On public money for higher education

On public money for education

My mother had this wonderful book, written by Betty MacDonald (of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle fame) called Anybody Can Do Anything. It took place in the Depression, and what really saved the family from starvation, although they were plucky, positive, and hard-working, was the government grants that resulted in the job that the single mother took.  Betty says, when relating this, “Is it any wonder that I love the government and don’t mind paying taxes?”

I feel the same way—well, about money, anyway. I don’t always love the “government” but I went to school mostly on scholarships and on a Pell Grant. A grant is money you don’t have to pay back. A Pell Grant doesn’t care if you are smart, only if you are poor. And I was poor.

So my bill for each semester of college for my undergraduate degree would be about $600, an amount I could raise myself through my work at the library as a page, the person who puts the books away, and with cleaning houses.

Fast-forward to now. I have worked for 17 years as a librarian. It’s an appallingly low paying job for the level of education. And like most public librarians I know, a considerable amount of my salary goes back to work: we pay for tissues, for art supplies, much like public school teachers.

I hear people grumble about helping those damned lazy poor people, those suckers, with great bewilderment. Don’t complain to ME about it. Without the Pell Grant I’d probably have taken some retail job, hated it, and tried to put meaning in my life by having children too early to take care of them.

With money and education, I put off reproducing until I was 39, and have filled out college forms and job applications for dozens of teens. I supervised additional dozens in volunteer positions that led to paid work. I have served the public, proudly and sincerely wearing the title of “public servant” for many times the years the government paid for my schooling.

What did it cost “the government” to send me to school at the time? Maybe $4000 a year?  And for nearly 20 I have paid them back.

Is it any wonder I love education and want my tax dollars to go for college experiences, even for people I will never know?


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