Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The Freedom To Be An Artist Doesn't Come Cheap

The Atlantic has produced a very thought-provoking, but not altogether surprising article about university education. In Rich Kids Study English, the writer discusses the connection between parental income and the majors that college students tend to choose.

I think most of what this article points out is absolutely true. Although, I wonder if the process might be more elongated in POC families. We have more than just financial obstacles to overcome (e.g. racism, misogynoir, colonialism) in the wealth accumulation process. Because of the majors chosen by my family, I wonder if separating these statistics by race would show that it tends to take more than one generation to reach the financial security that frees young people to pursue majors in Arts and Humanities. I am a poet, but even I wouldn't have dreamed of majoring in English or any of the Performing Arts. I majored in Biology. I have cousins who are doctors, teachers, fire department captains, and small business owners. All of them have degrees, but chose majors that were likely to provide a more direct path to particular careers. My dad majored in Computer Science. My child is majoring in Fine Arts. Ze can do that because ze is the fourth successive generation in hir families to attend college and that has given hir a level of security that makes homelessness, joblessness, and hunger things that ze knows ze will never have to face.

To be quite honest, it doesn't exactly matter what sort of degree ze gets. Ze is the oldest grandchild in my family and hir dad's family. My dad has made it clear that if my child gets a degree (in anything) and is willing to change hir surname to his, then ze will inherit his business. I don't think that most 1st generation college students can relate to something that bougie. The surname issue seems a bit trivial to me, but that's mostly a part of my bougie "Black hipster" rejection-of-all-things-bougie-while-still-benefiting-from-the-perks-of-classism. My father is absolutely serious about his surname stipulation. I'm fairly convinced of what this article posits because I think if all or even most 1st generation college students could get a degree in anything and have an established business handed to them when their grandparents die, there would be a significant difference in what they choose for their majors.

The article in the Atlantic also mentions "the possibility that children from higher-income families were more exposed to the sorts of art, music, and literature that colleges deem worthy of study, an exposure that might inspire them to pursue those subjects when they get to college.". I think there's some truth in this, too. My siblings and cousins were definitely exposed to more of these things than our parents. I have a brother and a sister who are professional musicians. One has several degrees, but the other didn't go to college at all. He didn't have to. It's ironic that, even though he never spent a day in college, he spends some semesters teaching courses to music majors. How many people without degrees and without parents with degrees are likely to end up teaching at the university level? However, he was in music programs ever since elementary school and had private music tutors on top of that. My child spent several years attending a pre-school run by my university with excellent arts programs. Even before kindergarten, hir talent in the visual arts was recognized and cultivated. As my child got older, ze went to arts-focused summer camps and visited museums and galleries on a regular basis. The children of my siblings and cousins are also being exposed to the same sort of cultural enrichment. Their bedrooms are covered in water color paintings and craft projects that they and their mothers created together. A couple of them are already in instrumental music programs and performing solos at their spring concerts.

They are unlikely to be affected by the fact that music programs are being eliminated from public schools around the country and those that barely hanging on now have fewer instruments to lend to those students who can not afford to buy one. Those who allocate money for public education don't seem to think that arts are essential for the development of poor children. Heck, they don't even think that these children even deserve facilities that aren't crumbling and lacking air conditioning. Those children from families with more money can afford to counteract the effects of these growing trends. I went to a high school without central air conditioning (Some teachers actually purchased room units to cool their individual classroom). However, I was in the Gifted and Talented program (which more affluent and well-connected families have an easier time getting into) and we had a separate building on campus and it did have central air conditioning. It was actually my family's choice for me to go to the neighborhood school, because I was accepted into one of the more elite magnet schools in New Orleans. I didn't suffer from going to a public school in the way that some students did.

I don't anticipate things changing very much in the future, at least not for first generation college students. Instead, I think the general consensus is that university education is becoming less available to poor students and those without university-educated parents. That may not directly affect me or my child, but it will affect our lives because of the reasons why university is becoming less available. People of Color, queer people, and disabled people are more likely to be affected by the ways that this society is pushing folks into low-paying occupations with little to no job security.

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