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Tag Archives: Americorps

Life, Liberty And A Parade

Independence Day is so inherently celebratory and stress-free it seems odd to think of it as a holiday.  There are no cards or gifts; there is no real family obligation.  There is no food preparation or turning one’s home upside down.  What there is though are oodles of ways to celebrate (and zero societal expectation to really do so.)  Eat a hot dog, wear the colors, hold a sparkler and you’re part of the festivities.  Sit at home and read historical doctrines and you’re in.  Drive on the right side of the road and feel grateful & you’ve partied. Regardless of personal politics or religion, it’s hard to bristle at the substance of the holiday.  Declaration of Independence? Birthday Party? What’s not to like.

Fireworks are nice, though I prefer mine small, local and muted.  Barbecues and picnics are just an excuse for that berry flag cake for me.  What really makes me happy and filled with that 4th feeling is a small town parade.  I’m not sentimental enough to care whose small town or where.  I just want to see kids pulling wagons or riding their decorated bikes. I want my Uncle Sams and scouts of all ages and I want to be pelted with candy from fire trucks. Truth be told without the incentive of impending candy pelting, I’m not sure I would find some of the marchers so endearing. So this 4th, in pursuit of a parade I suited up and crossed a bridge for my slice of the patriotic pie.

At the first sight of re-enactors I knew I’d found the place.  I’m afraid I can’t get more specific than “re-enactor” as the men were dressed in Revolutionary garb, the women were dressed in 19th century dresses and they were all playing Dixie.  The local Republican Party and local Democratic Party were in modern dress and marched with their banner.  I’m accustomed to politicians (elected or running) marching, but these were just party members.  I know we think that there are only two political parties in this country but that doesn’t actually make it true.  They are of course recruiting for their locality and why not?  But what about the disproportionate representation of the military at the parade?  I am all for honoring those who serve but I find it difficult to consider the Fourth of July as a military holiday.  If the military marched to represent service to our country where was the contingent from Teach For America, Americorps and the Peace Corps?  If they were marching to represent our ‘freedoms’ how about a media float or marching judges and voting booths?

I know I was at a small town parade, but that’s the point isn’t it?  Our country is made up of these towns and on some level they really do represent how Americans feel and think.  I’ve no doubt that there were parades around this country that were broad and inclusive.  But the majority were probably more like my sample of one. I’m not convinced though that we need to forfeit quaint and charm to avoid reductionism.  Sitting in my shady spot, trying to blend into the fauna and flora, I learned about what mattered to my sample of one; a small suburban town 20 minutes outside of New York City.  To the naked untrained eye, the marchers and spectators seemed to be of the same ethnicity and perhaps religion.  They were not overly enthusiastic about children (the cars participating outnumbered the children participating 2:1) and they really liked bagpipes and kilts (not one, but two marching groups!)  They are a generous people, supplying spectators with; candy, flags, candy, pinwheels, candy & temporary flag tattoos.  And you did not need to be Jane Goodall to detect that they really like firetrucks.  At least 12 of them were wheeled out at the end (a la Santa Claus.)  One dozen firetrucks.  For a small town whose most popular form of architecture is brick colonial homes.

As the final four firetrucks made their way down the route, I put on my straw hat, grabbed my mini flag and headed cross the river.  No, I had no powdered wig, and yes I was technically headed in the wrong direction, but a little poetic license with one’s re-enacting can be festive.

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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A Higher Education Wake Up Call

There was a horrific fatal stampede this week for a chance to attend college, in South Africa.  A line over a mile long, waited at the gate for a coveted seat in the University of Johannesburg.  High school graduates (and some parents) crowded together, arms filled with blankets and other supplies, desperate for a chance for a better life.  One third of that country is unemployed and high education is only recently available to all.

This heartbreaking story needn’t suffer any disrespect to serve as an allegory for us.  We have reached a point, for better or worse, at which a four year degree has taken on mythic remedy.  A bachelor degree may not be the ticket to upward mobility it once was, but you’d be hard pressed to gain employment without one.  We need only to turn on an old movie to remember that high school degrees were once a coveted commodity.  Independent of the swelling middle class and higher education accessibility, I’m not sure a high school degree today bears any resemblance to that of pre-World War II.  However thanks to the G.I. Bill and the major shifts in American industry, a college education has become an increasingly normative expectation in the world of work.

Today we expect the vast majority of high school graduates to attend college.  We can probably agree that high school graduation standards are not what they once were.  Everyone is expected to graduate, and every measure is taken to ensure that will be the case.  Bluntly put, a high school diploma is not the proof of mastery it once was.  In addition to potentially ill-prepared students, we have the skyrocketing costs of college.  It is no secret that students (and their families) are incurring crippling debt with absolutely no guarantee on investment.  For every college graduate with a marketable degree there must be at least one who paid for five or six years of school, or has graduated with a degree in a traditionally non-income earning field (i.e., art, dance, etc.)

Now before we all start waxing poetic about the priceless nature of a liberal arts degree, and the beauty of learning for learning sake, let me just say; It’s over.  The only people who still have the luxury of pouring over great works of literature in gorgeous libraries (for enjoyment’s sake) and sitting on grassy quads discussing Plato, are those who know they will not be supporting themselves.  Higher education has become a means to employment.  Trust me, I am none too pleased either.

Aside from the romantic dream of a liberal arts degree withering in front of my eyes, it is the more practical matter of expecting all students to succeed in college, that worries me.  One size never fits all.  However we really do expect every high school graduate to either attend college or enlist in the military.  Yes, there are a few “trades” jobs in this country, but the unemployment rate would suggest that any available jobs would not be going to teenagers.  What we need is a viable alternative and lucky for us, we have one!  Americorps has existed for twenty years, yet it has not been integrated into our culture in the way the military has.  If business were under the same guidelines to hire Americorps veterans as military veterans, and high schools offered Americorps as an equal option to the military, people would see the experience as a viable path to employment.

I am not anti-higher education, far from it.  I am not, however comfortable with the tail wagging the dog, and colleges (and I use that term somewhat loosely) cropping up to service remedial learners and (for a hefty price) provide them with a degree.  We’ve already gone done this road with high school.  I am not comfortable with the crippling students loan debt and the national economic implications.  I am not comfortable with telling every high school student that they have such limited options.  Let’s take a step back and think of what our economy and our teenagers need.

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2012 in Education

 

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