Category Archives: Literature

Education Reform and the Over-Inflated, Over-Rated 4-year College Degree

by Christina Ivazes  

 The current state of the US economy, our unskilled labor force, the need for educational reform, and the skyrocketing costs of a college education demand we be smart and efficient about solutions that affect and connect all of the above. Perhaps a better strategy is to back away from the ideal that every American should go to college. Yes, we can all agree that every American should have the opportunity to go to college if they choose. However, to give our students and our nation the best educated and skilled workforce, we should not focus on every American going to college, but first, on every American graduating from high school with two years of career training. This pragmatic strategy offers numerous benefits to our country. 

vh   By becoming more efficient and effective in preparing students for the real world and college, the US will save money and jobs. In 2010, The Fiscal Times reports, “just 56 percent of those who enroll in a four-year college earn a bachelor’s degree…Some students drop out because of the trouble paying the cost—the average college debt upon graduation is a whopping $24,000” (Reynolds Lewis). According to the U.S. Dept. of Education Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the cost of a four-year college education is from $18,900 to $35,500 and rising. We also know that these quotes are a low-average and not really what a four-year is typically costing our college graduates, where $50-$100,000 is a more common estimate today in 2011. And graduation does not necessarily equate employment as we see with a glut of unemployed college graduates today weighed down with inflated student loan and credit card debt. There are jobs however, that are immune to outsourcing and which do not warrant an expensive four-year degree.

Secondary and post-secondary vocational and technical training programs are historically lower in cost with competitive salaries to those earned from four-year college degrees. Matthew B. Crawford advocates for the many benefits of trade-based training in his bookShop Class as Soulcraft, “You’re likely to be less damaged, and quite possibly better paid, as an independent tradesman than as a cubicle-dwelling tender of information system or low-level “creative” (53). The Houston Chronicle published an article supporting Crawford’s concept stating, “Mechanics of all types are in high demand and can command a high hourly wage… Many blue collar jobs require training through apprenticeships or vocational training programs and others may require on-the-job training or passing an aptitude test prior to employment” (Nielson). This is not a proposal to eliminate the college track for high school students in America.

Shouldn’t we beg the questions: Why are we so single tracked about how to create a productive & competitive job force? And, shouldn’t we think about downsizing the cost of education along with our lifestyles? The IES reports that in 2008, earnings for an employed four-year college graduate are on average of $55,000/males, $45,000/females per year. Compare the costly four-year college degree with training and apprenticeship (which can begin as a junior in high school) for an electrician who can earn from $34,000 and upwards with no student loan debt with just two more years of post-secondary training for $400-$1000/yr. “Semi-truck drivers…start out making $50,000 annually…and only requires about four weeks of training to obtain a license” (Nielson). Debt free high school training in the trades or technology/health careers can yield from $34,000-$50,000+ per year. Another pragmatic idea Crawford suggests is “even if you do go to college, learn a trade in the summers” (53).    By increasing high school career training programs, we can create a stronger buy-in for students, reducing training costs while also reducing the costs of high school dropouts for our society.

cgh  The costs of high school dropouts are far-reaching beyond the costs of college dropouts. According to the 2007 report The Economic Losses from High School Drop-outs in California, the significant impact from high school dropouts come from lost tax revenue, Medical and Medicare expenditures, fiscal costs to fight crime, prosecute and incarcerate felons, and increased assistance for both felons and their families. “The economic magnitudes are substantial” (2 Belfield, Levin). After deducting the cost of education, the average total lifetime social gains for a high school graduate is $391,910 per graduate in the State of California, with the savings for black males being the highest at $681,130 (Table 18, Belfield and Levin). My point is not to stereotype but to acknowledge that we need to do everything in our capacity to invest in our high school students to become ready employable adults and/or ready for college, not inmates and/or recruits for drug cartels.

