The Buck that Burns Across My Back

It is 14:52 on the eve of ESL summer school. We have spent an entire day, AN ENTIRE DAY, planning for a sixty-five-minute lesson from curriculum that we first laid our eyes on this morning after a completely different and unrelated ENTIRE DAY presentation of curriculum yesterday. And at this moment, he announces that tomorrow, for the first day, the schedule will be “different.” That all our lesson planning has just been flushed down the toilet that has become our society.

I cried on my two-mile walk this morning. Not because it was too hot, or the views of the Perfect Denver Neighborhood weren’t impeccable. Or because I had to teach summer school for four weeks to pay for summer camp for my girls for ONE. But because of an article I read about the University of Phoenix, of all things. About how, in five years, their enrollment has decreased by fifty percent. And starting July 1st, a new law will require that they prove that their graduates make enough money to pay back the loans that their for-profit greed has forced them to take.

I was thinking these things as I made my way across town to the locale of this year’s grant-funded summer school, the University of Denver, a NONprofit institution with gorgeous grounds and transgender bathrooms and air conditioning and classes that start at $1200 a CREDIT.

And how screwed I am. Not because I think that the University of Phoenix is so damn amazing that it could grind up the 100-year-old trees of Denver’s “Ivy League of the West.” But because I have to do this. I have to do this damn summer school and have a part time job as an adjunct-but-never-real professor, that I have to bend my will to the beck and call of disorganized, incapable-of-communicating administrators, all for the buck that burns across my back.

That the measly $600 that I sometimes earn in a month at the University of Phoenix is sometimes all that keeps us from bowing down to debt.

And when he comes in at 13:33 and tells me that they haven’t been able to contact more than 11 students for our summer school, I ask him if it will be cancelled, if I will be shit out of luck on all counts this Tuesday. “No worries… it’s already accounted for… a grant. No pasa nada.” And his blue eyes and Argentinian accent are slappable. “And who paid for it?” I demand, the third time in two months I’ve asked, a question he’s dodged until this moment. “Well… you have. The taxpayers. The READ Act.”

And it all circles back to me. The University of Denver grounds I stand on that have been manicured by professional gardeners. The school I could never afford to attend, nor will any of my children even think of applying to. The public education that is filled and funded with so many holes, twenty-seven gorgeous textbooks, full-color photos and activities galore, a slew of classroom supplies including an electric pencil sharpener, that 11 students will take advantage of … all the rest? To waste.

The “for-profit” evil University of Phoenix that has allowed my family to break free of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle that is a teacher’s salary, that allowed us to live on a pittance in Spain, that has allowed me to… breathe.

What is an education worth? Why won’t parents commit to a forty-five minute bus ride for free materials, expert teachers, individualized classes, and free breakfast and lunch? Why won’t the University of Denver be asked to publish data on how many students graduate with a super-fancy psychology degree and start their salaries at $22,000? Why won’t our government ever just see that EDUCATION SHOULD BE FREE??

This is my Tuesday. Let the games begin. The Hunger Games, real world style.

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