Despair and Hope

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that in attempting to solve a problem we sometimes make things worse. Not only do characters in Jane Austen’s books learn this lesson, but examples abound in personal and public lives. Ronald Reagan told his son that his greatest regret was being the first governor to sign a no-fault divorce law. While his intentions were good, it was a decisive step in devaluing marriage and the traditional family, a move that has harmed men, women, children and the country.

A Wall Street Journal editorial (Feb. 20, 2020) bemoans the difficulty business are having filling blue-collar positions and concludes that we need more legal immigration since a greater percentage of young people are enrolling in college and their participation in the labor force is lessening.  I happened to read that editorial at the time that I am reading Senator Ben Sasse’s book, The Vanishing American Adult. I have just started the book, but I was intrigued by the idea he presents that the increase in mass schooling was a major factor in developing a previously non-existent youth culture in the United States. Mr. Sasse points out that in 1870 fewer than 2 percent of the population were high school graduates while by 1950, that percentage had risen to 75 percent. It is obviously higher today.

One consequence of this increased schooling was the displacement of parents, family, community and work at the center of teen’s lives and their replacement with social activities with peers. As a country, we increasingly emphasize hours spent in school ignoring whether or not it is associated with learning. A shocking number of college graduates today would lose handily in academic competition with a high school graduate of one hundred years ago. As education has become more universal, its value has diminished. High school is often a farce, graduating students who are not only illiterate but who lack the discipline, commitment or desire to contribute to society. For too many today, college is a place where minds are closed and lack of knowledge is celebrated. Instead of looking outward for workers as we race to increase schooling access and opportunities for American youth, maybe we need to recognize the deep flaws in the system we have produced. 

Animal rescue shelters rarely let people adopt an animal for free. One of the reasons is that they want the prospective owners to show some sense of commitment. Things that come too easily are easily scorned. This past Sunday, my husband and I attended a school event celebrating a tremendous amount of work done and the future acceptance of great responsibility by about 100 thirteen-year-old boys. If more schools in our nation, and more families, stopped infantilizing our children and demanded that they step up to the plate and earn their place in society, we could increase the availability of blue-collar workers at the same time as we restored value to a high school and college education.

P.S. Do you recognize the literary reference in the Musing? My husband and I have an ongoing debate on this question. Do chime in.

29 thoughts on “Despair and Hope”

  1. I recognized your literary reference reference, but I a degree in English and American Literature. So the Rabbi might be right. Today more people look at screens, than those who read books. I feel many of today’s problems because many of the “Baby Boomer” parents failed to make thier children accountable for their actions. We couldn’t bear to see our children suffer; therefore we never allowed them no grow into responsible adults.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Randy-
      But I was hopelessly and irredeemably wrong; far more of the readers of Susan’s Musings recognized the Jane Austen allusion than I suspected would.

  2. Neweverymoment, Deb:
    Taking a different tack with respect to our musing, adolescence is a luxury that previous generations did not have. Boys were apprenticed at age 7 or 8, and only got home to see their mothers on Mothering Sunday. For example, take Gilbert and Sullivan’s hilarious “Pirates of Penzance”, in which Frederick’s father determines to apprentice his son to a seafaring pilot, “a life not bad for a hardy lad”. Unfortunately, his hard-of-hearing and stupid nurse mistakes “pilot” for “pirate”, and apprentices Frederick to the Pirate King. Unable to face her master with this disaster, she determines to go along as “a piratical maid of all work”. It gets worse from there, but as in all G&S, all’s well that ends well.

  3. Neweverymoment, Deb:
    Yay, Susan! So glad to see the reference to Jane Austen, who was the subject of my twelfth grade English term paper. I was going to respond with the opening line from “Pride & Prejudice”, but somebody beat me to it. Didn’t know she had borrowed from the Bard, but it’s been a while. The idea here expressed is often phrased as “The good is often enemy of the best”. Austen was the daughter of an Anglican clergyman, so she was quite familiar both with traditional theology and with human foibles. I used “Pride and Prejudice” for the last part of a college course in remedial reading that I taught from the philosophy department. The regular learning-disabled faculty had a fit, saying it was too difficult. The students loved it!

  4. I work at a research university. With state funding falling to all-time lows, revenues must be generated through increased enrollments. The competition for students is fierce among institutions such as mine, and there are too many of them in the state to be sustained by the number of available students regionally. Thus both economics and culture work in tandem to keep high school graduates impelled to seek higher ed as their next step in life.

    1. You are making a very interesting point, Diane. Like the discussions about charter schools vs. teacher unions, somehow what is best for the young people involved doesn’t necessarily become the top priority.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Yes, Diane–
      the economics of higher education and the sheltered employment it offers to so many incompetent academics has to be taken into consideration.

