Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Is College Worth it?

[This blog was written before President Biden announced his plan to address oppressive debt from student loans.  I have chosen to post the blog I had prepared and add an addendum at the end of the blog to comment on the program announced by the President. ] 

 At the time I did the research for Prairie Bachelor, I knew that Isaac Werner was still attending school at the age of seventeen, similar to young people living in town at that time, but not necessarily what farm kids attending classes in one-room schools on the prairie received.  Even when they were quite young, farm students attending the country schools were generally in classes only about 4 months during the winter when they were not needed to help at the farm.  After Prairie Bachelor was published, I  learned that Isaac did attend college, although I am not aware of his receiving any degree.  What is obvious from Isaac's journal is that he never stopped reading and learning, and that his interests included a large range of topics. 

Many traditional things are being challenged in America today, and one of those things is the value of higher education after the completion of high school.  Part of that is the incredible expense of a college education today.  Certain degrees, such as Medicine and the Law, among others, require an investment in further education, but recently more people are challenging the necessity of a college degree for other career paths, often suggesting that a 2-year Community College degree is adequate.  Other critics point to the extravagant and  unnecessary expense of things having no connection with education that colleges now provide to attract students, like climbing walls and waterparks, which are driving up tuition unnecessarily.  

These critics suggest that trade schools and employers who offer assistance to employees to attend college part time are better choices.  In my own community, I know of examples of businesses started by young men fresh out of high school that have become highly successful.  Of course, virtual classes are also attracting students.  

When I first read the heading of an article, "College Is A Scam," I was startled; however, I decided to investigate.  The debt many students leave college owing is in many, perhaps most, cases ominous, but since that varies with scholarships, grants, awards, and parental assistance, I have chosen not to put a number on the particular amount other than to say for many graduates paying off their student loans will take years.  From 1989 to 2016, according to one survey, the cost of college increased almost eight times faster that wages.

Here are some things to consider:

1.  35% of all jobs require at least a Bachelor's Degree.  (Of course, that means that 65% do not.)

2.  Graduates have higher salary rates and lower unemployment rates, $1,305 to $781 weekly salary rates on average, and 3.2% to 6.8% unemployment rates, or in another study 2% to 5%.  

3.  Jobs requiring a Bachelor's Degree are more likely to provide health insurance of some type; and interestingly, those with a Bachelor's are more likely to have better health habits, in particular, 20% of High School Graduates smoke, 12% of those with Associate Degrees, and only 5% of those with a Bachelor's Degree.

Those counseling students regarding the benefits of college offered several reasons, although true, that seemed to me something most young high school graduates could achieve on their own, outside of college:  "A safe place to explore interests, test career paths, or take classes 'just for fun,' A place to "make connections," A way to acquire personal growth and practice responsibilities, and an opportunity to increase knowledge and expand world views.  While those things could be pursued without being in college, it would require self discipline without a professor's or counselor's guidance, but to do well, college itself requires self discipline.

I thought an interesting way to close would be with the names of some well known people who stopped with a Community College Degree:  Eileen Collins, NASA astronaut; Calvin Klein, fashion designer; and Tom Hanks, Oscar wining actor.

I do not agree with the title, "College Is A Scam," that first attracted my attention.  However, I do understand why other options might be worth considering.

[As I noted at the top of this blog, at the time I drafted the blog, President Biden had not declared the aid to students struggling with collage debt.  Certainly I was aware of that burdensome debt, and I knew several politicians had plans they were advocating to assist students with such debt.  I certainly understand the objections from students who paid their obligations with no government help.  I also understand those who may not have pursued their first career choice, finding instead an alternative career to avoid such debt.  After all, those who chose the expense of college did so fully aware of the debt they could incur.  College is very expensive, and universities have made it more so by competing with each other to make their school more enticing.  I think most of us agree with the problem.  It is the appropriate solution that remains in dispute.  President Biden's plan seems more concerned with helping graduates escape the debt than with addressing the obviously cost of higher education.  Without addressing that part of the problem, it does not seem to be an effective solution.  I do not typically express my opinion in my blogs, but rather than avoid commenting in this case and deleting the blog, I felt an addendum was appropriate.  I respect that readers of this blog may have a different perspective.]   


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Apology accepted vs. Apology Ignored

How many of us remember some variation in the voice of your mother saying, "Now, you be nice and apologize to Susie...or Johnny...or the family dog?  Which would be, hopefully, followed by your friend accepting the apology, or the dog wagging its tail, and all the hurt feelings mended.

Refusing to share!  Sincere apology needed!

A recent news item caught my attention and prompted this blog, which is not intended to take sides in the particular situation but rather just to be a comment on the issue of apologizing. In fact, --I am not even going to bring attention to the particular apology that caught my eye.  In the days since I started drafting this blog I have seen several examples of all kinds of apologies--good ones and bad ones, as well as gracious acceptances and hateful refusals, so I am sure you can find your own examples to consider!