Career and technical training can be a ray of hope for all high school students, not just the disenchanted. Crawford makes a strong case in favor of the trades in Shop Class as Soulcraft, including his highlight on their little recognized intellectual merit, “I quickly realized there was more thinking going on in the bike shop than in my previous job at the think tank” (27). With a PhD. he describes a collegiate fall from grace as a blessing because it led him back to his original high school training as a motorcycle mechanic.  Crawford describes his own cognitive journey as well as those of other tradesmen he interviewed. The conclusion is worth a new focal point in our education reform. In Crawford’s view “Given the intrinsic richness of manual work— cognitively, socially, and in its broader psychic appeal—the question becomes why it has suffered such a devaluation as a component of education” (27). Some may view this idea as undermining a college education, but what Crawford is really pointing out is that “Practical know-how… is always tied to the experience of a particular person. It can’t be downloaded, it can only be lived” (162). Children and teenagers have always responded positively to the value of hands-on learning, especially when it has a practical application in their lives.

At the age of 16, a teenager’s cognitive maturity starts him or her on the path towards the reality of the adult world and all that entails. You may wonder what cognitive maturity has to do with a broad-based high school career and technical training program, but if students are struggling in school, have no money or family support for college, many see no future in the value of their junior and senior years. Challenged students need full engagement to prevent them from becoming avoidable statistics. By focusing on Math and English proficiency by the end of sophomore year, juniors and seniors can take core subjects and science classes with their half day of training courses to ensure they are ‘college ready’ at graduation. This schedule does not limit a student’s education, it enhances it by making it relevant; it prepares the student both for life and for college should they choose to attend.

 cvb  Though career and technical training in high school is not the solution for every student, it can serve a healthy percentage of our labor force. Some model programs in the US illustrate the potential of every high school, such as the Howard High School of Technology in Delaware.  The 2010 report by the Delaware Department of Education declares, “Howard has a high graduation rate (97 percent) and daily attendance rate (95 percent) and a low serious infraction rate….In addition to an academic program, Howard students choose one of the following career pathways: finance and business; carpentry; computer network administration; cosmetology; culinary arts; dental assisting; electrical trades; engine technology; legal administrative assisting; medical assisting; nursing technology; public service; or structural steel detailing.”  This richly diverse program serves a variety of student and community needs. It is a model that deserves replication.

There are still many questions to address in more detail before programs like Howard can be implemented effectively across America.  Questions like: How will we pay for this?  How can we make a solid case for the benefits of high school career training that will not be sabotaged by budget cuts every time state and federal revenues fluctuate? How can we refocus dollars from punitive institutions to education so we can create a higher skilled work force, reduce high school dropouts and prison populations while also reducing student loan and credit card debt? The answers to these questions and are necessary for the design of lasting and effective education reform that will strengthen our economy and society.  Of course, to change the current system, we may also have to challenge for profit college and prison industries that have benefitted by the shrinking of high school career education in the U.S., but it’s a challenge worth taking up.

Work cited

Belfield, Clive R. and Henry M. Levin. “The Economic Losses From High School Dropouts in California.” University of California, Santa Barbara: California Dropout Research Project Report #1, August 2007. PDF.(Table 18) Web. 7 April 2011.

Crawford, Matthew B. Shop Class as Soulcraft. New York: The Penguin Press. 2009. Print.

Delaware Department of Education. “Delaware Partnership Zone: Howard High School of Technology.” PDF. 2010. 21 April 2011.

Nielson, Lisa. “Highest Demand Blue Collar Careers.” The Houston Chronicle. 2011. Web. 7 April 2011.

Reynolds Lewis, Katherine. “High College Dropout Rate Threatens US Growth.” The Fiscal Times. October 28, 2010. Web. 22 April 2011.

 Wei, Christina Chang. “What is the Price of College?” U.S. Department of Education. December, 2010. PDF. (Table 1). Web. 7 April 2011.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, children, Education, Families, Fathers, Financial Crisis, Literature, mother, Parenting, prevention, teaching, technology, teenagers, The New Physics of Childhood

The Secret Garden-Revisited

Every Garden is a Blessing!

Every Garden is a Blessing!

As Spring approached this year, I discovered myself devouring the colorful front yard gardens of downtown Palo Alto with a hunger I haven’t felt for some time. Every week, the longing for my own garden in Sacramento grew, the deep desire to compost, grow vegetables and plant more flowers. This seasonal hunger to garden has been with me for as long as I can remember, but more voracious than ever this Spring.

While strolling by well-established gardens—each filled with surprises—my own deep need for roots was awakened again; a need for a place where I know I will enjoy the fruits of my labor year after year, without the typical uprooting I have experienced throughout my life. Though no matter how much I myself have moved, nothing will stop me from enjoying the gardens of others.

