Posted by: cousindampier | 8 December 2011

When does culture diverge from truth?

That’s a bit of a broad statement, really – what I mean more is, “When does it become the responsibility of the individual to discern the truth from the myth and legend of culture?”

But nobody would read with that title.

I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading and writing today on how we, as a culture, remember things.  World War II is my case study – I read yesterday how the Pearl Harbor survivors association is disbanding because there are too few of them left.  Which is incredibly sad, and brings up the question: “when a generation dies, what happens to their memory?”

Then I stumbled across this.

I don’t think colleges should be on the hook for student aid, but that isn’t the point.  The interesting part was:

This brought up the questions, what exactly does a college education promise and who makes the promise.  I take the position that both society at large and colleges themselves have spend the last 30 or so years convincing the American public that unless you go to college, you are virtually worthless.  Become a plumber? Waiter? Fix cars for a living?  Having been born in 1982, I grew up in a society that looked down on those positions (never mind the fact that a master plumber, good mechanic or waiter at a high end restaurant can make a better living than some doctors or lawyers).  The momentum of society has always been towards higher education.  My generation, the Millennial Generation, has been indoctrinated to believe that if we don’t go to college we’ll all end up janitors and that that is a horrid fate.

This is a perfect way to say it. I’d add another point as well: when you are 18 years old, you don’t know anything.  Really, only a small minority of 18-year olds know what they want to do and who they want to be.  For the rest, you take the advice of those older than you.  And when the myth perpetuated is, “go to college so you don’t end up working at McDonald’s,” you learn two things:

1. College is the next, natural step if I want to get ahead.

2. I’m better than working at McDonald’s.

But, it turns out this isn’t true.  Yes, college may be the next step.  But what college?  With what degree?  And the better the school you go to, the better the degree, right?

Those questions are hard to answer at age 18.

The second myth is the worst.  Nobody is too good to work anywhere, but up to college graduation, your entire life revolved around some part of that myth of not working at McDonald’s.

And then you graduate and you have to work at McDonald’s, or in retail, and you spend months writing cover letters and applying to positions.  And you initially feel bad about the rejection, but that fades and you feel stupid for believing in that myth in the first place.

So whose is at fault?  Is it the 18-year old for going to an expensive university, or going to university at all?  Or is it the generation before us, for mixing this very recent truth – go to college, work professionally right away – as a permanent truth?

It’s always both, but more the latter.  The 18-year old is old enough to take out loans.  He or she is old enough to get a credit card and be an adult.  And the debt accumulated rests on him and her.  That debt isn’t going anywhere, each person is going to have to work hard to pay it off.  So, of course it is the fault of the 18-year old for taking on that debt.  At its core rests the personal decision to do that.

Simultaneously, 18-year olds know nothing about money.  Nobody I knew had a financial education course in high school.   Few people understood how money really works – even those with a job in high school didn’t have the necessity to pay for their housing or their food.  So when a kid arrives at college and is presented with papers to authorize a $10,000 loan…well, hell.  They’re going to graduate and get a good job right?

Somewhere here, I’m on record for thinking that while current generation of decision-makers has not ruined the country, they have set it back decades.  It has been an awful generation for leadership and courage.  That sense of entitlement and lack of desire to make the sacrifices necessary was told to my generation like it was golden truth.  In some respects (that won’t manifest themselves for a few decades, if events work out well), the recession is the perfect slap in the face for my generation – it is happening while we are young enough to recover, and has made us realize that we’re not too good to work at McDonald’s.  In fact, we’re not too good to work anywhere, because if we really want to achieve our dreams, it’s going to require a whole lot more work than we were told.


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