At the beginning of March, I attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference with nearly 10,000 participants—a small village of writers, many connected to college writing programs. My favorite part was the book fair and the profusion of small presses and literary magazines (both online and in print). In spite of hard economic times, writers continue to get their words out.
And yet, I’ve also been told by friends in the academic world that poetry applications to MFA programs are down. With the sticker price of a college education outpacing inflation, students and parents are thinking about careers or rather, careers that pay. Perhaps budding poets have decided to become magistrates or maxillofacial surgeons or chief executives instead.
On my way to the conference, I picked up an in-flight magazine and learned that Gallup is conducting a global wellbeing survey each year for 100 years. Though still in the first lap, the survey has already revealed that people with “good jobs” have the highest sense of wellbeing. As I understand it, Gallup defines a “good job” as one that offers steady employment of at least 30 hours/week for a wage sufficient to meet basic needs (food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, education). The article went on to say that the creation of good jobs might be the single most important endeavor of any government throughout this century and would go a long way toward the elimination of poverty, violence and injustice around the world.
President Obama would like the U.S. to have the highest percentage of college graduates in the world by 2020. Those with college degrees continue to earn more, usually substantially more, than those without and, not surprisingly, the majority of parents in this country want their children to attend an institution of higher learning. Sadly, studies also show that parental expectations far exceed the population of students who have completed the preparation required, not only to get into college but to succeed once they’re there.
Rick Santorum responded to the President’s 2020 goal for higher education by asserting that Obama is a “snob.” On February 25, Santorum warned that students are at risk of being indoctrinated by “some liberal college professor.” He believes Obama wants to remake students in his image. Instead, Santorum wants “to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.”
This winter I’ve been teaching a creative writing class at my girls’ secondary school. Since my oldest daughter is taking the class, I could be accused of remaking her in my image. I admit that I want her to love literature and writing as much as I do. I want her to go to college (as I did). And I also want her to have a good job. In fact, she’s working now, though her 6 hour/week employment as an after-school tutor at the local branch library doesn’t (yet) fall into Gallup’s definition of a “good job.”
All these events and news items have made me wonder how the world might look if governments focused on creating good jobs (or at least better support) for poets and writers, artists and musicians, organic farmers, childcare workers, community organizers, and after-school tutors. After all, don’t these professions (as well as manufacturing and maxillofacial surgery) improve the quality of all of our lives?