September 28th, 2010

Sacrifices to Attend College


I’m cleaning out my Dad’s apartment and found a letter from the President of Washington State University addressed to my Grandfather. The letter tells him that his daughter Barbara (my much loved aunt) has made the All-College Honor Roll for the sixth time and that no student does this without being “thoughtful” and “earnest minded.”

But it was the second paragraph of the letter that really caught my attention. “Many parents of our students have made either small or large sacrifices in order that their children might secure a college education. The faculty of this institution is doing its utmost to enourage all students to restrict their expenditures and devote their best energies to their studies. Also, our students are urged to leave sufficient time for wholesome recreations in order that they may keep in good physical and mental condition.”

The letter is dated July 20, 1932. It’s good to remember that during that time of economic hardship as well as the one today, sacrifices are being made so that students can attend colleges and universities. Some of this advice is dated—most college teachers today don’t get after their students about spending too much money, although maybe we should. But the admonition that students devote best energies to studying is just as timely as is the urging to engage in “wholesome” recreational activites.

We do have a tendency to think that all the educational, social and political issues that confront us as teachers are unique. Most of them are not, but are realities that have been faced by other teachers who struggled, succeeded and failed as we do.

I found another letter from my Grandfather to my Father—it’s about how Grandma’s mental and physical health are declining. This is the first time he has had to write because she cannot. The language in the letter is descriptive but between the lines is all the anguish that comes when care giving responsibilities grow large.

We need to be reminded that we share many human endeavors with those in previous generations. We aren’t the first to expend efforts to educate sometimes difficult and reluctant students. In fact some of us were once those very students who needed to be encouraged to devote more time to study and less to a whole range of activities that were definitely not “wholesome.”