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.