Friday, April 25, 2014

DJ Cook Pursued His Passion, and We Are Doomed

Poverty stricken teacher, in more flush days
I happened upon this little piece in Huffington Post yesterday morning during my Facebook read.  In what appears to be a regular "Working Poor" feature, 36-year old DJ Cook recounts his tale of woe, one that has him currently in a temporary teaching position and living in a converted garage.  I urge you to read his story, but don't do so with hot coffee anywhere near you or the violent shakes that you get while reading will lead to serious injury.  I'm going to take his effort apart, piece by piece, if you don't mind.

I graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2000 with an Economics degree (cruelly ironic, I know). My student loan debt was minimal from my undergrad and I ended up paying off about $6,000 from 2000-2007. In that same time I bounced from job to job, ultimately looking for a career. In 2007, I realized that my passion was teaching. I went back to school, obtained my teaching credential and a Master's degree in Education. At about the same time, the economy collapsed, taking most local, state and federal budgets for education with it. My Master's degree cost $36,000 with a 6.8 percent APR. But I was lucky enough to land a teaching job the first year out of school. I thought I had finally captured the elusive "American Dream."

Mr. Cook's parenthetical about his undergraduate major is interesting.  In it, my sense is that he is citing irony as in, "I got an economics degree and here I am on the receiving end of economic burden" or something like that.  No Mr. Cook, that is not what is ironic.  What is ironic is that you would accrue $6000 in student debt, pay it off while you meandered from job to job (good on you--that's sometimes what folks in their 20's do), and then--armed with the knowledge of labor supply and demand that one would suppose you accrued while studying economics at UCSB--you took on SIX TIMES that debt to obtain an MA in a field that, while it may have been your "passion"--is not particularly well-known for its salary structure, at least for inexperienced teachers.  

Thinking that I would be able to keep my job for as long as I wanted based on good performance, I was excited to start the process of looking for a house to purchase. My student loan payments started to kick in six months after I graduated and that is when I realized that a home purchase was far away for me. 

So let's get this straight.  New job, low salary, $36K in debt--hey, must be time to buy a house!  

I didn't realize what I was agreeing to when I was signing my student loan documents for graduate school because it had never been explained to me. I had no clue about the difference of borrowing from Sallie Mae or the federal government. I had no clue what the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized meant. I thought my loan repayments would be similar to my undergrad experience. 

UCSB really, really ought to put a hit out on this guy, not to mention whatever institution (where he got his MA is not cited) handed him a Masters.  Have you ever read a more pitiful explanation in your life?  This is what we call in America these days, an EDUCATED MAN.  With an economics degree.  Yet he can with a straight face write this drivel?

After three lay-offs in four years I decided to move from California to Colorado in order to continue to teach but pay a lot less for rent, gas and everything else that is cheaper outside of California. In my two years in Colorado, I was laid off both times, so I moved back to California to take another teaching position. In my seven years as an educator, I've been laid off six times.

Hmmm....bounced from job to job for six years after college....can't read loan docs....doesn't understand supply/demand relationship (with an econ degree)...laid off six times.  Maybe, just maybe, Mr. Cook isn't very good at this "adult" stuff? 

On top of all that, there is a low key war in education between public education and for-profit charters, online schools and private schools. The for-profit machine has undermined the unions, backed standardized testing and refuses to acknowledge that our failing education system is due to social and economic issues rather than "bad teachers." 

So here now is Mr. Cook singing to the chorus--remember, this was a Huffington Post piece--with the standard tripe of left of center education theory.  Things would be better if we only paid more taxes to our public education system, gagged any and all competition, and eliminated all methods of holding that system accountable.  Where I do agree with Mr. Cook is that I don't think "bad teachers" are the cause--but then again, that isn't a criticism the right makes of modern education.  Teacher unions?  Now that's a problem.  Bad teachers?  Nope.  Additionally, his characterization of the failures being attributable to "social and economic" issues is half right, in that social issues--primarily the breakdown of the American family/single parenthood--are at the heart of the failure of public education.  "Economic issues" is code for "spend more", and there is ample evidence to suggest minimal connection between dollars spent per pupil and performance.

I currently live in a converted garage (500 sq/ft) with no heat, no air conditioning, and no kitchen -- and all of that costs $900/month. I live paycheck to paycheck, with no savings. I have a dog, which I use to fill the biological urge to have children. At 36 years old, it's slowly starting to dawn on me that I will most likely never have children, as I would never intentionally bring another child into the world of poverty. A house and/or a family is a laughable proposition at this point.

