Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Are Americans Giving Up on the Notion of the American Dream?

A few weeks ago NPR's Talk of the Nation show produced an interesting report about the American Dream: More Americans Giving Up on the American Dream.  Both the primary guest and the two callers made for an illuminating segment.

First, LA Times columnist Gregory Rodriguez discussed the role the illusion of the American Dream plays in maintaining social stability.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Well, I mean, if you imagine sort of freedom being sort of the ideological force behind the American experiment and democracy, lets say its the operating system, then the source of the glue, the social cohesion is that dream.  It's what really - as if we're - whatever indignities we may be suffering at any given moment, we'll put it aside.  We won't resort to violence. We won't give up hope.  We won't, sort of, lead to the behavior that'll shatter a society because we hope that things will get better.

The great diversity of this country has always struggled with, we could've done worse over time if people hadn't had that sense of moving forward.  I think it's that - it's the one thing that takes this hyper-individualism, these millions of competing separate dreams and puts them together in a collective enterprise.  It is, as I see it, the glue - and it is really odd, actually, when you think about it, this amazing nation, this extraordinary powerful nation that rests upon this nebulous, ephemeral notion that things will get better, whatever that means.

The role the illusion of the American Dream plays sounds similar to the role of the promise of higher education.  This promise of upward mobility in the future as a result of hard work and "doing everything right" prevents the proletariat class from rioting in the streets like they do in France when the government threatens to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.  Perhaps if you are part of the French wealthy class, you don't mess with the French proletariat because you know that they aren't as stupid and as gullible as the Americans and that they have it within themselves to rise up and cut your head off.

Supposedly, studies show that Americans who are more highly-educated, or at least those who are doing well, think that the American Dream is still alive.  However, the callers to this show seemed to contradict that.

Wendy (caller): I think I feel more akin to the children of the '60s and the great disillusionment they wound up having with the kind of flower child movement than people in my own generation because I did all of the right things.  I worked in high school.  I went to college.  I worked hard.  I made great grades.  I got full scholarships.  And I am 35 years old and not able to find employment where I can afford to pay my mortgage.  So it's very like, I feel very disillusioned with America and the American ideals where you almost feel lost and like you grew up in a culture where you were just kind of fed a load of malarkey and lied to.  It's almost like when you find out that Santa Claus doesn't really exist.
Santa Claus doesn't exist? That realization reminds me of what law students must feel when they realize that they've been duped by the ABA and the law schools' fraudulent employment statistics and that the big law jobs and even mere entry-level shit-law jobs don't exist for them.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: She's getting at the heart of it, the disillusionment, the sense of being lied to, the sense that it doesn't pay to play - what she said - do the right things.  And what do people do when the feel that it no longer pays off to do the right thing?  They no longer do the right thing.  And those are the type of behaviors, the type of sort of angry voting, the type of - sort of dismantling the system you don't - no longer believe in.  This is precisely pointing to the potential dangers when enough people don't believe.
When people no longer have an American Dream to believe in, when they no longer believe in economic mobility and meritocracy, do they riot like Frenchmen?

The next caller also graduated from college and reported that he earned more money before he dropped $30,000 on higher education.

KEVIN: Hi.  I just wanted to make a quick comment.  I graduated about a year and a half from college, so the dream is kind of going away for me.  I havent been able to find work.  I'm, like, I've been married for a little over a year.  I'd like to be able to have kids, pass the dream onto them but it's, like I said, without being able to even afford to have kids, it just seems harder and harder.

CONAN: And so, would you - do you have faith that with hard work, if you can find it, things will be better for you and your kids?

KEVIN: I'm hoping so I work everyday to find a job, but I made more money 10 years ago before I even went to college.  It's like I make less money now than after I spent $30,000 on college.

Yes, Virginia.  If you've been to college and were unable to find a job in your field and are now worse off than you were before (saddled with student loan debt), the American Dream is in fact dead for you.

Got Down Syndrome? Now you too can go to College!

Do you suffer from Down Syndrome or some other form of mental retardation? Good news! The Associated Press reports that now you, too, can go to college!

Decades ago attaining a college education meant that you had demonstrated that your IQ was probably above average. Today, everyone and even their brother with Down's Syndrome can go to college. Is it any wonder that college degrees have lost much of their economic value? Who's paying for all of this? Our tax dollars, of course.

That growth is partly because of an increasing demand for higher education for these students and there are new federal funds for such programs. The federal rules that took effect this fall allow students with intellectual disabilities to receive grants and work-study money.
At least one commentator gets it:
The infusion of federal money has generated some criticism. Conservative commentator Charlotte Allen said it's a waste to spend federal tax dollars on the programs and insisted that calling them college dilutes the meaning of college.
"It's a kind of fantasy," said Allen, a contributing editor for Minding the Campus, a publication of the fiscally conservative Manhattan Institute. "It may make intellectually disabled people feel better, but is that what college is supposed to be all about?"
Will for-profit, predatory colleges start offering associates and bachelors degrees for mentally retarded people? My guess is yes, as long as the federal dollars are available.


EDIT:  Apparently someone linked to my blog at a Down Syndrome forum or community website.  (How the hell did anyone even find this post on an obscure blog?)  Anyway, welcome to Fluster Cucked.  Please allow me to clarify the context which regular readers and the target audience of this blog would understand.

I only have sympathy for people with Down Syndrome and other cognitive disabilities.  The purpose of my post was not to mock people with mental disabilities, but rather to point out the absurdity of the notion that everyone should go to college and to publicize the fact that our government and colleges are bending over backwards to send everyone to college.

In my view, our nation is wasting a huge amount of economic resources--people's time and money--on higher education that has no real economic value.  The result is that our nation has a large oversupply of college-educated people who end up unemployed or underemployed-and-involuntarily-out-of-field, including people with PhD's and professional degrees.  In my opinion, only the brightest and most ambitious people should go to college, at least to traditional four year colleges, because the overwhelming majority of jobs make little or no use of college education.

Many jobs require people to have a college education in order to obtain employment, not because a college education is directly useful, but rather as a proxy for separating out candidates by IQ, a sense of ambitiousness, and responsibility.  Decades ago these very same jobs were filled with people who had mere high school diplomas and they received training and learned on the job without an expenditure of four years' worth of time and student loan debt.  I think our society would be wealthier and fewer people would be saddled with non-dischargeable student loan debt if unneeded college education were no longer required for employment that doesn't make direct use of higher education.  In my view, college graduate production in a certain field should correspond more closely to the real-world demand for college graduates in that field.

Thus, in my opinion people with Down Syndrome and other cognitive disabilities simply should not be able to gain access to college, at least not on the taxpayers' dime, nor should they feel a compelling need to do so.  I suspect that the kinds of work most people with cognitive disabilities would perform make little real use of a college education.  Perhaps I'm wrong, but I'm under the perception that they aren't going to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, accountants, or computer programmers--things that make real use of a college education and that have economic value.

Monday, October 18, 2010

John Stossel questions the value of college education on ABC's 20/20. Rare Mainstream Media report.

A poster on JD Underground reports that John Stossel did a segment for ABC's 20/20 questioning the value of college education. It is very rare if not unheard of that any mainstream media would ever question the dogma of the value of higher education. Hopefully Stossel will investigate this in greater depth and more media outlets will pick up on it.

You can find the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V122ICNS8_0

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