When we were five years old and our mothers told us to apologize, we knew what we were expected to do.  "I'm sorry," we would say, doing our best to look contrite.  The recipient, as I recall, had a few possible responses.  Among them, the simple "OK," or the extremely gracious "That's all right.  You didn't mean it."

Times have changed.  Most of us are familiar with the non-apologetic apology: "I'm sorry you took it that way," casting the infraction on the person who was offended or hurt rather than acknowledging their own bad behavior.  Going even further is the denial:  "That's not what I said."  Or, the sharing of responsibility apology avoidance:  "I guess we both got a little carried away."

Has the very idea of an apology become obsolete?  I certainly hope not, but perhaps too many apologies are more interested in justifications and excuses.  For example, here are some pitfalls that defeat true apologies, if an apology is to be sincere.  

1. Don't get caught up in arguing 'who started it."  Even if you are tempted to point out the other person's contributions to the problem, settle instead on saying simply "I'm sorry for my part in this situation."

2.  A true apology does not include the word "but."

3.  An apology isn't going to accomplish much if the behavior for which you are trying to apologize is repeated time and again.

4.  Sometimes "I'm sorry" isn't enough and takes time to restore trust, but pouting and absolutely refusing to accept a sincere effort to repair the wrong can also be unfair.

Sharing the toys.  No apology needed!

I fear that the art of a sincere apology is dying. Admitting a mistake or poor judgement seems to become harder and harder for people today, and if we don't sincerely regret whatever it is we are apologizing for, nor intend to avoid the behavior in the future, maybe there really is no point in an apology.  When you were a child, did a simple "I'm sorry" make a real difference that allowed you to go back to playing happily together?

In more sophisticated language, didn't those simple words often repair the relationship?  Didn't they often work a reconciliation?  Didn't they help to restore some dignity and sense of justice to the child whose feelings were hurt and successfully mend the harm of whatever had happened?  But, didn't it really all come down to the sincerity of the apology? 

Maybe the advice our mothers taught us, to say we were sorry when we messed up, was pretty good advice.  .  


Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Loss of a Hero


As I explained at the opening of my book, Prairie Bachelor, I wrote "for readers not terribly different from Isaac and his neighbors, ordinary Americans who care about our history."  The author who has greatly inspired me, David McCullough, passed away August 7, 2022.  His quote appears on page xxvi of my book:  "No harm's done to history by making it something someone would want to read." Academics do not own history, although one critic who reviewed my book seemed to think so, basing his primary criticism not on what I had written but rather on how he wished I had written in a more academic style.  There is nothing wrong with writing books for other academics, but if history is told only to scholars, how will other readers learn about our past?  David McCullough was my hero because he wrote history in a way that ordinary people wanted to read.

I am far from being unique as a fan.  His book Truman won the Pulitzer in 1992, and John Adams won the Pulitzer in 2001, both also familiar because they were made into television movies.  I won't even begin to list all of the other awards his books have won.  Probably many of you would recognize his voice as a narrator.  In 2006 President Bush awarded him the Medal of Freedom.

"To me," McCullough wrote, "history ought to be a source of pleasure.  It isn't just part of our civic responsibility.  To me its an enlargement of the experience of being alive, just the way literature or art or music is."  One of his books holds the record for selling the most nonfiction books on the day of his book's release.   Fans couldn't wait to read it!  What a tribute to an author that is.

I own most of his books, although not all of them...yet.  One of the things I did this morning before I began writing this blog was to make a list of McCullough's books that I do not own, (only three, I believe), but I intend to remedy  that quickly. 


David McCullough quote

He entered Yale University in 1951, and one of his professors was Thornton Wilder, who apparently had a significant influence on him.  After McCullough had graduated with honor, receiving a Bachelor's Degree in English, he had various jobs related to his education, but he did not publish his first book, The Johnstown Flood, until 1968.  When his first book did well enough for him to consider a career as an author, he remembered the advice Professor Wilder had given him:  Find something you want to learn about, see if anyone has already done that, and if they haven't, write it yourself.   What wonderful advice.  

McCullough already knew that he loved the "endless fascination of doing the research and doing the writing," and I believe that shows in what he has written.  I too love discovering information, perhaps information that other writers have not found or did not choose to include it in their writing, and I too love sharing what I found.  I have written in other blogs about the delight of utilizing overlooked research sources and finding new information to include in my writing.  Perhaps I sense that fascination in McCullough and that is why I love his books.

