John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Inequality Sinking In

November 2, 2011John N. GardnerInsights0

John Gardner

President

This posting is written during a period when there have been a spate of press reports shedding light on what many of us academics have known for a long time: the US is a country of profoundly increasing inequality which part of our government seems most willing to maintain, and another part might want to reverse this but doesn’t seem to know how. All these related trends of rising inequality, the shrinking of the middle class, reductions in upward social mobility, the reality being a mockery of the American dream, surely have to be making our students ask some questions. What could some of those questions be?
1.            Why am I in college if I may not get a decent job as a result of my obtaining a college degree?
2.            What is the possibility of my having a higher standard of living than my parents?
3.            How am I ever going to repay all this student loan debt that I am acquiring?
4.            Why would I want to marry someone and take on his/her student loan debt?
5.            How am I ever going to come up with the down payment on a home with all the student loan obligation?
6.            How can I ever afford to have and support a child when I have such an uncertain economic future and so much debt already?
7.            This may mean moving back in with mom and dad. Is that what I am going to college for?
8.            So other than a job and making good money, what could I be learning about in college that might help me live my life in other ways?
9.            Are there things in college worth learning about that might provide more meaning and enjoyment for my life than simply job training?
10.         What is this Occupy Wall Street movement all about? Do those people have a point? What is their point? Do they speak for me?
11.         Who is this country working well for now if not for people like me?
12.         Do any of my elected leaders and especially any of the Republican presidential candidates making so many pronouncements this fall seem to care about the issues that concern me?
13.         What should we college students be concerned about right now any way?
14.         What can we college students to about any of these challenges to our American way of life?

What are the questions your students are asking? How do you engage them on these? How do you connect the content of your discipline to what is on their minds this fall? If you/we aren’t talking to them, then we are joining most of our elected leaders in not talking to them either.

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