the lucky ones: australians and higher education
I recently visited my hometown of Michigan, USA, and sat down with a few old high school friends of mine for dinner. I had not seen them in almost four years and we had a lot to catch up on. The conversation went from boyfriends to jobs to school. Near the end of the night, one friend related a conversation that she had recently had with some college (Uni) friends of hers. A debate had occurred between herself and her friends, all of whom apparently took up an elitist view against people who are not able to go to college. She defended those who aren’t able to go because she has lots of friends who she thinks are just as smart as her even though they did not get the opportunity. She was appalled that her friends had such a view on the subject, and I felt the same way. How can it be possible that people who are educated don’t have the capacity to understand that there is something wrong with the system and not necessarily the individual, when it comes to being able to obtain higher education?
You see, in America, in order to obtain that higher education, one has to be from at least the upper middle class. The price of University is just too high. Think of the prices that international students pay at your local University – that’s the price I had to pay, although luckily this was a few years ago when the exchange rate meant my parents saved a bit of money. This cost, combined with food and living arrangements, racks up a heavy fee, and scholarships and student loans are much harder to come by than the average Commonwealth support or Fee Help that most Australians can obtain easily. What I’m getting at here is that Australians are much luckier when it comes to being able to attend University, so conversations like the one my friend had just don’t happen often down under.
This also means that the average education of people in America is becoming divided. On one side, the elite few who are able to attend, and on the other, people who will just never get the opportunity and so remain on the lower level of education and job opportunities. This is why a country that claims to be advanced elected a person like George W. Bush for two terms, and now has factions of people who are convinced that Obama is not a real citizen of the United States because he was born in Hawaii (choosing, I guess, to ignore the fact that Hawaii is a part of America).
So I’m not saying that those people who haven’t received an education are always as ‘smart’ as those who get the chance, but they are still deserving of one. And if they all got the chance, then wouldn’t it make the country a smarter, better place to live in? Instead of a place where the right to bear arms takes precedence over a debate on gay marriage and perhaps a midnight movie premiere may not turn into a mass murder. (As I write this, there is a TV news story about a young man in Colorado shooting up patrons at a Batman movie premiere just last night, which is already a big news story around the world.)
Of course, higher education will not immediately solve all of these problems, but I believe it would help the situation. To find out the facts about the American education system, all one has to do is watch the movie Waiting for Superman or simply talk to someone who does not have the money to go. They will say that their only option is to find a job that suits them and move on with their life, or perhaps save up money to go to community college classes (which are classes kind of like TAFE). But the people who have attended University should probably come off their high horses as well, and respect those who are in situations that are usually out of their control.
While most of what I’m saying is for an American audience, in Australia we can at least learn to appreciate what we have been given, and help those around us who need an extra helping hand. I hope that in America there is one day soon a better chance for people to attend University and that the government is able to support everyone who wants to go. I migrated to Australia because of problems like these and I will be very happy to call myself an Australian citizen in just a few short months because of the great opportunities that Australians have. I do wonder, though, if there is such a divide between those who attend University and those who don’t in Australia, and would love to hear your views on the issue.