Today is the start of Finals Week here, and as has been the case throughout my teaching career, I wound up spending most of the past week trying to coach my students, most of whom are in their first semester of college, through the challenges of this difficult time. Even as someone who enjoyed the academic side of my college experience more than most, I remember all too well the unique stresses that those last weeks of the semester bring, and how easy it is to fall into unhealthy activities in order to get through them. As I remind my students, college is a lot like high school in that there’s a lot of difficult work to do, and a lot of hoops to jump through, and sometimes it seems like the grown-ups around them are a bunch of idiots (and they’re often right to think that), but eventually it does end. That’s hardly the most uplifting advice in the world, but at least it’s honest.
Some people might expect me to talk to them about all the statistics of how a college degree increases people’s chances of success later in life, but that’s a statistical “fact” that often doesn’t come to fruition in reality. Even with my graduate degree, it took me over a decade to get a full-time teaching position (although some of that was due to me needing to stay in Toledo to help take care of Mom in her final years, and no positions opening up in that area), so I’m hardly a shining example of immediate success from one of the hardest pieces of paper in the world to earn. I’m a strong believer in the power of education, but learning and degrees are no guarantees, and the last thing I want to give my students is any kind of false hope.
Developing strong critical thinking skills does at least increase people’s chances of being able to achieve what they want, though, whether that be a high-paying job or what have you, and that is something I regularly remind my students of. There are all kinds of people, in all walks of life, looking to prey on people who lack the mental capabilities to understand when they’re being taken advantage of, and while developing the faculties to identify and counteract these people is no panacea for all the ills that can befall someone, they’re at least better than nothing. Especially in a world where the rich and powerful keep trying to usurp all the resources out there for their own, education can be, in the words of Horace Mann, the “great equalizer.”
As I’ve remarked here before, this is key to understanding right-wingers’ attacks on education (K-12, post-secondary or otherwise) over the years here in America. They don’t want any equalizers that could possibly give people they don’t like a pathway to even the smallest morsel of power and money, and so they’ve set out to sabotage education by every means necessary, from wave after wave of bogus charter “schools” that arrest children’s development (and suck away the resources needed to renew our public school system), to all the attempts to coarsen college campuses and make them unwelcome to the very people who most need the equalizing power of higher education. Just like every other resource in this country, they want to monopolize it for them own, with the token “success story” of one or two working-class Americans getting graduate degrees every once in a while to maintain their American Lottery narrative.