This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, June 30, 1999

June 30, 1999 - Scholarships and Education

Recently I facilitated the review of some scholarship applications for a large corporation. It was an eye-opening experience on several levels.

The first surprise was how expensive college has become. My own kids are 11 and 5, so aside from establishing some pre-tax savings accounts, I haven't given this much thought. At this point, most colleges seem to cost more than I made my whole first year as a professional librarian.

The second is how many families (mostly single-parent families) make less than $35,000 a year and are trying to put more than one child through college at the same time. They have my profound sympathy and admiration.

The third (although it may have something to do with the second) is that there are still a surprising number of people who say that they are the first people in their families to go to college. That was true for me, but I expected that things would have changed a generation later.

The fourth is how clueless most people are about how their lives "add up" on paper. I include myself in this category, certainly through high school. When money is handed out, when applications are being judged for college, it is very difficult to capture the flavor of a life.

So what gets "points" are such things as participation in school activities, community service work, job experience, as well as the more usual academic measures of grade point average, ACT/SAT scores, and the average gross income of your parents. Who thinks about all this in high school?

Answer: the ones who get scholarships.

The fifth is how well-heeled some corporations are. Without giving too much away, there are companies whose budget for chairs in a building exceeds the budget for most entire libraries built in Colorado this past decade. Good for them for sponsoring college scholarships for their employees. Investing in education is probably good business, too.

Yet I have many, sometimes conflicting feelings about public education. The first is my deepest criticism: I truly believe that we have taken six year's worth of curriculum — suitable for children ages 8 through 14 — and stretched it into something that now reaches from ages 4 through 21. This masks the real purpose of our public education system, which is to serve as a de facto national daycare system, and to keep our adolescent children (ages 14 through 20) some place where they won't get in the way. The sad truth of life in the post-industrial age is that we really don't need our children the way we did in the agricultural age — and we don't know quite what else to do with them.

But even if we mask our discomfort and ignorance, we can trust that our children notice: we don't need them. There is no useful work for them to do. How would that make you feel?

Another sentiment is that real education does take place, every day, in pre-schools, elementary schools, secondary schools, and colleges, and in charter schools, private schools, and home schools. This education happens because teachers care. It happens because parents care. And finally, it happens because all the evidence to the contrary, human beings — even young ones — are irrepressibly intelligent, and at some level delight in exercising the keen joy of comprehension.

For more information on colleges and scholarships, consult your local library.

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