Friday, March 21, 2014

Is Free College Tuition A Good Idea?

Richard Eskow writes in the Huffington Post that "the time will come when we as a society will ask ourselves: How can we deny a higher education to any young person in this country just because she or he can't afford it?

Granted, I'm an advocate of public preschool, as an extension of the public K-12 school program. But that's because I have preschoolers, and I'm exhausted, and it would be like free educational childcare. So maybe I'm a hypocrite, and a freeloader.

Seriously though, how far are we going to run with this sense of entitlement?

Here's a fun game: replace "higher education" in Eskow's fervid opening sentence with "Corvette," "two-thousand square-foot home," and "annual international vacation," and listen to how stupid you sound.

   1. How can we deny a Corvette to any young person in this country just because she or he can't afford it?

   2. How can we deny a two-thousand square-foot home to any young person in this country just because she or he can't afford it?

   3. How can we deny an annual international vacation to any young person in this country just because she or he can't afford it?

Let's not even focus on the 49% tax on millionaires that the article suggests will cover the cost of higher education for all. Regardless of whether or not or how an initiative like this could be funded, is it actually necessary or integral to the benefit of society?

I am a proponent of government programs that actually contribute to the good of society. I like the idea of a national healthcare program (re: not a national health insurance program, i.e. Obamacare), because I know what it's like to work full-time hours and still not have access to medical care. Let's just be human here: basic healthcare should not be exclusive to those with the gold standard of salaried positions at large, for-profit companies.

But is higher education for all the golden ticket to opportunity? Advocates claim that if young people were provided free college tuition, it would translate to more income, more stability, and eventually, more tax revenue.

Look around at young people today. (Myself included.) Is a college degree really an indicator of future financial stability? For many young adults, steeped in college debt and under-employed, there could be strong arguments against the necessity of higher education.

For students who pursue college degrees, it undeniably extenuates the recent social phenomenon of delayed adolescence. In some ways, delayed adolescence indicates a healthier generation, seeking a better work-life balance, choosing to pursue interesting, unusual, or risky opportunities instead of the rat race of corporate America.

Up until now, these "emerging adults" have been protected (enabled?) by the security net of their parents. With free higher education, the government would become this safety net, ensuring the delayed adolescence of future generations (the same young people we're counting on to offset social security), generations marked by increased financial dependency and decreased social responsibility. (Biannual frat service projects noted.)

For those who say, "Amen! We need to completely privatize society and quit letting all the freeloaders live off our tax dollars," please recognize how ridiculous and hypocritical this sounds. If you feel that strongly about government programming, quit driving on our public roads, sending kids to our public schools, watching PBS, checking books out of our public libraries, and walking through our public parks.

Yes, there are government-funded initiatives well worth the public investment. Is higher education for all one of them? Not in my opinion.

Toga Parties should be an opportunity, nay a RIGHT, for every young American today!

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Sins That Matter: Letting Our Culture Shape Our Theology

With recent controversy over a Catholic school firing a pregnant, unmarried teacher, I offer these timely best practices in applying Christian moral code to the culture at large. It may seem haphazard, hypocritical, or even targeted, and well, it is.

Here's the bottom line: some sins matter and some don't. So before you go all passive-aggressive-social-media-crazy on the guy stealing paper from your company's office supplies, consider these crucial points (in particular #1 and #2 for the office scenario), and judge accordingly:

1. Who's committing the sin?

Women should probably know better, so if the culprit's a woman, more blame is called for. And a healthy dose of social stigma. Men are usually victims of their circumstances: a debilitating family experience during formative years, delayed adolescence, or that pesky, unavoidable testosterone-driven instinct that's just, frankly, beyond their control.

2. Will the person get caught?

It's a much less complicated bureaucracy if we could just look the other way on sins that don't catch our eye. You can balance out this approach by making a Really Big Deal over sins that do capture public attention. Label them. Ostracize them. Make it very clear that nobody else has ever committed this sin before, and their existence shames all of humanity. Hopefully they'll just get taken out by freak lightning, because redemption is not possible.

3. Can you identify the sin, just by looking at the person?

These are the worst, as in the above case of a pregnant, unmarried woman at a Catholic school. If only she could have kept the illicit sex a secret, without getting all inexplicably pregnant (like the still-employed, innately more innocent father of the child). Whether it's a greater sin to have an abortion or be single and pregnant, well, it's not a question for private Catholic schools. It's important to let the person know they're being judged (and rightly so!), and furthermore, that you, as a representative of civil society as a whole, find the whole thing wholly offensive. If you're uncomfortable speaking up with a simple "Well, I never," you can whisper it quietly, stare obtusely, or opt for the infallible ever-sanctimonious response of avoid, avoid, avoid!

4. Is the sin justified by an expressed holier calling?

These sins aren't that important, really not worth mentioning at all, except to silence that still, small, nagging voice in the back of some overly-sensitive souls. Just as prayer before a meal excuses gluttony, an expressed concern for the person in scandal, excuses gossip. (A good phrase with which to begin: "Now, I don't mean to judge, but I'm just concerned for her soul..."). Gluttony is also no big deal if it occurs at a church potluck or on a liturgical feast day, or after midnight or sunset or before sunrise or just because you were really, really hungry on a day of fasting.

So in that crucial decisive moment of weighing someone's eternal soul or karma due, please give these cultural considerations due deference. And perhaps most importantly, don't fall for any kind of "judge not" crap or "higher calling of love" nonsense.