Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I'm a rich lady!

That's what one of my students told me recently.

I know I haven't been around here much lately. It's been a tough few months and I've been dispirited. I haven't been able to find the humor in just about anything, and that has curtailed my haiku writing--no great loss for this site, but it was an outlet that helped. Sometimes.

Now, though, I must rant.

I was walking down a hall at LD3C when I saw a former student of mine, Whining William, seated on a bench. Before I could say hello, he said, "Hey there, rich lady!"

I stopped in my tracks. "Hi William," I said. "What do you mean, 'rich lady?'"

"Well," he said, "you make more money than me."

"William," I said, "there's a reason for that," to which he replied, "Yeah, you've been given more opportunities than me in this life."

At this point, my blood pressure shot up--en route to a meeting with admin-types, so that wasn't good--and I opted for a gentler answer than what I was thinking.

"William," I said, "think about what you just said. Really think about it. Then talk to me about opportunities."

Whining William was a student of mine two full years ago in Basic Fundamentals of Hamster Communication, a prerequisite for many Hamster Communication courses. During the first half of the semester in my class, he did the barest minimum to pass and he resisted instruction every week. In the second half of the semester, he worked a little harder--but he grumbled about it constantly.

Whenever I saw him afterward, when I inquired about his progress in subsequent Hamster Communication courses, he complained bitterly about the amount of work he had to do and the allegedly terrible instruction he was receiving. I do not know whether he passed these classes or not.

During the semester in which he was my student, Whining William revealed much about himself and his personal history through the assignments he submitted. We are very nearly the same age. We are the same color and of roughly the same ethnicity. His father worked at a factory here. Mine worked at a factory in a similar industry in another state. Whining William is the product of suburban public education. So am I.

The difference between us in terms of opportunity is that I chose to attend college--and pay for it out of my own pocket--while Whining William went to work in the same factory where his father worked. I don't fault him for that. That was his choice.

Neither should he fault me for my choice, though. We had similar opportunities. Whining William isn't stupid, as far as I can tell, and could have chosen a white-collar path. I could have chosen a blue-collar path, as did many of my friends, a path that brought them immediate financial stability--something that took me over a decade to achieve.

Furthermore, it's not my fault that Whining William lost his job, nor is it my fault that Whining William is still enrolled at LD3C--nor will I apologize to Whining William or anyone else for a level of comfort that I've worked toward for many, many years. I'm not living large. I can't afford to take the kind of vacation that Whining William took at the end of the semester in which he was enrolled in my class (nor can I figure out how he did so). I am still paying some student loans. I am paying medical debt from when I was uninsured. After four years of full-time employment, I've just finally paid off the "bad" debt I amassed from when I was underemployed as an adjunct (a job that coincided with working at a local mall).

I have several degrees that I paid for with student loans, worked a decade without any benefits whatsoever--while barely eeking out a living--and now that I have a stable job with benefits, a job through which I'm trying to help others attain stable employment and live better lives, I am the now-to-be-despised rich.

Someone's propaganda machine is working.


  1. I often have my mind blown here at College Misery. This is a tale for all time.

    Thanks for sharing it, Greta!

  2. I too grew up in a blue collar town in which my parents told me I was not going to be like them, going to undergrad as an older adult while trying to hold down a full-time job. Many of my peers, like Greta's, followed their parents' lead and took manufacturing or clerical jobs. They now find themselves back at college trying to pull themselves up the ladder or even back onto it as their jobs disappeared.

    This may be more of a CC than uni phenomenon, but one thing I've noticed that sets my students apart from me in the "opportunity" category is how much value they put on that opportunity. Specifically, most of them are not willing to take out student loans of any kind. If they can get a grant or scholarship or pay for it out of their low-wage job (which they work full time thus rendering little investment in studying), they'll come to school, but they absolutely refuse to borrow one dime as an investment in themselves. (Borrowing on credit cards is another story, however.) I could see reticence if we were ungodly expensive, but to this day, our costs are among the lowest in the nation, let alone the state, and many of our occ/tech programs all but guarantee a job when the students finish. As a result of this phenomenon, it's not uncommon to see students take 5 years or even longer to finish an associate's degree. I've had some who took as long as 10 years, a sea of changed majors, dropped classes, and failures in their transcripts. Some students I advise have more attempted credits on their CC transcripts than I have on all three degrees.

