Saturday, October 22, 2011

a fair chance


When I was in New York City a couple of weeks ago I happened to walk out onto Broadway just as a massive group of thousand of skateboarders were occupying all of Broadway and skating all the way down to Wall Street. It was a beautiful day and the crowd on the skateboards were high-fiving everyone as they sped by. There were so many of them that it took something like half an hour for the entire group to pass me. I was on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, meaning they had quite a ways to go yet. Seeing all of Broadway so peacefully occupied was stunning. There were young kids and entire families riding, older folks and parents with babies on there backs. Everyone was smiling.

In my own tiny, small way, in my macrocosm of a world so full of my family and responsibilities that I rarely feel like I can breathe while treading water, I am protesting. After many years living abroad, and about four years back on American soil, I am finally getting clear about what the protests happening around the globe, and in the United States in particular, mean to me and my family. It is not about who owns the bigger house or fancier car, because I could care less about these things. It is not about material things at all, or about my future retirement or lack thereof. It is not about my parents, who I believe were lucky enough to be born into the generation of opportunity, with access to affordable education, health care, the economic boom, and now Medicare. It isn't even about the fact that I personally do not have health coverage in the United States, despite the best of my creative efforts to do so. What it really is all about is my children.

My older son is now a senior in high school. He is so talented, fluently trilingual and with the most open mind in the sky, and I wonder how he could ever blossom to his full potential in the US higher education system, where the fatter your wallet is, the wider your choices are. And not only are your choices wider, but your entire life after earning your degree is brighter. On www.collegeboard.org, one of the categories under each university lists the average indebtedness of students exiting that school after graduating with a four year degree. Each public school that my son is considering in the US ranges at about $20,000, and this is on the lower side of the overall spectrum. If the costs of going to college have increased 600% since the 1980s, who exactly is being penalized?

Of late I have often had people ask me why we are returning to Europe once my younger son graduates, when the news is so full of the "European Debt Crisis". The answer is strikingly simple. Living in a country without guarantees of basic human rights (what I consider to be human rights, anyway), such as equal access to health care and education, means that the inequality gap between the 99% and 1% can only widen, burgeoning into such inexplicable wrongness that it borders on incivility. Only the wealthy are truly healthy. Only the wealthy are truly educated, or if the rest of the younger generation does manage to study, they are forever indebted to those same wealthy for that privilege. There is an innate sense of civilization in Europe that I miss dearly, and that I do not see on the horizon in America. My son is applying to several US colleges, to which I know he will be accepted. He is then taking a gap year before starting his studies, because he is very young, and because he is not so sure he wants to dive into the student loan debt pool. We are likely sending him to Spain, where he can learn to speak Catalan in Barcelona, or perfect his Spanish in Madrid, where he will be close to home in Italy, and have access to health care wherever he goes. Where he will likely enjoy the benefits of his European Union passport, and apply to one of the top universities in Europe, perhaps in Madrid, Salamanca, Bologna or Pisa, not returning to study in the US. Where I won't lay awake at night wondering why such a deserving kid would have to go so far into debt to make the most of his talents. Where I at least feel like he has a fair chance, a shot at doing what he is best at, whatever that is, wherever he eventually winds up.

What a lucky kids he is, at least having a choice. What kind of country would this be if we actually invested in our kids, as opposed to ten year wars and Wall Street bail-outs? What would our collective future look like?

A little closer to my idea of civilization.

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