Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Is College Worth It?

I am a proponent of higher education.

In general, and removed from modern connections to financial success, the idea of higher education is one that pleases me to no end. I’m thinking about higher education–for an intellectually curious student, not just someone who attends college as another rung in the life ladder–as something that feeds the soul, introduces great thinkers, teaches us to question and reason for ourselves. Rebecca Mead meditates on the utilitarian value of higher ed in this week’s Talk of the Town. Separating college from money, she writes:

Unaddressed in that calculus is any question of what else an education might be for: to nurture critical thought; to expose individuals to the signal accomplishments of humankind; to develop in them an ability not just to listen actively but to respond intelligently.

I could not agree more whole-heartedly. The merits of higher education can be seen, if I look at my own place in life: Where would I be if I hadn’t gone to college? And if I had chosen a state school in the Midwest as opposed to the private, liberal education I ended up choosing on the East Coast? Would I have encountered and met the same diverse community? I think of certain friends whose taste in music, whose real engagement with good books, whose desire for travel all helped nurture my own passions. I think of my partner and his intellectual passions and deliberations, and how his powerful life of the mind impacts (directly, through our conversations, and indirectly through his actions) my own.

How has higher education influenced me? Above: Horsing around with friends my first year of college in 1990; Below: Addressing students at the university where I teach, earlier this spring.

Mead writes in response to recent talk that college just ain’t worth it. “Don’t go to college,” argue many, like economist Richard K. Vedder, founder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. Mead cites Vedder’s line of thought, including “eight out of the ten job categories that will add the most employees during the next decade–including home-health aide, customer-service representative, and store clerk–can be performed without a college degree.” The conclusion? The number of college degrees awarded statistically does not match what the economy needs for workers.

But this line of thought seems to ignore Mead’s, and my own, thinking that a college education can not be measured merely by post-collegiate salaries alone. And I’m not going to the other extreme, of the Steve Jobs and Ellen DeGeneres, famous folks who never received their diplomas. I’m trying to assess how college, as a total experience, both the in-class and out-of-class, makes us more whole. I think about how lucky I was to have spent six years as a student of higher education, and how this has led me to my current position within the academy. In a series of small, perhaps serendipitous, moments my college years provided the incubation period for me between adolescence (and adolescent thought) and adulthood. I think of the mess I would have been going straight from high school into the working world.

Filed under: economy, education, work, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jon Stewart’s “Gaywatch: Virginia Edition”

Getting skewered by Jon Stewart means you’ve reached a certain level of notoriety. Virginia’s AG Kenneth Cuccinelli has achieved this television infamy.

I’ve posted recently about Cuccinelli’s move to discriminate against gays at public colleges and universities. Jon Stewart breaks down Cuccinell’s shameful actions with his characteristic humor.

Adds Stewart in mock exasperation: “What the f**k: You can’t be gay in college? That’s the whole point of going to college.”

Filed under: gay rights, humor, , , , , ,

Virginia is Not for Lovers: Use and Abuse of Office to Discriminate

Guaranteed legal protection for LGBTQ college students, faculty, and staff in Virginia?

Despite existing non-discriminatory policies at the Commonwealth’s public colleges and universities, the state’s head lawyer wants to pull the plug.

Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the three month-old Attorney General for Virginia, has officially asked the state’s public universities to end workplace policies protecting LGBT folks. The state’s colleges and universities have historically made decisions separate from the will of executive and legislative branches; Cuccinelli’s call to begin discriminating has been opposed by the state’s senate Democrats as well as the ACLU.

The AG’s conservative agenda has not been met with cheers and applause:

Cuccinelli’s move has dismayed students and faculty members. It suggests that Cuccinelli intends to take a harder line with the state’s university system, where liberal academics have long coexisted uneasily with state leaders in Richmond.

Higher education has often been a playing field for politicians with aggressive social agendas to enact (or attempt to enact) their individual mandates. Take a look at the debacle that is Florida’s statewide university system, for example, to see how a person in power (namely, Governor Jeb Bush) can wreak havoc on an entire university system.

Filed under: social justice, virginia, , , , , , ,

Compare/Contrast: Media Perspectives on Prison

First, the pithy. From Gawker, a blog post about criminals tweeting from jail, such as “The Hipster Grifter” Kari Ferrell:

In contrast, New York Times blogger Alison Leigh Cowan discusses one college working to educate inmates to lower rates of recidivism:

Cowan discusses the selective admission process for prisoners in Wesleyan’s program: 120 prisoners competed for 19 spots in the program. In addition to the 19 students at the penetentiary, students from the residential college visit the Cheshire prison for joint classes. The two-month old program began this fall with Composition and Sociology courses:

CHESHIRE, Conn. — In many ways it was just another day, another class of Wesleyan University, one of the more selective colleges in the Northeast. The topic was multiculturalism in schools. The discussion focused on methods of evaluating the rhetorical skills of various commentators, from Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. to Dinesh D’Souza.

I’m fascinated by this article because of a friend who began to educate me on the detrimental effects of prison several years ago. What’s the role of the prison industrial complex to the U.S.–a country that puts more of its citizens behind bars than any other nation? How do we fight recidivism? Who exactly are we sentencing, and what can we suss out from the demographics of race, gender, and socio-economic status?

As a means of introduction to prison conditions, one of the texts that I recommend is Malcolm Braly’s On the Yard, a fictional take on his years in San Quentin in the 60’s. I’ve been teaching it for years and my students love it. It’s useful not only for its social commentary, but for its mastery of literary craft. Braly has sharp turns in plot, a revolving third person point of view, and characters–from inmates and wardens to families and employees–that will make your heart ache.

Filed under: prison, social justice, , , , , , , ,

UCLA students protest 32% tuition hike

So we all know California, as a state, is bankrupt. Now the jewel in the state’s  system–its prestigious, trail-blazing public colleges and universities–is feeling the effect. Yesterday, the Board of Regents approved increases in student fees that will raise individual student costs by more than $2,500, or 34%. Needless to say, UCLA students were not happy.

Nearly a dozen students were arrested and reports claim one student was tasered. The first increase of $585 will take effect in January, and another $1,000 hike will take effect next fall. California’s public education system may soon rival Florida’s State University System for the title of worst-managed public school system.

Filed under: economy, education, , , , , ,

Writing

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
June 2017
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Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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