I am grateful that there are still a few of McCullough's books I have not read.  It makes my sadness of his passing slightly less to know I still have books left to read.  Somehow, it also comforts me to learn that his wife Rosalee, whom he met when they were teenagers, shared nearly all of his life with him.  Rosalee died June 9, 2022, and David McCullough followed her in death on August 7, 2022.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Love Affairs with Automobiles

 Isaac Werner lived before the automobile, so his equivalent love affairs were with his horses, particularly with Dolly Vardin, the little gray mare he bought for $115 and named after a Charles Dickens character.  In order to pay for her and borrow enough to buy other things he would need, now having a horse, he recorded in his journal:  "I took loan at $350 at 10 percent and straight on my homestead for 5 years, interest due every six months."

Recently my husband Larry saw an article about a young woman, Gail Wise, who bought the first Mustang automobile sold in America.  She was fresh out of college, and from the picture, a cute young lady, and apparently the dealer was charmed by her, since he was not supposed to even show the car, let alone sell this car being introduced with a big publicity build-up that required keeping the design secret until the unveiling on the same day across the nation.  Ignoring the prohibition about showing or selling the car, the dealer sold Gail Wise her Skylight Blue Mustang Convertible on April 15, 1964 for $3,447.50.

She was not the only one to fall in love with the new Mustang.  Larry and I had taken his high school car off to college, and he had decided it was time to trade.  We were only a few months from college graduation, and the 'Man' of the house at 19...still a few weeks from 20...had decided we didn't need to wait until graduation for a new Mustang.  Debt free until then, Mrs. Fenwick was not pleased with her husband's decision, but when they traded his high school 1956 2-door Chevy, that they took to college for a brand new Tahoe Turquoise V-8 3-speed manual transmission Mustang, she loved it!  

Larry had negotiated the purchase  through our hometown businessmen, buying it from George Asher Ford in St. John and financing it from a Macksville Bank.  With Officer Training School ahead of him, and four years in the Airforce, he and the banker were confident that the loan would be repaid.

When we drove from Hays to St. John to get the car, we invited our close friends from college, Verlin and Betha, to ride down with us and return in our new car.  Larry recently  shared his memory of that day with Betha, which she remembered clearly, and she replied with her own family's love affairs with a series of Volkswagens through 2 generations.  Most of this blog is borrowed from Larry's memories and Betha's reply.  Thank you to both of them! 

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Career Advice in this Changing World

Where are we going?  Photo credit: Larry Fenwick

Last week's blog included advice for young people planning their future career in 1936, and I could not help thinking of that blog as I watched CBS Sunday Morning's program describing the technology that allows the face of an individual to be mapped in such a way that it can be superimposed on another person's image so seamlessly that it appears to be the original person.  The young man being interviewed was very excited about the potential uses for the technology, such as saving a businessman's time by allowing someone else to deliver his speech with the image of the businessman making it appear that he was speaking, or using the image of a dead actor to appear in a new film.  The newsman interviewing the technician allowed his own face to be mapped, and he was shocked to see himself delivering a message he had not delivered.  Think how 'handy' that would be for politicians too busy to deliver speeches themselves!  I understood the positive uses the young man being interviewed described, but I found the potential misuse of the technology terrifying!

Goblin State Park, Nature's Power

I also thought about the blog I had just posted.  It is hard enough to advise young people just entering college today about jobs that exist, but in our rapidly changing world how can advisors predict jobs that don't exist but probably will evolve even faster than we can imagine.  How quickly computers became essential, and smart phones have also changed our world.  Perhaps Covid hastened the acceptance of virtual communication once many of us were required to work at home.  I have given many in-person book talks since "Prairie Bachelor" was released, but I have also had my talks shared virtually, and many of my book talks can be watched on the internet.

Think about the advances in medicine allowing remote examinations and machines quickly integrated into common use.  Airlines are being challenged to find qualified plots, but perhaps business travel is becoming less necessary. Perhaps sooner than we can imagine, pilots may control planes from the ground, with on ground backup pilots to take over in an emergency.  Today people still prefer to play tennis on actual courts and golf on real, out-of-doors golf courses, but perhaps future generations will prefer to strap some kind of headset on and play tennis and golf virtually.  Maybe as the water rises in Venice, tourists will virtually sit in their living rooms to tour the canals, the experience custom designed for the stay-at-home tourist by a Virtual Reality Designer.

Ice storms, fires & floods--What is our future?

Only a few years ago, who would have predicted jobs for 3D-printing Technicians or Solar Energy and Wind Energy Technicians, yet those occupations are already here.  Will the time arrive when Genetic Engineering will allow us to custom-make our babies?  Will home schooling become more desirable with Personal Education Guides?

It is predicted that between 2020 and 2050 people living over the age of sixty will nearly double, and  the overall world's population of about 7.8 billion people in 2020 will increase to over 9.7 billion people by 2050.  This is the predicted world our current college freshmen are entering.  Good Luck to those High School Counselors and College Professors helping students choose careers for the future that awaits them.