21 November 2011

"Bootstrapping My Way Into the Ivory Tower"

The Chronicle of Higher Education | Rachel Wagner | Bootstrapping My Way Into the Ivory Tower

I read this before popping over to the grocery store. When I left I was thinking "oh, that's a sad story of this woman's sacrifices. Too bad she's in a tough spot." But it's been stuck in my head ever since, and I've been becoming more and more annoyed about it.

(1) This is presented as being a story about how it's hard to be a professor if you're not independently wealthy. It's really about how it's hard to be an unmarried mother if you're not independently wealthy.

(2) Wagner explains her choice to have her baby at 23 by saying that lots of people in her community had children before they were 25. But were lots of them unmarried? Were those women financially sucessful despite being in low-paying careers?

She chose to keep her baby, which obviously requires a lot of sacrifices and is in many ways very noble. But those are sacrifices she chose. I don't look too sympathetically on someone who complains ten years later about how unfair all the sacrifices have been.

(3) Her dream was to be a professor of religion. That is a dream she has achieved. Good for her! But such a job is not now, and has never in her lifetime been, well remunerated.

Achieving your dream does not also mean that you get to be financially comfortable. And have a child as a single parent. I am growing tired of people who say things like "The American Dream is dead!" but mean "I have not gotten to have everything I want!"

You don't get to have everything. Nobody has ever gotten to have everything. Achieving your dream will require sacrifices. It will mean not achieving certain other things. This is life.

(4) This part particularly grinds my gears:
But let's be honest here. The system doesn't easily support those wishing to improve their lives, especially those raising children in the process. [...] Without food stamps, housing assistance, subsidized student loans, and Medicaid, there is no way I could have made it through graduate school.
Do food stamps, housing assistance, subsidized loans and Medicaid not count as "supporting those wishing to improve their lives"?! Those sound like a tremendous amount of support. It looks to me like all of her necessities were supported by other people. Other people who also dreamed of improving their lives, I might add.

The very next sentence is this:
Today all of those programs are under threat.
Excuse me? Who says all of these programs are under threat? Has there been a single credible threat to food stamps? Student loans are only becoming more subsidized! Medicaid is under discussion for reform, but that's because the federal matching funds system creates perverse incentives for states to spend even more than the quarter of their budgets on the program that they already do. It's also a little fabulous to claim in a post-Obamacare world that medical funding for the poor is being threatened.

Does this look like the budget of a program under threat?


(chart via)

(5) People who order expensive drinks and appetizers at restaurants and then want to split the bill evenly are extremely rude. On that, Wagner and I agree 100%.

2 comments:

  1. "But let's be honest here. The system doesn't easily support those wishing to improve their lives, especially those raising children in the process. [...] Without food stamps, housing assistance, subsidized student loans, and Medicaid, there is no way I could have made it through graduate school."

    In my book, food stamps, housing assistance, and Medicaid aren't intended for graduate students. If you can't support yourself as a grad student (or find someone else to do so via scholarships), maybe you need to reevaluate whether you should actually be in grad school, rather than working at a job that pays actual money. Grad students have made a choice to be (temporarily) poor in the hopes of securing a job they really want later. Why should others be subsidizing that choice?

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  2. I was assuming she was a postdoc or lecturer or something of that sort when she was on some of these programs. I know that in many states these programs aren't available for full-time students for exactly the reason you stated: such people are temporarily poor, and mostly by choice.

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