This is an open letter to the children who will be taking over from my generation when we are done. It is more a critique of where I see our country, and perhaps the world, heading in the not-too-distant future, than any kind of real apology, but I feel that the contents need to be said before too much more time passes. I decided to write this when I realised that I was quite possibly the last person in my immediate family who would be able to attend university. The thought of rising tuition costs and other actions which have inhibited the entry to higher education for all but the affluent or extremely intelligent, was almost paralysing when I wondered what would become of my child’s employment prospects should university not be an option.
I hope the world I foresaw during the writing of this piece does not come to be. I see it as a dystopian “modge-podge” of scientific advancement beaten down by religious extremism with an unhealthy dose of ecological disaster and a sprinkling of moralistic dishonesty. We are well on the road to this scary place, but I sincerely hope that more people take a step back from their everyday actions and choose to make real and affirmative action.
I am writing today to let you in on a secret.
Once upon a time, in a land not very unlike your own today, many people were able to go to university. I’m serious. Most people had the opportunity to enter university, or some other higher education institution. It was an attainable goal that most had the possibility of reaching without striving too far at all. Of course, some courses cost more than others, and some courses were more difficult to be accepted into, but if you had the brain power and the desire, it was possible.
It wasn’t always glamorous. A lot of the time, you had to work as many hours as you could possibly get from your employer around your hours of study, which left precious little time for homework and assignments, let alone relaxation or general socialisation.
Sometimes, you had to go days without eating meat, or fresh vegetables. Sometimes all you could afford to eat was week old bread or two minute noodles that had an expiry date you didn’t really want to think about. You lived below the poverty line, as did all of your uni friends. You would look at your tired friends with full time jobs and envy their bank balance, their new clothes not bought from the op shop, and their ability to pay for petrol AND food in the same week. All the while, you kept your eye on the light at the end of the tunnel, and just hoped it wasn’t an oncoming train.
But you did what you could to afford all the books and stationery. You scraped and saved for your tuition fees. Sometimes, if you jumped through enough flaming hoops, you were able to get government assistance to help you through. Once upon a time, my dear children, you were even able to defer the costs of your tuition and pay the government back when you started earning above a certain amount. We truly believed, as did some of those in politics, that everyone should have the option of studying at higher level, regardless of their postcode.
I know that it must seem unfair to you now. Given how much it all costs, and how hard it is to even scrape together enough to do a simple short course at a college for a few weeks, it seems unfathomable to go to university for a few years. Even if you did manage to get into university, you may not be able to get a job in your chosen field.
That’s very scary. That’s not to mention the fact that everyone your age is trying for the same cheaper courses, all in the hopes of getting their foot in the door to a job interview at somewhere other than the local fast food outlet or menial labour position. The desire to escape the shackles of a workplace that displays complete disregard for the laws surrounding employment conditions, simply because their staff are too scared of losing their jobs to complain about any of the unsafe, or illegal practices, is one I understand all too well. I was there, once upon a time, but my case was a rare one for my time. For you, it is an every day occurrence.
The secret wasn’t all I wanted to say though. I also want to apologise.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry that higher education is out of your reach. I’m sorry I couldn’t earn enough to put you through university. I’m sorry you have to apply to groups such as UNICEF for the chance to win your higher education. I’m sorry that the government my generation voted in for only three years, managed to destroy university opportunities so very badly for you all.
I’m sorry that you are now forced to work long hours at a job you hate for minimum wage, simply because you couldn’t get a degree that would have allowed you access to a better paying career with promotion opportunities. I’m sorry that you and your partner will have to both work two jobs to make sure you can afford to pay rent AND feed your kids, should you choose to have any. I’m sorry you can’t afford to put a deposit down on your own home because you don’t earn enough to pay a mortgage. I’m so very very sorry.
I’m sorry that even if you did manage to get accepted into university, that you have to pick your career path very carefully, because you won’t be able to afford a second lot of self-education because it’s not covered by your tax cap.
We thought we knew it all. We were the generation that had everything going for it, and nothing to lose. That was until we lost everything.
It started fairly innocently enough. There was a general sense of ennui. Our idea of taking a stand and having our voices heard amounted to thing more than adding our name and address to an online petition, or perhaps liking a Facebook page. Back in our day, Facebook was only just starting to become the multinational conglomerate it is now. You probably don’t believe me, but we all thought it was a great way of keeping up to date with our friends without really having to commit to a face-to-face conversation.
Nothing more than that. Just a “harmless” social networking site. Oh, how wrong were we to be proven. But that, my dear, is a story for another day.
Sure, we still protested, thinking it would make a difference. Somehow, though, the fire wasn’t there that it had been for previous generations. Maybe it was the fact that we would have all preferred to be at home in front of our computers, safe in our anonymity. Maybe it was the fact that the laws were changed so that any unauthorised groups of more than to people were suddenly illegal. Maybe it was the fact that if we boycotted anything there was the likelihood of someone being sued. Who knows? All we remember is one day turning around and realising just how screwed up things had become. By that point, of course, nothing short of revolution was going to be able to change things, and we as a nation were unlikely to form like that. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, in our self-absorbed mediated lives, we had become a society like something out of a book.
I am not the only one who should be apologising to you, for having made the world the nightmare that it is for you. I’m disappointed by my fellows and contemporaries. Not because of their inaction so much as their collective inability to join the few of us who have dared critique the world we have created. En masse, we could do something, but it would need to be all of us, and it would need to be now. Of course, having said that, it may already be too late. You have freedoms from the constraints and pressures of higher education, while we had the freedom of it. They’re two side of the coin. It’s a fine line of difference, but when you’ve seen where the line is and what it stands for, it can mean all the difference in the world.
Oh, my dear blinded an uneducated children, I am so very very sorry for all that we have done, but I am even more sorry for all we did not do.
Yours in sorrow,
For those who are not aware, the Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is the story I refer to in the latter part of this piece. If you have not read it, I would highly recommend it as a very good book to read. Regardless of your views on religion, it is a good treatment of the “what-ifs” of religious extremism managing to take over the political arena in troubled and turmoiled times, such as those we are currently experiencing. This book, combined with ideas from Snowcrash by Neil Stephenson is how I envision the world becoming within my own lifetime should we not stop and reflect on the consequences of our actions. If you have not read either of these books, please do yourself a favour and do so. They will change your thinking on how the world is and could be.
ABC News, (2013). Two-thirds of university students living below the poverty line: report. Accessed via: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-07-15/majority-of-students-in-poverty2c-research-shows/4821230
Atwood, M., (2012). Haunted by The Handmaids’ Tale. The Guardian. Accessed via: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/jan/20/handmaids-tale-margaret-atwood
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Evans, C., (2012). Tony Abbot to slash support for university students. Ministers’ Website for Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education. Accessed via: http://archive.innovation.gov.au/ministersarchive2013/chrisevans/mediareleases/pages/tonyabbotttoslashsupportforuniversitystudents.aspx.htm
O’Connor, D., (2013). Making (self) education unaffordable. Gadens. Accessed via: http://www.gadens.com.au/publications/Pages/Making-self-education-unaffordable.aspx
Sricharatchanya, H., (n.d.). Education – for some still an unattainable dream. UNICEF EAPRO – Media Centre. Ccessed via: http://www.unicef.org/eapro/media_19255.html
Stephenson, N., (1992). Snowcrash. Random House Publishing.
Western Australian Consolidated Acts, (2013). Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 – Notes. Chapter IX – Unlawful assemblies: Breaches of the peace. Accessed via: (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/wa/consol_act/ccaca1913252/notes.html