February 12, 2012

Teaching Students to Save Their Future

Even though I am almost 60 years old, I resist the evidently age-related urge to say “When I was your age. . .”  However, it is undeniable that there are generational differences.  This is natural.  The importance between these two concepts is that there is a thin line between being suppositional in being superior and stating the facts and analyzing them properly.
I am finishing Griftopia by the incredible Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone fame.  This is a book about how Wall Street took us to the brink of absolute disaster knowing they would be bailed out no matter how much the collapse was their fault, all the while demanding they still get their multi-million dollar bonuses for being "so smart."  It has made me think of what happened after I graduated from college.
When I was in school, the Vietnam War was being waged (despite no declaration of war by the Senate.)  The draft was in effect, and we were scared to death about dying in a foreign country that did not want us for a cause we did not believe  or believe in.  This caused us to be as engaged as we could (given that there were no internet and no ability to react immediately to politicians’ decisions that have real impact upon our lives.)  We protested, and we fought.  Some, like John Kerry, answered their call of the country and served, most suffering in silence the horrors they saw.  We were all greatly impacted.  
Now there is no draft.  Volunteers fight our wars, which are also illegal because the Senate never declared war.  However, there is not the concern of most people because their lives are not in danger.  They all go about their lives with little concern for those fighting.  But their lives are changing, and they are starting to wake up to the politicians who are changing their lives in a very negative sense.
When I returned to MacMurray College, my alma mater, after ten years of being away, I talked to my former professors and to some students of the time.  The war had been over for years.  Students were no longer engaged, and they stayed that way until recently.  The major with the largest number of students was and is business.  I am not being judgmental.  We need people in all fields to make society run as smoothly as possible.  However, I was disconcerted by the lack of idealism on the campus, a traditional place in which idealism flourishes.  Students were consumed with the concept that making money was priority number one.  I have to believe this philosophy has been a big reason as to why our moral and ideal compasses are out of whack.
In the past few years, we have read or encountered situations in which profits were at loggerheads with morals, and profits have won almost every time.  How many times did we read about a health-insurance company that denied a person a life-saving surgery because it would have hurt the bottom line of the company?  How many times did we read about mortgage brokers making ridiculous applications which included outright lies that the applicant was unaware of in order for the brokers to make a huge bonus for the applications they got through?  How many times have we read articles and books (read the innumerable books about Bear Stearns, AIG, and Goldman-Sachs) who bundled bad mortgages with other average mortgages to dump them off of their books, causing the new owners to blanch in fear after they realized what was about to happen?  Then these guys made more money off of those bundles by betting against them.  How many times do we have to pay outrageously high gas prices because these firms drove up the price of oil based upon manufactured fears?  How many times do we hear about how they have paid off our politicians to change the rules of Wall Street so that the regulators are either gone or ineffective?  How can we change these horror stories?
It will take time, but I think the answer is in our students in college right now and in a small change in the law.  How can we get our students who want to major in business not to become so cynical to believe that money is more important than ethics?  I submit that we change the Whistleblower legislation.  Right now, whistleblowers, who should be our heroes for doing the right thing, are being punished for this as stated in the Supreme Court case Garcetti vs. Cabellos.  The renegade-Fox-News-loving set of five conservative judges have made the regulators and whistleblowers Public Enemy Number One because of their threats to the profit margins of the corporations.  Why should a regulator whose job is to make sure that the major players stay in line be punished doing their job?  
Changing the Whistleblower legislation so that they not be arrested anymore is not enough however.  They should be rewarded with a percentage of the theft/embezzlement/fraud they uncover.  This percentage will mostly insure many from being bribed or from being fearful of losing their jobs for doing the correct thing.  If the students who major in business understand that being idealistic can be financially beneficial, then we can infuse both idealism and financial security for those who apply bravery and knowledge in their fields.  
We teachers are idealists.  Many of us do not get the cynicism and lack of morals of the 1% who work for Wall Street.  However, we must understand it to teach the ethics to future business students so that idealism can be a part of their philosophy, which would carry over to their underlings and children.  We also must impress upon them that the idealism will make sure that the collapse does not happen again.  The so-called business cycles that some economists say are natural is a myth.  The bursting of economic bubbles are manufactured by the uber-wealthy to suck the economy of every dime it can have.  While our pensions shrink because of these natural cycles, the 1% continues to get richer and richer while we get poorer and poorer.  We need to make this important move to make the future society for our kids more stable and more fair.

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