Cheap Cynism About The Educated

I spend a great deal of my time these days working with students who are building a mentoring program to encourage first generation/low-income students to aspire to and become competitive for college.  I and the student mentors talk a great deal about the necessity of addressing the mentees’ questions about the value of college, about whether they belong in college, about negotiating the suspicions that parents might have about how college will change their children.

We do this work because opening access to higher education is right and just.  We do it because we understand that while college guarantees no one economic security, skipping college is now  a near  guarantee of economic insecurity.

So I grow very impatient with college- educated politicians who keep playing  the cynical political rhetoric about “out of touch professors“.  For all its populist tone, that rhetoric is an insiders’ game,  played over the heads of families who, in this generation, are  facing difficult and complicated and wrenching decision about whether  sons and daughters now will cross over, enroll in college, and perhaps then become “The Man”,  become like those who have long worked against the interests of working people.

So exactly what message do Sarah Palin and others who mock “professors” in political rhetoric want these families to hear?

That “real” people are right to be suspicious about college?  That to attend college will, in fact, distance their children from real issues, real social problems, real wisdom?  That blue-collar parents are wise to be cynical about the value of a college degree?

Such cynical and cheap political rhetoric is possible only among those who themselves have lost  touch with the significant social and cultural and economic weight of the choice to Become Educated when education is not part of a families’ legacy.

And they’re making my work and the work of the student mentees with whom I work that much more difficult.

7 thoughts on “Cheap Cynism About The Educated

  1. k. emvee February 15, 2010 / 5:50 pm

    I was a first-generation college student – the first person on both sides of my family to earn a BA in fact. We made quite a site visiting colleges – my father dressed up in his cowboy boots so that, in his mind, the administrators at the colleges would take him more seriously. It really was a world that was completely foreign to him.

    I came from a working class family and the summer before I left for a prestigious private college on the opposite side of the country, my father sat me down and made sure whether I really wanted to go to college – he offered to help me get a good job working for the same company he worked for.

    College was a difficult experience for my family – there were a lot of divides we had to bridge to come to a better understanding of each other. I was embarking on a journey that my parents (and grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins) couldn’t really relate to. And yet I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

    So instead of Palin mocking higher education, I would argue that we need more programs like yours – accompanied by workshops for parents and students about how to manage the first year of college and bridge that gap – as well as workshops for college students and recent grads about what it means to make such a huge class jump in their lives.

  2. janevangalen February 15, 2010 / 6:41 pm

    K. Thanks so much for your comment. And congratulations on all that you’ve accomplished– especially in navigating family relationships respectfully. Stories like yours are all too common, and I’m so interested in ways to open up the conversation about to stories like yours — they need to be heard, and we need to complicate this rhetoric that “common people” and the educated are inherently on opposing sides (my father who had little formal education but how loved reading about history would be appalled if he were still here to see this). Thanks for sharing — hope we can talk more about all of this.

  3. Jeanne February 17, 2010 / 8:30 am

    What came to mind for me as I read this was K’s story, so much like mine.

    But I also thought of the culturally middle class tendency to disdain people who don’t choose college, and the arrogance of the well-educated against “uneducated” people.

    Yes, we need to challenge Palin and her ilk, but we also need to tell the elites to stop being so goddamn arrogant.

    Thanks for working so hard to open up the opportunity for college to so many people. You’re doing good work.

    • janevangalen February 17, 2010 / 4:13 pm

      Hi Jeanne. Yes. K, I hope that you come back for more conversation. Yes, the arrogance of the middle class amongst the “uneducated”. And then for very powerful people among the educated to pretend that their education is something merely to mock? Give me a break.

      Wishing for more time for conversation …

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