I am a child of the 70s, a teen of the 80s – by most definitions, I am firmly planted in Gen-X.
With the rise of yuppies, “no pain, no gain” culture, be-boppy hair bands and recreational lines of coke in Manhattan penthouses, one message that came through in the 1980s was rugged American individualism. Work hard, play hard. Fight the commies. Make a lot of money. And be happy, because you deserved it!
One of the working-world truisms was the relentless pursuit of “the top”. Winners job-hopped every few years, took risks, while increasing their income and title along the way. Losers kept their head down, plugged away, never changing anything, and got what they deserved – lower pay, fewer prospects.
Only now, looking back with more seasoned hindsight, it wasn’t true. Like most mythologies, the risk-taking winner was an anecdote, not the broad norm. Later in life, I saw people leave good jobs to pursue a risk, only to come back years later with their tail between their legs. Or to be never heard from again, destination unknown (one can only presume the results were luke-warm, else you would have heard about it non-stop in good American fashion). Not that there is anything inherently wrong in taking a risk – after all, that is the predicate of our entrepreneurial economy, correct?
However, the schizophrenic, nasty truth of our economy and culture came through – despite the cultural messages of the 80s, we punish failure. Strongly. Mercilessly. We revel in the hardship and failure of others, if recent political debates are any indication. It’s as if we culturally lead people astray on purpose – create an image that hard work and mettle are all that one needs to achieve the American Dream, when in reality, what matters is connections and backing, period. All I can figure is that by scamming people, it is easy to profit off of their failure.
Enter higher education, self-proclaimedly free from the bonds and constraints of business and economics. The “non-profit” world of education and ideas, advancing human understanding and knowledge. The noble, ivory tower of human betterment, preparing the future leaders of tomorrow.
At tuition rates that increase at several times the rate of inflation. That leave most students debt-strapped with few to no prospects. With “innocent” educators, deans, and administrators looking on with well-rehearsed shock and horror when the manufactured statistics don’t square with reality, while simultaneously buying large homes and sending their children to private school.
I can’t fault anyone for wanting to go to school to better themselves. And I take no pleasure in the difficulties that others face, whether it be a failed business venture or a career chosen “in error.” There is plenty to trip over in this world that you can’t predict, let alone the things that are in plain sight. Why we want to hold the little-people’s feet to the fire for their good-faith American Dream efforts, while the very wealthy and extremely connected get every kind of break imaginable for the exact same behavior, even when they crash the system, is a form of cognitive dissonance and mean-spiritedness I will never fully understand.
My error, however, was thinking that higher education (and law school in particular) was different than the “truth behind the 80s” of the business world and politics. Looks like I was wrong, and I am now worse off for it.
Congratulations, higher-ed, your scam worked! I believed in you and what you stood for, yet you were more than happy to take my money and wave your handkerchiefs farewell as I drove off the cliff. Not your fault, of course. How could anyone, with inside information and superior knowledge, have *ever* seen this coming, what with a huge oversupply of law school graduates with no prospects? Just like the investment bankers on Wall Street couldn’t have predicted the consequences of the increasingly tangled web that they weaved. Truly shocking, I tell you.
One thing is for certain – the continued erosion of trust will only hamper our nation as a whole. One can only be mislead so many times by so many institutions without there being long-term consequences for everyone. Our nation and our world is suffering from the gestalt of this erosion, and it will not recover quickly.
Another thing is for certain - this “education” I received, this erosion of trust, I will not soon forget. And this is not the kind of result that anyone would have rationally hoped for, either for an individual or for our nation at large.