Tag Archives: Vermont

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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Voting Rights and Wrongs

There is much to be said about voting, and not all of it is pleasant. Because I am neither a political scientist nor an attorney, I do not pretend to any specialized knowledge. Because I want people to be able to vote twice you can vote in my poll now that you have had, or soon will have, the opportunity to vote at your polling place in the United States. Unless of course, for a variety of reasons, you are disenfranchised, which means you do not have the right to vote.

Because I don’t want to read anything offensive, and because I doubt that many of the other folks who follow or visit my blog wish to read anything offensive either, please keep your comments civil in tone as well as language. I will moderate comments.

Nobody thinks much about the voting age here, but in some countries, it is as young as 16.

Nobody thinks much about a woman’s right to vote in the United States, but not all of our grandmothers had that right. Women were only given the right to vote in 1920 in the United States, when the Senate voted to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Speaking only of the industrialized Western World, fantastically enough, Switzerland did not give women the right to vote in national elections until 1971, and in some cantons (they are like states or provinces) women were not given the right to vote in local elections until 1990. The right of all people to vote is called universal suffrage, but the term doesn’t really mean everybody, there are many exceptions. Historically, the term universal suffrage applied only to men.

We are mistaken, if we believe that universal suffrage exists in the United States. Anyone who has seen the news or read a newspaper thinks a lot about voting rights and race because our legal system has disenfranchised a huge segment of the population: In most states, previously convicted felons, who have served their time, commonly known as having “paid their dues to society,” can do just about anything but vote. Why might that be? Well, it might be because you are an African-American male in Virginia where 1 out of 5 African-American males do not have the right to vote, and politicians do not want you to vote. Why might that be? To my knowledge, felons who have served their time can only vote in the states of Vermont and Maine.

Is the disenfranchisement of a large segment of the population by race and gender fair? What do you think? Why? If you decide to answer, please let me know whether you are from Virginia and whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, an Independent, or a member of another political party. Virginia has been a Republican state in recent years, but that may be changing, possibly as soon as this very evening. Again, my statistics are not based on my own research. Please check the Pew Forum, Gallup Poll, or some other similar organization, for what might be considered authoritative statistics.

In New Jersey, we are voting on whether to raise the minimum wage. On behalf of all “hard-working” minimum wage workers and their families, I have voted to raise the minimum wage, even though it will still not provide a true living wage in a state with a high cost-of-living. And, by the way, I think even those who don’t work extremely hard–who is the judge of who is working hard and not working hard?–should also benefit from a small increase in the minimum wage in New Jersey from the current minimum wage of $7.25 to “at least $8.25 an hour.” What is all this rhetoric about working hard, anyway?! Are people supposed to suffer to earn the minimum wage? Why not work the right amount, not work when overtired, not work when sick, and be healthier and happier? Here’s to a healthier, happier, more equitable world! That’s why I vote. Do you vote?

The Return or Re-Entry

The Return

Re-Entry Innocence:
Re-entry begins innocently at rest stop.
Waterford, Vermont HS Girls’ Soccer Bake Sale.
I buy cookies. Homemade.
Still in Vermont, small maple leaf-shaped bottles of syrup on display.

Music: mystery mixes in CD player.
Guess that child. Sublime with Sublime.

Games with GPS:
Can I force it to show a route
Over the Tapanzee, not the GW?*
Success of sorts, after half an hour
Aimlessly recalculating, avoiding streets.

Pit Stop Rediscovery:
Gas for car; Red Bull for driver.
Passenger is not so bored as antsy.
Notes 2 for 1 price on Red Bull.
Asks Big Man checker whether Red Bull gets rid of cellulite.
(Nope, still don’t have much, but figure
Stretch marks are TMI & not going anywhere!)
An insomniac & he doesn’t get it
right away.
Behind me, short, cheerful man with shiny, fringed pate does.
He wants some Red Bull, too
If it will grow his hair back.
Big Man catches on, laughs.
“People complain about the price of gas. Look what this stuff costs.”
I pay.
“Take the Tapanzee, not the GW.
And get home safely.”
Seriously into solitude,
I rediscover that most people mean well.

Road Sign Reconsideration:
Writing the moment the CT exit sign for
Newtown looms overhead, I reconsider.
It takes a village to raise a child?
What made him kill babies?
Was he murdering his own past?
His motives are of little import now.
Only prevention of future
Slaughter of the Innocents.

Resignation:
The empty refrigerator awaits;
Piles of wash will whirl and whoosh;
Accumulated mail is more menacing;
Work to lend structure and meaning
(As did my morning swim.)

Reluctance and Rejoicing:
Hiker son left behind in North Woods;
Rapid motion son awaits our return.
Fine, awaits the return of the bike rack. Borrowed car already packed for
Outer Banks trip commencing at 3am
Mom has fewer ulterior motives!

Resolution:
Don’t leave inner barefoot, pond-paddling, wildflower-picking child behind!

