To the editor:
As I wrap up my 25th year of college teaching of various courses in the social sciences, I note my usual mixed feelings: overall satisfaction, physical relief and, of course, an abiding gratitude that I am still in a position where I might make a positive difference in the lives of some of my students. I usually try to end my semester with general discussions about the current state of our society. How and why it is working and how and why it isn’t working and our role in both situations. I tell them of my concerns about how different the world is now for new generations of students. We talk about the great accumulation of student indebtedness, about the ever-growing social problem of deep income inequality and how their current work prospects are far less optimistic than they were when I graduated so many years ago. Back then, I tell them, “The American Dream” was still a reality for many, but even then, not for all. Those who were ready, and were able to, took advantage of the offered upward social mobility that remained available during the 30 years or so after the end of the Second World War. Our nation was also still benefiting from the positive effects of much “New Deal” legislation accomplished during the terms of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Students are somewhat incredulous about my personal stories of how corporations and a variety of federal and state agencies set up information booths in our Hofstra College gymnasium to meet and talk with members of the graduating class about careers. I tell them about my friend’s father who worked as a milkman at a company in Lynn. He was able to raise a family in modest, decent conditions with a home, health care, a car and a chance for a good education for all of his children. And all of this was done with one middle-class income. A far cry from the average middle-class lifestyle of today.