This year for my elective class (cause yo-ho-yo-ho the teacher’s life for me!) is Computer Skills I. It’s a .5 high school credit class, and overall I was pretty excited about it. Me!? COMPUTERS! Bring it! A lot of it is prescribed, and that’s all right. There are certain tech skills many students are not only uncomfortable with, but disdainful of as well. One of the skills includes familiarity with Excel. All right, then, being all about the “real world” and authentic experiences, I thought I would go to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics and have the students use real data, possibly about wage gaps, earning potential based on education, etc. That’ll show them! Look! STAY IN SCHOOL and The More You Know and all that.
And what did I see?
The lies of Wall Street, Ayn Rand, and politicians who would maintain control of our citizens via institutionalized poverty.
You’re not seeing that yet? Look closer: In 1979, with less than a high school diploma, a man could make $578/week on average. Not great, certainly. However, in 2002 that same individual would make $421. So, I talk a student into not dropping out of school. Fantastic. Now I can promise him stagnant wages, and hefty student loans. Seems fair, right? And his job will most likely be in the creative class, like myself and my husband, who works, and always has, being a computer guru. What does his guru-ship get him? Ageist, capricious Gates-Jobs-Zuckerberg wannabes who are proud, and yes, boast, of being ‘slow to hire, quick to fire.’ Yes, he’s heard start-up owners say this in staff meetings after firings, said with pride and self-ascribed wit.
Yes, that’s funny.
Consider a new house in 1979 cost $58,500. It is conceivable that with college degree the major income earner in the household could afford a home, and provide for his family. And this isn’t beginning to discuss the gender income gap. In 2009, a new house may cost $232,800. Sigh. Wonder how that average faired when the housing bomb fiasco really sunk in?
Forty years ago you could walk into a factory and work a living wage. People thought that was horrible. We watched commercials to “Look for the Union Label,” and politicians heaped scorn and dismantled unions.
A choice: do I cover this up, dust it under the rug, and have students do Excel spreadsheets on the colors of Skittles in a bag, or music popularity polls? Can I in good conscience continue to promote education, being a critical thinker, voting when they turn 18, etc. if it’s all for naught? If their hard work and grit gets them nothing but stagnant or dealing values for their hard-earned dollar? And what about me? I can’t survive in a modest, worn-down home, pay a car payment, or save for retirement on my salary. And I am getting older, and closer to potential disaster. Trust me, I am well aware my bullet-proof fugue is lifted.
It’s more important than ever.
No more hiding behind vague standards, or skills, but include and underscore content area. Inform students about economics. Inform students about how to read political platforms, get involved, and make their voices heard.
Admittedly, I’m a little tired of “we’re teaching students things that won’t even be jobs…” rhetoric. It really, truly is okay to teach handwriting. And making. And growing. And doing. Get out of a chair. Consider how do things WORK? How are they made? What can and should a human do versus a robot? What gives young people hope and purpose?
We constantly lament about how young people are disenfranchised, and we allowed it to happen. We allowed the back-end deals, and the trade agreements, and now the shared-economy that allows for one singular owner to earn hefty profits based on the cost burdens of people desperate to earn a little extra money with their cars, homes, and talents. Yes, I do see Uber as being a new-age form of feudalism. But I also know a young millennial who doesn’t drive, nor has any interest to, and I may be using those services. How can I “make” someone learn to drive when the road is full of texting dangerous drivers? Okay: I meandered a bit here, but to clarify -it just seems like we’re subletting our own lives. We are giving others our power and mobility, literally, and not directing our own course, and not paying attention to the real and abstract costs.
So maybe that’s what it comes down to. We pay for what we want to protect, even if it’s false. We spend $80 BILLION on prisons, because apparently we don’t know what to do with our human resources.
Meanwhile my millennial has another tuition payment due soon, and because of job insecurities not sure how we’re going to pay it. We usually seem to find a way, but to say it’s stressful is an understatement. It’s not cute, or quaint, this Norman Rockwell construct of ‘off to college for a better future.’
I almost want to tell the kid to stay on the farm and grow organic, GMO-free quinoa to sell to Whole Foods. Get back in the truck, dude.
So: what’s next? Economics 101? How domoney, budgets, and the government work? Yup. Think that’s about it.
Department of Labor and Statistics: http://www.bls.gov
*For the record: I hate the subhead of this article written in 2002