Jan 24, 2006

New Realities Shape a New Generation of Americans

Opportunities Bring New Challenges and Critical Choices
This new generation of Americans--those under 25--is a unique one in that it has been raised in the age of the internet, instant communication, the shrinking of the world, and global inter-dependence in economic & environmental terms. These young persons are coming to age in a post-911 reality, whereas the war on terror appears to have no end [at least we're all told so] and no clear lines, no front. The current government is treading on this concept heavily and is making policy decisions that will have long-term effects. Behind the rhetoric, the reality is that the US has been accumulating huge debts, has an army fighting wars overseas, while not investing in its youth as much as other advanced countries. Guess who's disproportionally charged for paying these burdens?

Surely this is an exciting time to be alive--if one likes change and new discoveries. But in a rapidly changing and complicated environment the many challenges lying ahead need to be dealt and critical decisions to be made. Yet, with more privilege comes more responsibility, exercised or not. With globalism/interdependence the impact of critical decisions increases too.

I don't think any generation should be apathetic, especially this young generation which has the advantage of easy access to all sorts of information. For most of human history, (including many parts of our world in the 21st century), people's activities have been centered on scraping a living under very harsh conditions with little if any leisure time. As usual, education is the key to a better life and to greater self-realization. Of course, you must develop the sense and sensibilities before you get education to work for you. I should note that, for me, education is not the accumulation of trivia, or the memorization of tomes of text in order to excel at repetition and to instruct others on how to close their minds. Education is the sharpening of the mind, the broadening of one's horizons.

Many more Americans have the opportunity to go to college, to get an education. Yet, many don't fully appreciate it. It should not be just about getting a degree in order to make more money in the future. There is nothing wrong with making money and improving your lot, but there has to be more to life than money and power. And, there is. Money and power can be put to good use. The debate is what kind of use.

Here's where the new generation of Americans can play an important role by being interested, informed, and actively engaged in the affairs of our country. When we debate the notion of the "public good," the role & the limits of our government, and the policies for the future, those who have the greater stake (and stay) in the future should be the most active.

Obviously this blog has an opinion; its name reveals alot. However, the common currency with those who may disagree should be reason, civility, and an open mind. Not everyone has the same priorities in life or the same worldview. But, since I think education is the key that unlocks doors to exciting discoveries and to improving possibilities, I take issue that my country is ranked 14 out of the top 15 in per student spending. I do realize that throwing money at a problem doesn't necessarily solve it, but nevetheless this figure shows something about the priorities of our government.

President Bush gave a speech at Kansas State University the other day where he was stumped during the Q & A session: "My name is Tiffany Cooper. I'm a sophomore here at Kansas State and I was just wanting to get your comments about education. Recently 12.7 billion dollars was cut from education. I was just wondering how is that supposed to help our futures?" Excellent point! The President turned to his aides for advice but his inarticulate answer was either an attempt to confuse the issue or a demonstration of his usual stance not to bother with "the details." [here's
the full text of the exchange]

The facts are as follows, Student Loans: On Dec. 21, 2005, the Senate passed $12.7 billion in
cuts to education programs "the largest cut in student college loan programs in history." Vice President Cheney cast the deciding vote in favor of the cuts. The bill also fixed the interest rate on student loans at 6.8 percent, even if commercial rates are lower.Despite Bush's claims, students will be left off the program.

Pell Grants: Pell Grants have been frozen or cut since 2002; they are now stuck at a maximum of $4,050. In his 2000 election campaign, President Bush promised to increase the maximum Pell Grant amount to $5,100. From 2004 to 2005, 24,000 students lost their Pell grants, according to a report pre-pared by the Congressional Research Service. This was the first drop in the number of students receiving the grants in several years; the number had been growing steadily since 1999.
Equal opportunity may as well be a myth, but there are many ways we can make the US a more egalitarian country by leveling the playing field and by creating opportunities through education for those who don't have the connections or the financial means to get a shot at upward mobility. One of the few Republicans who make sense is
Kevin Phillips. I urge everyone who's interested in the distribution of wealth and the dangers of plutocracy to read his books. He also demonstrates how the Republican party has changed since the 1980s by giving up on the middle class and concentrating on the upper economic elite. [Phillips's other recent book, American Dynasty : Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, 2004]

The world is what we make of it, so is our country. When I ask people what they think of politics I get many answers but the description is invariably negative. Perhaps politics will never satisfy most people because it involves a lot of compromise and hard choices. But, who makes these choices in our name? Who comes to the bargaining table, what kind of influence does he bring, and even who has access to our representatives. Politics are necessary in an organized society. Imagine how our country would be different if there were many more people like you... Well, what's your answer?