy. It can’t possibly work? The Mind-Body Jon Kabat-Zinn school of practitioners derisively call it “the poor persons” meditation. (I haven’t paid the $500-$750 for their course.) The Mind-Body techniques may be more fruitful in the end, but what if you are a poor person interested in a quick & effective way to achieve an altered mental state? Personally, I would love to live in Barcelona (Barthelona) & pull down the shades or grate for a long 4pm siesta. But I don’t live there. Life in a convent sounds good at times, too! The real trick is attaining a comfortable state within the circumstances at hand.

Aside from alcohol or drug use–I’m no Puritan or ostrich, but interested in looking beyond the obvious–how do you achieve your desired mental state? Downhill skiing works, but only in season and with a lot of disposable income or seasonal employment on the slopes. Many advocate fishing. Is the goal for most hunters to come home with dinner, or rather to extricate themselves from daily life? These are all possibilities for those with time and money. How do you achieve peace and harmony?