Finally, Mr. Cook begins to make good decisions.  I do not wish for him to bring a child into this world either, if its intelligence is in any way a reflection of biology.  One question I do have--what is Mr. Cook doing ALL SUMMER LONG?  He presumably has 10-12 weeks at his disposal--what good is this time devoted to?  

In six and a half years I have paid off $2,000 of principle even though my payments have been roughly $400/month. Most of the payments have gone towards interest. 

UCSB--are you reading?  This guy graduated from YOUR UNIVERSITY.  WITH AN ECON DEGREE!  And he didn't understand the way loans work.

Something needs to change and it needs to change now. Too many people are affected by this for it not to be something that everyone is aware of. For the vast majority of citizens of the U.S. and the world for that matter, we are not in a recession. We are in a depression disguised as a recession due to the fact that the upper one percent continue to pull obscene amounts of wealth out of the global economy, which ultimately covers up the loss of wealth the rest of us have suffered through.

It needs to change, but not in the way you want it to or because you have failed.  Things need to change because the education market is distorted and its products think like you, Mr. Cook.  Once again--I want to stress--this man earned a college degree in economics.  And his understanding of economics borders on the absurd.  We are in neither a recession nor a depression.  "Vast majority"?  Did he fail statistics, too?  More singing to the choir with the reference to the "1%", but that's to be expected.  

I have covered this ground before, but it is worth saying again.  The reasons that so many people are so incredibly indebted as a result of their education is that 1) too many vastly unqualified people are pursuing higher education 2) the federal government has stepped in to provide a sea of funding to enable this behavior 3) the distorted excess resources in the system raises total demand faster than total supply can keep up, which raises price and 4) the funding provided to students to pursue their educations is pegged to the price of the place they attend, thereby removing ANY incentive for the institutes of higher learning to control their prices.  Perhaps even a 20-year old version of Mr. Cook--were he to put the bong down long enough--would understand the distorted economics of higher education. 

I urge you to read through some of the comments at the end of the article to get a sense of just how screwed we are.  You and I (I'm speaking to the conservative readers now) read this piece and it comes off almost as a work of parody, something we might see in The Onion.  But for the readers of Huffington Post (and voters of Barack Obama), Mr. Cook's story and illogic is ample justification for a whole host of government programs that would MAKE IT EVEN EASIER to obtain funding to pursue higher education (therein deepening the distortion presented in the previous paragraph).  

One last thing.  Whenever you "pursue your passion", you don't get to bitch about the conditions of its pursuit.  By definition, you are putting logic and reasoning aside.  


Tubby said...

" issues--primarily the breakdown of the American family/single parenthood--are at the heart of the failure of public education."

And given that, what is sad is that shemales like this will be the closest thing to a male role model that many boys will have.

Mudge said...

Let's declare open war on snivelers. Every time one of these takers whines about his or her self-made station in life and demands the rest of society to stop what we are doing and remedy the "injustice" we ought to figuratively tar and feather him or her and sew a scarled S on his or her skirt (yes, I meant skirt, not shirt). This post is a beautiful example of tarring and feathering--just need more public distro now and we're on our way.

Mudge said...

CW - I tried to comment on the Huff Po article with a link to your take down but apparently I don't have the requisite credentials to voice my perspective there. I was almost giddy about the fun time we would have if suddenly a whole pestilence of liberals visited your site.

I R A Darth Aggie said...

Deer DJ Cook

Get on your Obama Phone, call a well service company in North Dakota. Can you get a commercial driver's license? can you learn to weld? willing to be a roughneck?

If you can, and are willing to work up there over the summer, and maybe during your breaks - yes, I know the winters can be brutal, but you could fill in for someone over Christmas break and they'd be appreciative - and you can probably pay off your loan in a couple of years.

Faster if you quit your current part timey job and move there full time. Yes, it's boom area and there are expenses that go with that, but then again Wal-Mart is paying something like $17/hour for their workers. Actual skilled labor, such as drivers, welders, even roughnecks get paid better. And if you're smart like you think you are, you can learn stuff as a roughneck, and move up the chain.

Also: Dave Ramesy. Beans and rice, rice and beans, no vacations, no unnecessary spending. Put everything you have into that debt and it will be gone in no time.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Shouldn't someone with a degree in economics know the correct spelling of the word "principal?"

Anonymous said...

"Thinking that I would be able to keep my job for as long as I wanted based on good performance,..."

Where'd this guy get THAT notion? The days where one was retained for doing a good job are long, long gone.

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