  5. Pride and Prejudice plus Emma (making things worse by meddling?). The Genius of Jane Austin 🙂

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      I was plainly and irredeemably wrong. I totally underestimated you readers.
      I am appropriately chastised.

  6. Dear Rabbi Lapin and Susan

    I read the opening line and thought of Jane Austen’s opening line to Pride & Prejudice, which goes along the lines of ‘it’s a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a fortune is in need of a wife’. One of my flatmates from university used to say this all the time. I’d read the book before then and have read it many times more since, as well as watched a film adaptation.

    Thank you for your teachings. I really enjoy your podcast and have listened to every one since the first episode.

  7. My 20 yr old daughter and I knew exactly what you were referring to in your opening line as well as your references to Austen characters . I can’t wait to survey the rest of my family about this. Thank you for another great article.

  8. I tried College but dropped out to pay for my motorcycle. I was instantly drafted in 1965 and instead went into The Air Force. It was a valued education they gave me to become a Weatherman. I never used it but have not forgotten it. All my Chemistry was finally used at Honeywell and I Loved it> Too bad I was laid off, No Wait that started my 35 years as a computer geek. I am sure you have heard “When God closes a door, He opens a window.” I do thank God for giving me a good & exciting life.

    1. The college deferment during the Vietnam War probably deserves a closer look in terms of changing the view of what the purpose of college should be, Paul.

  9. We so often underestimate what our students are capable of, to their detriment! (And OF COURSE I recognized the reference. I’m all astonishment that RDL would be so sceptical of your faithful fans and readers. =))

    1. Fortunately, Deb, our marriage is strong enough to handle this lack of faith on my husband’s part.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Hello Mrs. Leyde–
      I am not at all sceptical of Susan’s fans and readers. Oh no, not at all. I just didn’t think that Jane Austen was quite that well known. Obviously I erred. I am appropriately chastised and can we all just please move on now?
      Thank you and warmest regards,

  10. Well, if the literary allusion is from Jane Austen, I must confess I’m defeated… However, I am inspired to relate the comic-tragic lines of my physics-astronomy professor of the early 1980’s, who postured like the last of the Roman tribunes, that ‘College education is wasted on the masses. There are many of you out there who would make superb carpenters or auto mechanics. But why did you pursue a university education? Simply because your parents expected it of you. You don’t really want to be here!’ And then when the petulant scoffers had rejected his diatribe and abandoned the auditorium, walking out in disgust, he would say to the rest: ‘Well now, here’s the physics lesson for the rest of you!’

    I must confess that I see his point. There are many seeking the halls of Higher Education who have no business there. Also, the scientists tell us that the human brain is not fully mature until age 25. And young adults pursuing Higher Education makes adult ‘kids’ subject to abject dependence on their parents’ resources. What’s the point? My late Father saw it differently. He labored nights until early morning in a freight warehouse to realize his college dreams during the Depression and in the end, exceeded all expectations. He attained an advanced degree, pretty good for a Depression dirt farmer. But today there is an insidious, inflated ‘college imperative’ that drives everyone to universities because of generational ‘expectations’ that exceed all reasonable outcomes.

    And curricula have been upgraded, yet also downgraded. It’s all supply and demand: when nobody eats cheese anymore, then the price of cheese will sharply diminish. Isn’t it the same for colleges with their ‘Women’s Studies’ and ‘Gender Studies,’ etc. that bring in filthy lucre but few professional chances? For college education is a different thing than it was in 1940 or 1950. When the young reconsider their options and opt for realistic vocational schools or trades, the price tags of universities will inevitably decline.

    1. My husband will appreciate your ignorance, James. I appreciate the rest of what you wrote (he will too).

  11. I took (and paid for it out of pocket) 6 months of general college courses at a community college. Other than that I have almost a half century of self Learning and taking many classes for my needs and personal understanding. It bothers me that many graduates with college loans can barely make min. wage. It bothers me they want their debt forgiven. It bothers me some feel only if you have a degree you should deserve the high paying jobs. Some feel it’s below their dignity to do manual labor but it’s ok to draw support or be depended on Govt. for help. I’m never unemployed as I am self employed. When things get slow I figure out how to get them going again as I have no one to to go to for backup except God helps me out often when it’s way over my head.

  12. Yes, I enjoyed your semi-stolen opening line, and must add that the Bard beat you to your point:
    “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.” (King Lear)

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you David,
      I assured Mrs Lapin that nobody but nobody would catch that first sentence allusion.
      Thank you

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