Editor’s Note: This piece is reprinted from Acculturated with permission.
During my first job interview after college, my interviewer asked, “What did you learn in college that can best translate to working here?” My answer: “Waitressing.” As a history and Jewish-studies major, studying and writing papers on topics as varied as early African history to early Islam to the history of the Israel–Palestine conflict were of little use in an office setting. What I had learned outside the classroom, however, in my 40-plus hours of work per week, was customer service, how to smile while getting yelled at, and how to work hard without the usual Millennial need for constant positive affirmation.
Why did I go to college and continue to pay good money (my own money, in addition to grants from the federal government and my university) to obtain an education I used so little? As many members of my high-school class who did not obtain college degrees can attest, the job pool for those without one is slim pickings, to say the least. A bachelor’s degree is what a high-school diploma once was. Even Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel acknowledges as much, recently saying, “The school system of K through 12 is not applicable to the world and the economy and the world that our high-school students are graduating to.”
Unfortunately, the mayor’s solution to this challenge, according to CBS News, is to require that “all Chicago Public School students starting with this year’s freshman class would have to show an acceptance letter to a four-year university, a community college, a trade school or apprenticeship, an internship, or a branch of the armed services in order to receive their high school diploma.”
Wouldn’t logic dictate that if public high school, an institution that already costs taxpayers a lot of money, is failing, the answer is not to add more expensive schooling requirements but rather to improve what is already there?
Chicago’s proposal is a perfect example of what public policy looks like when it is shaped by individuals who were raised with advantages (and don’t have a clue how people without them actually live their lives). College may indeed be the obvious next step for the middle and upper-middle class, but what of the families with sons and daughters who need and want to enter the workforce right after high school? Or those engaged in an informal apprenticeship, learning a trade without officially working as an apprentice? Or those beginning work in the family business? Or young mothers and fathers who need to provide for their families?
Yet again, those in the business of expanding the government’s role in citizens’ private lives think they know better how adults should be living after graduation; so much so that the city of Chicago has the chutzpah to hold an earned high-school diploma hostage in order to ensure those graduating choose the “right” path.
Big-government nanny staters aren’t just considering holding back diplomas in order to force Americans into the college system. In Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital and the home of some of the worst government meddlers in the nation, child-care workers are now being forced to obtain degrees in order to work in a child-care setting. Child care in the D.C. metropolitan area is already expensive; these new regulations are set to make it next to impossible to afford for many middle-class families.
College may indeed be the obvious next step for the middle and upper-middle class, but what of the families with sons and daughters who need and want to enter the workforce right after high school?
Many families might prefer that their children’s care-givers have experience in early education, and if they do, they are fully within their right to seek out those (more expensive) options in a city already replete with child-care choices. For families just scraping by, however, the edict only puts living in the city, or working outside the home, out of the budget.
It’s natural, of course, that lawmakers with elite degrees believe everyone should be going to college (especially since colleges do a great job of indoctrinating students in an ideological liberalism that comports with elite expectations). What is frightening about what is happening in Chicago and Washington, D.C., is the power of the government to effectively coerce people into enrolling by threatening to withhold a high-school diploma or block a career in child care that shouldn’t require a degree. With Democratic politicians exercising a stranglehold over both cities, the only hope for a rollback of either policy is a revolt from residents when graduation rates plummet, or, in the case of Washington, when child-care costs skyrocket. The old adage goes, “Conservatives are just liberals who’ve been mugged by reality.” Liberal lawmakers in both Chicago and Washington may want to reconsider what they’re doing to their constituents, lest they find themselves in the near future facing a citizenry that has embraced reality.
— Bethany Mandel writes on politics and culture, and is a senior contributor to the Federalist. This piece originally appeared at Acculturated.