This [Middle Class] American Life? (My pseudo-installment to the venerable NPR Radio Show.)

Do you recognize yourself? Do you have any re-entry rites and rituals to share? (Online bill pay is not a satisfactory response! 😉

*The driver was not engaged in “games with GPS.” GPS ultimately wins: We plummet off Tapanzee while making a U-turn for GW.

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Splintered Sunlight

Splintered sunlight
Scattered raindrops
Under tree canopy
Ears attune to droplet music
Eyes on concentric circles
Mourning doves coo ceaselessly
Birds chirp intermittently
Loons paddle and dive past
Silent now
At night they laugh
Transient figure in Green Mountains
I, Sacajawea, swim to a rock outcropping.

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Graduation Day! Mixed Emotions

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Today is graduation day for the high school students in our district. Some years ago, Michelle Campbell (2007) wrote an article about the students who didn’t graduate, and were held back for summer school or worse yet, another year. Not surprisingly, most of these students were African-American men. My young man upstairs is a bit of an iconoclast, and gave us some (a lot!) of worry about whether he really would graduate. He is a stubborn one, and he is done: it would either be high school
diploma today or GED another day. Nothing, neither powers, nor principalities, nor parents would convince this independent-minded young man to attend summer school. My daughter nailed it when she said that the phrase “summer school” is an oxymoron.
From one end of the spectrum to the other: Some children attend summer school at local private schools, taking classes (presumably not PE) they will take the following year. Why do they do this? To be sure they will get As and into the right college. The culture of overachievement is just as depressing as the culture of underachievement. What kind of childhood is that?!
The boy (technically a man now, at 18) asleep upstairs spent part of his summers running around barefoot in Vermont at a camp that allowed no access to cell phones or computers. Meanwhile, these super-achievers spent their summers in classrooms staring at computer screens or enrolled in Kaplan or Princeton Review classes.
Our school system is singularly ill-equipped for the “average” student. This boy is far above average intelligence, but has adopted a fairly strict policy of not studying for exams or doing much homework. (Calculus was the exception to that rule.) He is not in it to prove a thing to anybody except, perhaps, that he won’t be programmed, scared, threatened or bribed into thinking that straight As and an Ivy League education are the path to happiness in life.
Many of the classes at our College Town, NJ high school are only offered at the accelerated or AP level. AP classes have proven to be little better than the Kaplan courses my sons refused to take for personal and political reasons. The exception to this was both sons’ wonderful experience in environmental science. This class includes field trips and a highly intelligent, disorganized, Canadian science teacher. I confess to never personally noticing that Mr. Anderson is disorganized and his classroom messy. This I was told by others. Shouldn’t a science classroom be full of interesting, touchable things? What I do know is that the ten minutes in Mr. A’s classroom at back-to-school night did not make me want to fall asleep or weep for the poor children in his class. I’m sorry I never took the class myself. There was only “earth science” when I was in high school, and that, sadly, meant that you were on the “slow” unacademic track, heaven forbid! So however interesting that class may have been, my friends and I never found out.
This is not a call for schools to cater to the “average” in the sense of lowering their standards, but to become more engaging, and get the kids out from behind their desks as often as possible.
The literary curriculum makes the skin of this former English major–who took accelerated English with an engaging curriculum & teachers–crawl. Please revise! Why on earth should my son, or any other high school student, read The Girl with the Pearl Earring? It is a fine book for book group or a light summer read, but offers nothing more. Did the local school board or state select this light novel because it is uncontroversial in content? I am appalled. This is but one example of a curriculum from middle school on, which has been gender inequitable, forcing books far more likely to appeal to young women than young men. I loved Jane Eyre, but my son refused to read it. He would not even stoop to read the Spark Notes or Wiki summary. Both his male guidance counselor and his male teacher agreed that they, too, would not read Jane Eyre for love or money. My son reads books on his own, as we all do in this family, independently and for interest. He goes to the place known as the “media center” to borrow books. Why not provide an option more likely to appeal to young men?
College will bring some of the same challenges, but more choices. A major in agriculture will certainly involve writing research papers, and writing up labs, but also, literally, time in the field.
God Speed, my idealistic and stubborn young son. I will miss you terribly and daily. Tears fall as I write. There will be no one around to drink a quart of milk and eat a daily box of cereal. The soccer field has already been rejected in favor of hiking and backpacking–outdoor adventure–but the tiny mudroom is littered with keeper paraphernalia and soccer cleats. I don’t think I will put them away any time soon. The saxophone, keyboard, and drum set are somehow crowded along with camping gear into a small and extremely messy room. Part of me itches to crawl under that bed and dig out some mysterious items, but mostly, I will miss him. But it is time. The University of Vermont, agriculture, environmental science, and ceramics await. This is not to mention friends, hiking, backpacking, skiing, and possibly club soccer. Fare thee well, my boy, my young son.

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