Daily meanderings took me to a creek with a green strip of psuedo forest on one side and lovely, open, bountiful gardens on the other. One day I marveled at a huge black crow chasing a white cat into the bush, laughing at how comical nature can be.

Each weekend when I returned to Sacramento, I was curious though as to why people in my own Sacramento neighborhoods didn’t have gardens like these. Why did I feel such an affinity for the Palo Alto gardens? Why was I one of the few growing flowers in my own community?

Then came the evening while reading Virginia Woolf’s, The Common Reader, when a familiar title flashed by in one of her essays: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Like a knee-jerk reflex, a familiar magical flutter filled me as I recalled the tattered, dingy, green bound book with its gold-embossed title; the book I had read so, so long ago. Warm inside like always when remembering this story, I savored the feelings it brought me.

Sunny Spring days continued and Palo Alto’s gardens proliferated with boundless colors, intensifying my hunger, yet also the gratitude for this blessed environment I found myself in—this particular year. During an unlikely detour one afternoon, I passed a home surrounded not by welcome, but by mystery. Its high fence was covered with overgrown roses and bushes meant to keep curiousity like mine at bay. I peeked where tiny openings allowed, catching a view that was followed by a flash, this was a ‘Secret Garden’!

Once again, my mind wandered back to explore the past. There was an answer for me somewhere in this story, The Secret Garden. It had deeply effected my view and appreciation of nature as a child, an appreciation and a hunger that have stuck with me throughout my life; a hunger that hits me every Spring and everywhere there are reminders.

I had to understand how this came about. I would re-read the book, hopefully solving the mystery of my serious need for nature.

Reflecting to a few years back, I remembered buying my eleven year-old niece a set of classic books, books which she gobbled up in a few weeks—much like I did at her age. I remembered the envy and pleasure I felt when she told me she had finished, The Secret Garden. I knew she now had something magical that would stay with her forever. I wished I could have shared the enchantment of this story with my grandaughters too, but they were in a different world by then; I had missed my window of opportunity—before the obsessions of boys, friends, text messaging, and social networking sites.

So, giving myself permission to be a curious child again, off I steered towards Bell’s Books on Emerson Ave. in Palo Alto; one of the last holdouts in fine new and used books after 65 years! The co-owner who I usually talked to would understand my feelings about this story. When I entered and found her free, we shared thoughts of the book, her detailed memories being more vivid than my own. I could not remember when I had read it, but it must have been somewhere between nine and ten years old before my own obsession with mysteries started—about forty years ago!

As I perused the volumes of children’s classics, the familiar binding from my past was not to be found so I chose an inexpensive paperback version to get me started, one I could pass on to others. I couldn’t wait to begin; I opened the book and started reading it as I walked down the street, looking forward to my break so I could indulge myself completely.

While I began reading this classic book from my childhood I devised a theory about the difference between the downtown Palo Alto gardens and others. Since Stanford University is close and downtown Palo Alto is filled with Stanford faculty, who are of course educated in the classics, perhaps these homeowners were creating their own gardens in reminiscence of the magic they felt after reading The Secret Garden.

The Secret Garden DID answer the questions to my passion for nature. But I had not predicted that it would answer so many questions about who I am today.

How fortunate I was to have read this as a child, to understand how nature works, how receptive she is to us as humans, and how vital she is to our well-being, no matter our age. I bought a hardback copy for my six year-old grandson so he and my daughter could enjoy it as well. I didn’t want to miss another opportunity to share this vital message with my offspring.

Although it never dwindled, I am filled with renewed reverence for the wonderous feelings and hunger for all of nature, even as they come with a bittersweet accent this late Spring. Upon my return to Sacramento last week, I found out we are losing our home to the bank and once again, I will uproot myself to God knows where, still longing for my own romantic secret garden someday.  Until then, I will be enjoying the gorgeous gardens of others, always hungry, always searching, yet always grateful every time I hear the song of a bird or see the blossom of a flower. Nothing can take away the magic that nature has given me in my life, not even the bank!

