Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Plague And Price of Lowered Expectations

We've all heard the story of the "little engine that could" haven't we? The story of a train's engine saying "I think I can, I think I can" as it makes it's way slowly up a steep hill? What do you think would have happened in that story if the little engine had been told, or at least led to believe, that it couldn't? What do you think would have happened in that story if the little engine had been previously taught that engines don't go up hills like that?

This is the plague and the consequences of lowered expectations. We deal with this a lot in the public school system, of students who walk in our doors who have been told or taught by someone that they can't amount to anything because they were born poor, they have a family member (or parent) who is incarcerated, born with a disability, or simply because of their gender. Yes, this happened when my grandmother was a young girl and it still happens today.

My maternal grandmother was born in 1911. Back in the 1920's, when she grew up, it was customary for women to be secretaries, nurses, teachers, and sometimes bookkeepers (but never a CPA), or their only other alternative in life was to get married and have babies. Once a woman got married, it was expected of them to leave their jobs and stay home to raise the children that would come along. It was taboo for a woman to work after she was married, and pregnant women were not allowed in the workplace.

When my mother had us kids in the 1960's, women were allowed to work once married, but not allowed to work pregnant. A lot of times women, including my mother, waited until they actually started to show a baby bump before telling the boss of the impending arrival. This gave the mother-to-be a little extra earning money before leaving to take care of the baby.

As a result of this, the expectations of women were lower, and so were the results. I'm not against getting married and having children, I consider motherhood to be the noblest calling on earth. I even had the joy of marital bliss myself when I married Decker. However there are some women who will never marry during their lifetimes, does that mean they should choose a vocation they don't want, simply because it is expected of them?

Once my maternal grandmother had her 4 children, my grandfather left her. This was during the Great Depression in the 1930's, and because my grandmother was in a poor neighborhood in the city of Cincinnati, Ohio, as well as because of the gender discrimination in the workplace, she and her children lived off of the welfare system, rather than her being able to work. My mother, the oldest of the 4 children, remembers fainting from hunger walking home from school.

My parents, both from poor families, decided they were not raising their children this way and did everything they could to make sure we were both educated and inspired to become what we wanted to become.

I guess this is why I got a degree in business management. This is what interested me, this is where I saw myself as working. In some respects, even though I work in primary education, my talents in business have paid off as a Computer Lab Assistant. I did, however, refuse to accept ideas I saw around me while I grew up that you only go to college to get some sort of an education until you get your MRS. degree. I worked jobs in fast food, retail and banking to pay my own way through college because I didn't want my future to be dependent upon someone else's money. It took longer, but it was much more worth it. Not only did I have a degree, but I was also able to take additional classes on the side that I wouldn't have been allowed to under a scholarship plan. I also graduated with no student loans, and a resume filled with valuable work experience.

One of the best educational experiences I actually got was while working in banking. I worked in consumer loans and saw the mistakes made by people who didn't know how to manage money, but I also saw a few good examples of people investing in real estate, who did know how to handle money. Then I moved banks and moved to the commercial loan department that handles multi-million dollar and billion dollar accounts. I saw how people who have money used it to their benefit - something most people never get to see. As a result my home and car are both paid for, I only have a few credit cards with only one with a small balance to be paid off at the end of the summer, and a nice little nest egg of retirement money set aside from the many years I worked to support myself. I live frugally and don't go out very much, so I don't need a lot of money to live on. I can truly consider myself blessed.

I can also consider myself to be truly blessed, because of my college degree, and my work experiences, helped prepare me to take care of myself after my husband died unexpectedly.

I know of others, however, who were raised with lowered expectations. One of them, a dear friend of mine, has the capacity and curiosity to be an engineer. When I asked this friend why she (yes, this is a woman) didn't get an engineering degree, her response was that she wanted to, she wanted to work for Motorola as a secretary, but things didn't work out that way. I could have slapped her for telling me this, instead I just kept my mouth shut. This dear friend is very capable in the job she now has, but was raised with this attitude of "a degree, and possibly a job afterwards, are something you get while you are waiting to meet Mr. Right and get married."

Marriage didn't happen for my dear friend and the result of the lowered expectation she had for herself is that she is still in this vocation that doesn't pay nearly as well as an engineering job would have, and she and the rest of her family are struggling to live paycheck to paycheck. The biggest consequence though, to me, is that she didn't fulfill her own dreams of becoming an engineer, designing computer systems.

Her story is not the only one, nor will it be the last one until society begins to have higher expectations for our children, and backs it up with their emotional support, as well as tutoring or some other type of support.

Instead of giving a child a fish, let's not only teach them to fish, but, like the little engine, also teach them, "I think I can, I think I can...I know I can, I know I can!"

1 comment:

WarriorFlower said...

Amen, sister! Not everyone is born with a desire to prove they can do things that others don't believe they can. I think that some goals are hard to achieve and if there is nobody in your corner rooting you on, at least at critical times, it's harder. And, if to the contrary, there are people kicking you down... well... so much the harder.

Ever realize how very much like crabs we are sometimes? You don't have to put a lid on a bucket of crabs because they'll pull each other down. Are we really too scared that others will excel, feeling that somehow means we are less than they?