St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Graduation Parties

    Margo and I showed up at our great niece Karra's high school graduation party yesterday.  The only one we went to this year.  Karra has uncertain plans for continuing her education, possibly working a year and then going on to school.  We always try to encourage new high school graduates, that this is just a step in their education, not the end of it. 
  When I taught high school in Goodman, WI, back in the 1970s, I encouraged my students to go on to college or vocational school, telling them "life can be quite enjoyable if you get a good job that you like and pays a decent wage,  but that requires preparing yourself by more education."
   Goodman is a small lumber town on Hwy 8, near the Michigan border.  The town had a large veneer mill and sawmill and originated as a mill town where Mr. Goodman owned everything including the houses, bank, store, etc.  Louisiana Pacific had bought the mill when Goodman died, and decided they didn't really want to own a town, so sold all but the mill, store and bank to the folks living in the houses. 
  The problem I had with the mill was we had opposite views on the future of the Goodman students.  
  I thought they all should continue in school after high school.  The few jobs in town that were not mill jobs, were small service businesses (hardware, gas station, bar/restaurant), the school system and not much more. 
  Mill jobs were low paying, low benefits and not quite enough for a family to live on without a two-income family. 
  The Mill liked to hire kids right out of high school, first a summer job to earn some money for college,  but then a bank loan to buy a car, tying then into monthly payments, gas, insurance etc., taking most of the income.  I had one mill manager tell me straight out -- "we need labor to run the mill, so don't tell everyone to go on to school."  
  The mill needed lots of manual labor with a skill set learned on-the-job.  The highest pay for anyone working there, not in management, was about half of the $12,000/year I made teaching (working 9 months to earn that).  Margo and I and our new baby Scott struggled to live on that income, and it was impossible for the mill hands to live on a single salary income. 
  Many of my students did go on to school. With few opportunities in Goodman, they had to leave to find a job.  
  One student was particularly difficult for me.  She (we will call her Emma -- not her name)  was a very bright student, loved science and math, even to the point where I got a "do it yourself" type electronics course for her to take under my guidance.  When I tried to encourage her to go on to college or technical school, she was interested, but uncertain.   Her father was gone from the scene (not sure why), and her mother was very religious and of a sect that didn't believe in education or being much of the world. 
  At the parent teacher conference, I talked to the mother about her daughter's obvious abilities and interests and desirability of encouraging them in the future, and was completely shut down, with the "I don't believe in that for my children.  Education will turn them away from God and our beliefs. You must quit talking to her about college."  
  I talked to Emma after this, and told her that life is made up of choices we have to make for ourselves, and that while our parents are looking out for what they think are our best interests, in the end we have to make our own way through the world.  I don't know what she chose to do; as we moved away as I made a choice to try a different career than teaching. 
   I don't really believe that God thinks we should remain intentionally ignornant in the world, but I too had that advice from the church I attended. Ignorance and religion too often seem to be partners in turning life into a dream of the hereafter rather than a good life in the herenow.  
  My friend, Beth, who lives in Honduras, tells me that poverty there is not only the result of corrupt government, but of corrupt religion; one that says suffering here is good for you and all that matters is getting into heaven, so put up with all the crap, don't better yourself, just keep focused on the reward after you die.  
  I find this view of religion total nonsense.  Who would want to go to heaven where a ruler who liked seeing us suffer during our lifetime reigned?  Rather we take on our own lives, and with God's help make it a joyful life.  And to get that you get all of the education you can possible cram into your head.