Nation needs attitude adjustment, hard work

In a recent column entry, Ashlee Giacalone ’10 attempts to call readers to participate in government, but on the way she makes several tangential statements which either a) represent warped views of the role of government or b) are demonstrably false. I will focus on a few of these that I feel need to be highlighted.

First, Giacalone states that “the government is there to protect our wishes by representing our ideals.” I find it disturbing that so many young people of vastly varied political leanings seem to hold this sentiment, especially considering that the worst atrocities committed in human history have grown out of idealistic populist movements. Indeed, one might go so far as to say that, in a very real sense, government’s purpose is in part to protect us from our ideals. That is to say, an integral part of its role is to ground us firmly in pragmatism and ensure that we do not get caught up in making policy directly from ideology.

Giacalone states that being able to debate allows us “to form solutions.” No, it allows us to waste time we could have spent constructing pragmatic courses of action. The idea that “solutions” to most national problems is indicative of extreme naivete. Because it isn’t strongly influenced by ideals, a pragmatic course of action often isn’t particularly inspiring, so we wouldn’t call it a solution, we’d call it a plan.

Later, Giacalone states that socialized education has resulted in “fewer students going on to higher education.” First, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the overall rate of college enrollment increased 26 percent between 1997 and 2007, whereas the corresponding overall population growth rate has been vanishingly small (see the Census Bureau statistics). Second, a tremendous number of variables contribute to college enrollment rates, and attempting to construct a strong causal link between it and socialized education would be a sociologically intensive endeavor.

Third, even if it was true that college enrollment was declining, this would not be such a terrible thing when one considers a) the current inflation of higher education and devaluation of degrees and b) the decline of trade schools and highly-skilled “blue collar” workers. I find it reprehensible that in a country that claims to value hard work, professions associated with manual labor are so universally reviled. The high school graduate who wants to attend trade school in order to become a mechanic is not congratulated as fervently as the one who wants to study medicine. Quite the opposite: the would-be mechanic is implicitly told that he is inferior to the other, and all this before either one has actually accomplished anything!

Ironically enough, the tendency to sit around while the welfare checks roll in is reinforced and in part created by the lack of respect for much needed blue collar jobs. I see such job offerings (let alone ones for convenience store clerks and fast-food restaurant staff) literally almost every day. But these positions stay open, even in the current economic climate, because they are consistently looked down upon ,and people often think they are “above” them, even if the only alternative is the welfare check. Indeed, our country could use a decrease in college enrollment and a strong change in our attitude toward manual labor, blue collar jobs, and low-status service jobs.