John Marsh’s Book, Class Dismissed, Is Good: Read It And Try Not To Kill Yourself
By Ann Larson, on August 14, 2011
When I was a kid growing up in a small town, my parents told me that the key to a good life was getting an education. By “good life” they meant everything from finding a well-paying job to learning how to be an intelligent and decent person. As educators who had used their own college degrees to enter the middle class, they had good reason to assume this strategy could work for everyone.
In school, I also got the message (or was it a threat?) over and over from teachers: getting good grades will help you get into a good college which will help you find the Holy Grail of a good job. So you better believe I went straight to college and kept right on going, barely pausing to take a breath, until I was 35 years old.
(Actually, I took some time off between my B.A. and graduate school to work the phones at a rental car agency, type zip codes into a computer at the post office, and wait tables at a fancy restaurant (not all at the same time). So I decided to go to grad school because I had this dumb idea that somebody would pay me to do Big and Important Things like teach Jane Austen novels to wide-eyed undergraduates. Isn’t that hilarious? Yes, I was stupid. About everything.)
In addition to well-meaning parents and teachers, our political leaders have long issued proclamations about the value of education as a route to a decent job. That is why George W. Bush called the No Child Left Behind law a “jobs act.” And, in a 2009 Joint Session of Congress, President Obama recommended that the unemployed help themselves by enrolling in college. In the form of advice to job seekers, the idea goes like this: Need a job? Go to school. Need a better job? Go to school some more. It’s really so simple, isn’t it?
Education, then, bears a gigantic burden in America. It’s supposed to enrich our lives while preparing us to find meaningful (and well-paying) work in the labor market.
When I started teaching writing to first generation collegians as a graduate student in New York, I too embraced the myth of education. I believed that I was helping young people gain the skills they needed to find success in their professional and personal lives.
Later, as I watched so many of my low-income students struggle to earn degrees that seemed more likely to lead to a lifetime of debt than a good job, I began to doubt that mass education could be a tool of social mobility in an economy with stagnating wages and a growing, low-wage, service economy. This realization challenged everything I thought I knew about the trajectory of my own life as well as my belief in the basic fairness of the world. The more I studied the real relationship between education and upward mobility, the more troubled I became….
Read the entire review on Democracy In Education