  3. It's the same propaganda machine at work here, where teachers are "union thugs" and "lazy parasites" and "pigs at the public trough."

    Whining William doesn't get, and likely never will. ^EnglishDoc pegged it with the value concept, though I'm not sure I agree with the student loan argument.

    Thank you for sharing this with us. You're not alone.

  4. Funny, but there are a number of people I know who would respond to this by saying, "And I know whose propaganda it is. The profs I had in college - or the profs I read about on the Drudge Report at least - were preaching the same thing!"

  5. Greta, you ARE the one percent!

    1. Of wonderful CM correspondents.

    2. I removed my comment because I forgot to thank Ben when I posted. Thank you, Ben.

      Now my comment: Cindy, I fall about $340,000 short of qualifying for one-percent status.

  6. Greta, have you been parking your Lamborghini in the handicapped parking space again?

  7. I don't remember where I heard it but I did hear someone say that if you have a full time job and health benefits you are the elite. Well I have a full time job. I also have two part time jobs to make sure I can pay my student loans and my mortgage. Living the American Dream baby!

  8. What is this, dialogue between Archie Bunker and Meathead? It bodes ill for a society to turn against its teachers, particularly now. Wouldn't you know also, in China they say, "One of five people is a teacher."

  9. I think the (very, very faulty) reasoning goes somewhere along the lines of "college is expensive; the people at college with whom I have the most contact are professors; therefore, professors must be making a lot of money." Or maybe it's just an extension of the (also faulty) reasoning that more education=a higher salary (after all, why else would you have gotten that Ph.D.?). And no, the rhetoric BurntChrome references isn't helping much, either.

    Neither is William's intellectual level, temperament, and/or attitude, I suspect. Opportunities are, indeed, precisely what he's had. What he's made of them is another question.

  10. Nil Carborundum Illegitami, Greta.

    There is something out there that wants to tear down the teacher. From Pink Floyd's "we don't need no education" to the latest Tea-Partying ravings against the "intellectual elites", the teacher-as-bad-guy meme is an enduring one. Learning (making use of the opportunity to learn) is hard. It requires bumping into one's own limits, mistakes and uncertainties. So the teacher, who by nature, has to point these out makes an easy target. To borrow a line: "Upon the teacher! - let us our lives, our souls, our debts, our careful wives, our children and our sins lay on the teacher!"

    Or as a less eloquent bard might put it - "remember, I'm pullin' for ya. We're all in this together."

  11. @ Rosencrantz &/or...
    Please don't bring Pink Floyd into this. Their "We don't need no education" was clearly aimed at the 'discipline-ueber alles' ethos of his educational environment (probably elementary or secondary school). Just listen to the actual lyrics, for crying out loud, or the album, if you are a true scholar.

    1. Kaboom! I guess I should have known I'd step on the tribal-allegiances-to-stadium-rock-bands landmine. But if you visit the loadies outside the local high school, the frat boys at their kegger, or even the longshoremen's union local 619 at their Fourth of July barbecue, I suspect that you will find all of them belting out "Hey! Teacher! Leave those kids alone!" at the top of their lungs without a care in the world for any difficulties Roger Waters might have exerienced in the 3rd form.

      And that's the point - at least the one relevant to Greta's experience. The meme that takes root, reinforced on every ad for every "Classic Rock" radio station - is that teachers are the bad guys. All of them, not just a few martinettes in the post WWII British public school system. It is a meme that has made Pink Floyd (and other bands, along with right-wing chuckleheads like Rush Limbaugh and company) far wealthier than any teacher could ever hope to be.

  12. Since I teach at a public university, when a student is silly enough to tell me I'm rich I direct her to the web site that reports the salaries of all public employees. It comes as an epiphany upon them. (You studied for fifteen years for this?!?)

    @Vanfur. I beg to disagree on Pink Floyd. If you review the lyrics of The Wall you'll see that is is a cry against any dependence -- absent father (In the Flesh, The Thin Ice, Vera, Bring the Boys), possessive mother (Another Brick 1, Mother), educational system (Happiest Days, Another Brick 2), possessive wife (Empty Spaces, Young Lust, One of my Turns, Don't Leave Me Now), and government (Goodbye Blue Sky, from In the Flesh to The Trial) -- in the wake of the 60's-70's anti-authoritarian discourse, effect of which is, precisely, the erosion of the sense of deference from students to faculty about which Greta comments.


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