Sometimes, in quieter moments, I think back on the faces and lives I was thrown together with in my teaching days in NYC and Oakland, CA. Faces of lives in turmoil, many already on their way to the self destructive, institutionalization* that marked so many of their peers both before and after; lives often curtailed before the promise of adulthood.
Of course, one can't help but wonder what one contributed to those lives. Sometimes I believed, we (no one teaches in a vacuum) were the last, best hope in their lives- other times I felt myself a sham, a phony, the shameless front man of a most corrupt and pernicious shake down.
And mostly I began to feel the latter. After all, what had brought me into education in the first place, if not the very fact that I myself could not find employment elsewhere. The paper printed with my BA in Communications, Arts & Sciences worth less than that of a fake ID. Yet, there I was asking them to drink the kool aid, to believe the dream as I once did- once you develop your mind, hard work would no doubt ensure your success. Even if they did buy it- how many would be able to foot the bill for higher ed, secure the necessary scholarship, or compete with those already degreed, desperately battling each other for the remaining crumbs of economic opportunity? Many of the middle class and blue collar jobs of yesteryear had long evaporated to the shores of foreign nations, sent there by the very leaders who continued to propagate middle class virtues and values. And even I could no longer sell my own self that the dangerously short lived, high stakes drug trade was far less preferable to the "honest" lifestyle of prolonged poverty in a fast food/customer service "career." Just how does one sell that particular jewel of advice in times when short term profit ruled the entire bubble of our nation's "legit" and soon to be collapsing economic model?
Yes, I still hold on to the hallowed belief that higher education is key to the overall "success" formula- which is why it must be free as it once was, and of certain quality, as it always must be. But it is obviously not the end game, and it offers as hollow a promise as any drug you choose if legitimate employment opportunity is non existent. For every success story from the inner city that is lauded and exemplified, the thousands upon thousands of others that could not possibly overcome obstacles insurmountable to most of the population are left to be ignored, forgotten and ultimately demonized.
Our prison industrial complex now offers entire towns their livelihoods "caring" for the fully grown results of our failed educational and economic systems. Our military industrial complex now vastly exceeds the combined budgets of all our enemies, both real and imagined, as we now begin to feel the effects of that financial albatross of repression and destruction- as did the Soviet Union, England, and Rome before us. History, fallible human history repeats itself anew, as we of these United States continue to clamor for yet more of the very policies, the very leadership that brought us down this highway of fiscal and social insanity.
This legacy of catastrophe that we are now only beginning to endure, both economic and environmental, is one that was, in fact, preventable- had we only been less shortsighted, less greedy, less... childlike.
*My students had already been labeled, marginalized and segregated into Spec. Ed. classes.