Here I am two months post gradation from my beloved alma mater, Kutztown University, wondering if a PhD in English is worth fighting for now that our country is being run by an avaricious leader. Trump does not appear to acknowledge the value of higher education nor does he show any interest in making higher education more affordable and more accessible to those who are not from wealthy backgrounds. It also has become eerily evident that we are facing a war on facts, which has caused me — and many people whose job titles function on the existence of facts — to feel…stuck.
I didn’t become an English major in 2008 knowing that Donald Trump would become the 45th President of the US. Never in my worst nightmares would I have imagined that so much damage could be done by one person in less than a month. But this is our reality, and this new reality happens to affect major career decisions for me and my path towards becoming an educator. Is this path still a reality for people like me?
Since graduating with my MA in English a few months ago, I have been left asking many BIG questions:
- Where is my place in a nation of alternative facts?
- Where is my place as a woman who wants to dedicate the next four to six years of her life to a PhD program?
- Where is my place in a world where I am already drowning in student debt but want to fulfill my dream of teaching?
- Where is my place in a country where my president does not value education and, therefore, does not value me?
Having to ponder these questions made me realize that I am no longer in the safe sphere of academia. Instead, I’m in the trenches where people are constantly calling me a “liberal snowflake” because I’m frustrated about not being able to find a job that is remotely in my field. How selfish of me for wanting a career in a field that I have dedicated the past ten years of my life pursing!
Before I’m attacked for being a whiny millennial, I’d like to share this. I earned both of my degrees while also working full-time positions in manufacturing, food service, retail, and sales. I got to where I am because I worked hard. There are no million dollar loans in my past, present, nor future. I am both an educated AND a working-class woman. I’m very proud of that, and I value both of those aspects of my life equally.
The war between the working class and those in academia needs to end. We are all brilliant in our own ways, no one superior to the other. In reality, we are all fighting on the same side. We are all fighting for a better America. We ARE America and the reasons why it has been such a successful country. We really need to come together to see this because our current divide is a major reason why Trump is wreaking havoc in the White House. There is no coincidence that Trump’s campaign and electoral win has seemed to create an even bigger rift between the working class persons and academics.
What is also concerning about my present situation is how often I’m being attacked by anti-intellectuals who attempt to make me feel ashamed (and selfish) for wanting to become an educator. My response to these frequent attacks is commonly, “I want to teach people how to write and express themselves clearly so they can be and feel more empowered. What is selfish about that?” This answer often triggers a conversation about me being a liberal snowflake again, so it’s really a dead-end.
In what world do these attacks against a future educator make sense? The short answer is Trumplandia—a dismal place where educators are more devalued than ever before! What hope do we have? More fights have been piled on to the ones we were already fighting. The American people need to realize that education empowers us! And because of this fact, Trump has already begun making attempts to dismantle our educational systems.
Despite being sued for his deplorable scam, Trump University, our 45th President has decided to further insult us by nominating the completely unqualified Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. I don’t need to go in great detail about this woman’s utter lack of qualifications since it has been all over the news this past month. What I would like to focus on is Betsy DeVos’s potential viewpoints/positions regarding higher education now that she has officially been voted in on February 7th. How will this decision affect those pursing teaching careers in higher education? What should we be looking for?
The Higher Education Act (HEA) is up for re-authorization and many of us are attempting to anticipate changes DeVos and her team may have in store. During her hearing on January 17, 2017, Senator Bernie Sanders asked DeVos for her opinion regarding the idea of tuition free universities: “Senator, I think that’s a really interesting idea,” said DeVos. “And it’s really great to consider and think about,” she continued, “but I think we also have to consider the fact that there’s nothing in life that’s truly free. Somebody is going to pay for it.” This clearly is a vague, noncommittal statement—which she is notorious for—that would suggest that she has no interest in this idea. Why would someone who NEVER needed financial assistance for herself or her children to get through school show any sympathy for those who will never have college as a an option or for those who have to drown in debt to pursue their career? DeVos’s greed really shown through in her answer, and man does it have lots of people justifiably fired up.
Since tuition free universities does not interest DeVos, NPR writer Anya Kamenetz theorizes that DeVos could fittingly show more leniency towards “for profit colleges.” Kamenetz writes:
During the Obama administration, the department, along with the newly formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, went after many for-profit colleges, with allegations of fraud and predatory lending. Two were forced to shut down: Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute. Meanwhile, the gainful employment rule required colleges to demonstrate that they were preparing a significant percentage of their students for the job market. When questioned by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., DeVos said she would “review” rather than uphold that rule.
This certainly is a concerning response and one we will have to play close attention to in the near future. Since, DeVos has a track record of funding charter schools in Michigan that have resulted in lowered standards and test scores, her response raises a red flag. She seems to care about profit over quality. This is not okay.
Kamenetz also discusses another important issue concerning the HEA re-authorization and Title IX. When questioned about Title IX during her hearing, DeVos stated that it would be “premature” to say she would continue to require universities and colleges to take active roles in preventing sexual assault. While this does not mean she condones sexual violence, her statement would suggest that she does not believe it is the responsibility of universities to counter this very serious issue. DeVos made sure to protect herself by stating,
If confirmed, I look forward to understanding the past actions and current situation better, and to ensuring that the intent of the law is actually carried out in a way that recognizes both the victim … as well as those who are accused.
Huh? That does not really make any sense. She is not the one who would be carrying out the law. Yet again she provided a vague answer about something that does not seem to be important to her. And yet she leaves us with doubt, since she could not give a clear answer about her stance on this title. Therefore, many people are worried that she could alter or end these important efforts that have taken decades to improve.
DeVos’s worse attributes do not end with her lack of qualifications. She clearly has no empathy for working people. She does not advocate for quality education. She does not see the serious issue of rape on campuses nationwide. She is in the White House to make money. So, it is up to us to make is just as difficult for her now as we made it for her to take her undeserved spot in the cabinet!
While quality education and the option to go to college may not be important to Trump or DeVos, it clearly has and continues to be for the people who intimate them. We the protesters, the marchers, the performers in the musical Hamilton. We the writers for Saturday Night Live, the people calling their local government demanding answers and change, the people taking action in all forms. We the future educators. WE value the future of our education system. Despite his slinky efforts, we are not fooled by Trump’s platforms, rhetoric, and cabinet picks aiming to prevent our future (especially the poor and middle classes) from accessing quality education. We are not going to give up on our arts and humanities education willingly! He cannot cut us all out!
What I have concluded despite my doubts and fears after watching DeV0s’s hearing, is that not only is it worth us fighting to become teachers (whether that be elementary, secondary, or higher ed), but it is absolutely necessary–ESPECIALLY NOW– for us to keep fighting and to keep making education important, valuable, and accessible despite Trump’s efforts.
Together, we will continue to support each other and resist. It’s going to be a fight, but we are going to need future professors to fix the damage that will be done. These four years will motivate me to work even harder because the more I can help people feel and become more confident writers, the better chance we have resisting this wannabe dictator. Seeing how hard we all worked together to resist DeVos has me incredibly hopeful. We need to continue to stand together. That is the only way we can persist and move forward.