Jan 26, 2009

my economic downturn

I taught art classes for years, and the struggle students are up against always seems the same: they've been told how to see, so can't see on their own. Because it's how I am, I got myself all up in arms (over and over) about how kids aren't taught to think, just to memorize facts, including some untrue. (Right, who are your historical "facts" coming from anyway?) I've talked for years (ok, maybe now decades) about teaching critical thinking to young kids, maybe second graders, so that these poor things wouldn't get to college and still not have a clue how to think about something for themselves. Too bad I only talked for decades, and have never taught critical thinking skills to anyone.

I'm moving on. My new obsession is home economics. When I was in high school, a home ec class was offered, but no self respecting feminist girl took it, and a couple of boys took it as a joke. (I fought against taking typing, too, computers not being on the scene yet, and not wanting to grow up to be somebody's secretary. That's a separate but related story, where my first jobs were as a secretary. ) Those couple of boys taking home ec didn't learn anything. Sure, they carried their egg around, in theory learning to parent. But they didn't learn about say, contraception, at my Catholic school. They didn't learn how to cook or sew or can or plumb or use tools or grow a garden. And they sure as hell didn't learn anything about money.

I'm on this rant because the student loan monsters are after me. I owe them more than $50,000 for an advanced degree in studio art. I borrowed enough money to buy a house in order to spend two years in the armpit of New Jersey learning zero practical skills and zero technical skills; having most creative impulses beaten out of me by relentless critique and theory; seeing the nasty underside of the New York art who-knows-who business (let's call it what it is); making a few friends; and spending nearly every waking minute a) teaching, b) producing artwork that wasn't as interesting or nuanced as what I'd made in undergrad school, and c) discussing with my shrink whether anti-depressants were really necessary.

The anti-depressants WERE necessary, even with the awfulness that getting off them brought. All that was with zero understanding of the impact of borrowing tens of thousands of dollars.

I now understand why taking money seriously is important, even when you hate the stuff. If there are any young people out there who read this blog, pay attention:
  1. DO NOT BORROW MONEY FOR SCHOOL UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. Yes, you want to get away from home. Yes, you've been told you'll be a flunky if you don't go straight to college. Yes, I'm sure you have visions of the fabulous career you'll have, and the multitudes of debts you'll be able to afford. Unless you're 100% positive things will turn out as you plan, it doesn't make sense to borrow money, even if you're studying to become a doctor or lawyer. Take my friend who was at the top of his law school class, and writes poetry instead of practicing law. He learned he just couldn't stand the game of law in this country. Look at all those doctors who leave fancy practices behind to help those living in poverty and suffering from AIDS or dengue, because they realized facelifts weren't why they got into medicine. These doctors can't afford their student loan payments, I promise you.

    There are scholarships available. Public schools have some brilliant teachers in them—find those teachers and stick to them. Community colleges aren't bad. If you must go to an out of state school, live there for a year first and get residency in the state. Ivy league means nothing, unless you're a fancy pants rich person who can afford to pay, and you live in the fancy pants world where such things as where one got their education matters. Find a way to pay for school, or better yet, move to a country where they believe in educating their citizens and have free schools.

    You won't be a loser if you don't go to college straight out of high school, or (gasp!), even if you don't go to college at all.

  2. PAYING RENT SUCKS. If you do go to school, you plan to be there for several years. Why not get together with a few friends you trust and buy a ramshackle cottage? Sell it or rent it to other students in a few years. Four years + of rent is not a small amount of money. Add it up!

  3. DON'T GET CREDIT CARDS. They're pure evil. Better to go hungry or ask a friend for help than charge your groceries.

  4. START A BUSINESS. It doesn't matter what it is. Make and sell t-shirts, sell crafts, distribute food at a farmer's market. Be a bicycle delivery service. It really doesn't matter, but picking something you enjoy is helpful. The point of this is for some cash, made solely by you and not by working for the man at the corner fast food joint. It'll help make you believe in yourself. It'll teach you some basic skills about self-management, force you to learn about communication and dealing with money.
This is a weird topic for an activist space, for sure, but here's the thing: money and debt change lives. I thought I'd share instead of ranting to those for whom it's too late to make a difference. I'm just now learning to to take care of a home, to make due when money is tight. My hands shake when I get into the nitty gritty of starting my own business or organization. These things are like languages, so much harder to learn later on. Especially under the looming weight of student loans.


Anonymous said...

I don't think this is a weird topic for an activist space at all, in fact I think it's the perfect topic! Because what I have seen derail zillions of activists is that they are crushed under debt/low-paying jobs, etc and they are ineffectual activists because they are so worried about $$. You've got to have your financial house in order before you can shake up society, I think.

Also, I agree 10,000x10 with everything you say!!! This is something young progressives have to talk about! I have been keeping a list of businesses I think people here in the Hudson Valley should start, most of which require no crushing-debt college education: tofu shops, tempeh shops (maybe those could be one...), movie theaters that sell booze (i would be there every night), I have so many ideas on how to make the HV super awesome through small businesses. Sigh. And a few years ago I wrote a whole long essay about why I think people shouldn't go to college. It's pretty old, but I think it still holds up fairly well: http://www.lagusta.com/rants/college2003.html


abovegroundpool said...

Lagusta said it all so much more eloquently, and she's right: working with your hands on real things that people really need and use is more valuable than any degree. And so much more satisfying. Listen to Lagusta. Don't go to college!

wintergreens said...

Degrees of Debt student loan op ed from the NYTimes: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/11/opinion/11dehn.html