A bit of folklore that traveled around school back in the good ol’ days said when you go for your first job at a newspaper the editor will tell you to take your journalism degree and throw it down the toilet. The editor will give you just two weeks to prove you are up to the job, diploma notwithstanding, or so the story went.
The tale reminds me of the tough-guy Perry White character in the 1950s “Superman” TV show that they still air once in a while. The show depicted White, editor of the fictional “The Daily Planet” newspaper, as a yelling intimidator who bulled the young reporter Jimmy Olsen.
But I never encountered an editor like Perry White during my 20 years in the business. Instead, I found newspaper editors calm and thoughtful - rather normal. Well, normal may be a bit strong.
But anyway, I was thinking of that old editor tale one time, and so as an inside joke I hung my journalism-school diploma over the toilet. I kept hoping someone would ask why my diploma hung over the toilet, and then I would get to tell the funny story.
But no one ever asked. Visitors to my bathroom were rare.
After I returned to the hometown I moved the diploma to a more appropriate position, beside my desk. It dawned on me one day that moisture in the bathroom might damage the diploma.
I’ve caught onto something else potentially damaging of late. I’ve seen a disturbing trend of stories in newspapers and elsewhere questioning the cost-effectiveness, as they call it, of a college education.
Critics are asserting that colleges and universities are raising tuition and other costs so high they’re pricing many young people out of a college education.
Prior to the summer break, students staged protests against the government, which is doubling the interest rate on student loans barring some last-minute reversal. But I didn’t see much protest against the colleges and universities that are raising the prices. Go figure.
Skyrocketing college costs have led some to question whether it is better for young people to just get on with their lives and use the valuable four years that would have been spent in college learning on the job instead.
A buddy here in the hometown not long ago up and asked me how much college cost me back in the Dark Ages. My buddy was shocked at the bill his boy got after graduating from a nearby community college and transferring to a state university in the big city.
My buddy concluded he and his son are paying four times the amount I paid for the basics - tuition and room and board. That’s much more than the inflation rate.
As people debate education’s rising costs I’m not hearing any affirmation of the value of a good education and of the long and hard exertion spent by generations of Americans to build up our universal, public-education system.
A debate over rising costs is legitimate, as well as how much of the people’s tax money to spend on education.
But I’m disturbed by comments like those of Ohio University economics professor Richard Vedder, who complained in a blog about “a six-digit number of college-educated janitors in the U.S.”
If 100,000 janitors have a college education, I think that’s great. Go for it. I wish more had one.
A good education is for an individual’s personal benefit, no matter what occupation he or she ends up in. Do not confuse a good education with some kind of job-training program and labeling someone a failure if they do not end up in a certain job of prestige after college. A good education is much more than about landing some job.
And do not try to deny or denigrate a good education for janitors or anyone else in honorable occupations.
Great-great grandfather Harris was illiterate, I noted on a Census record one time. That was not unusual among those of his generation as public schools did not get started up good here until the 1830s. His illiteracy is sobering in today’s light.
My, how we have progressed. My great-grandfather and my grandfather once walked up the road here to a one- and later a two-room county schoolhouse.
My father got to hop a ride on a county bus to high school in Traphill, but he quit after one year. During the Great Depression young men were needed elsewhere to work for a living and for their families.
Only in my family’s baby-boomer generation did my cousins and I find the means to go off to state universities or other colleges and subsequently enter professions like journalism.
Rising from illiteracy to writing funny stories in the newspaper for folks took five generations. That’s not bad. Thank you, public education.
If someone dies and makes me boss I’ll order those running institutions of higher learning to slash their inflated faculty and staff salaries and bloated bureaucracies and bring college costs down to size.
I’ll also throw in an order that parents take an active, not a minimal, role in their children’s education. It all can’t come from the schools, you know.
But most of all I’ll require a high regard for education. There are other important things in life as well, I know. And there are many paths to a good, fulfilling life, and some of them don’t require college.
It’s up to each of us to follow the guidance of the Lord and find the best path. Young people, go for it.
But we have a good thing going here with American public education, and let’s not do something foolish and tear down something so valuable and that has taken so many so long to build up.
Let’s not throw education down the toilet. No joke.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road