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Filed under 1, Banks, Books, foreclosure, Gardening, Literature, nature, SPring, Writing

If My Mother Were Alive Today

IF MY MOTHER WERE ALIVE TODAY
March 28, 2009

If my mother were alive today
she would probably have a vegetable garden,
though she never grew anything other than us five kids that I can remember.
She would embrace the Green and Slow Food movements, organic food, Alice Waters, Al Gore, recycling, and perhaps even have a compost pile.
My mother was an avid follower of Adelle Davis and Julia Child; gourmet cuisine and nutrition, though never in the same meal.

If my mother were alive today
I think she would revere our new President Obama,
just as she had John F. Kennedy.
I remember the day I arrived home from kindergarten to find her sitting in front of the television in our living room, crying.
When I asked her what was wrong, she told me our President had been killed. My five-year old mind could not comprehend the implications of such an event or the sorrow of her tears; now I understand.

If my mother were alive today
I hope she would be happy that I actually read
Tolstoy’s, War and Peace.
A two-volume paperback version of War and Peace was by her bedside
when she went into the coma that ended her life three days later.
I have to confess that I read it this past winter,
in order to finish something she had started.

If my mother were alive today
she would be happy that I still take walks up on ‘Mummu’s Hill’-
the open space my grandmother fought for years to save.
She would be comforted that I still appreciate where I come from
no matter where life has led me.
Coincidentally, I was on that hill today, comforted by my old friends the California poppies, Tidy Tips, and Buttercups dancing amongst memories of family walks during holidays gatherings. Though Mommy was never there for those walks, it was because of her we were there.

If my mother were alive today
I would make sure she saw her seven great grandchildren
and that they knew how special she was.
She was a deeply intellectual and philosophical thinker,                                                                                                                                                fascinated with avant garde culture and the possibility of extraterrestrial life.              

If my mother were alive today
I hope she would celebrate with me to find out
I am one week away from sending my 1st. manuscript
to the publisher;
something she didn’t have the opportunity to do.
I found out years later that before her death she spent two years writing a novel
which was destroyed before anyone could read it.

If my mother were alive today
we could discuss literature over coffee—two of her habits I fervently adopted.
Insisting I knew she was cultured and literate                                                                                                                                                                         
 she took me for walks on the Stanford University Campus,                                                                                                                                                 sharing secrets of what seemed to be an ‘alter-life’.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Though after our walks we inevitably returned to our real home,                                                                                                                                                  a shack in the ghetto of East Palo Alto.
But, no matter how poor or trapped we were in any given moment
my mother demonstrated that we always had books and the knowledge of others
to expand our lives beyond our circumstances.

If my mother were alive today
I could ask her the many, many questions
about her life that she left unanswered
like, ‘Who was my father?’
What was it really like                                                                                                                                                                                                    following around the jazz greats in the 50’s and living in the basement of Kalisa’s in Monterey?                                                                                         What actually happened that summer in Lake Tahoe during her 16th year,                                                                                                                                that seemed to change her self-concept forever?

I may never know the answers
to these questions;
I can only imagine.
I am comforted in knowing she is happy where she is now
because she told me so
when she visited me in my dreams after her death.
Today is the thirty eighth anniversary of that death,
Which came seven days after her 34th birthday.

This loss of my mother                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    gave me a different experience in life.
As a twelve-year old, I had to figure things out for myself
stumbling through how to be a woman, a wife, a mother, and a professional.                                                                                                                        I had many rough moments, and some really bad influences but eventually                                                                                                                                   I sought out awesome mentors who helped me find my way.

As is human nature,                                                                                                                                                                                                                     I have taken on some of my mother’s unfinished business and                                                                                                                                                      preserved every precious little kernel of culture and wisdom                                                                                                                                                  she fed to me in my first twelve years from preparing crème brulee’ and cardamom bread
to a love of literature, education, and the Extraordinary in Life.                                                                                                                                                   I have come to appreciate those kernels more                                                                                                                                                                     because there are so few of them.                                                                                                                                                                                            Loss has been my inspiration, my eternal compassion,                                                                                                                                                              never taking for granted how precious my life is;                                                                                                                                                                   each kernel becoming a jewel with time.                                                                                   

If you can hear me Mommy,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I just want you to know that I, too am okay!

Love, Christie

 

 

 

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Filed under 1, Books, Gardening, Jazz, Literature, nutrition, Parenting, Roanne+Lindquist, Writing