My curiosity about lack of parental support among my poorer fellow students began when I had ingested several newspaper stories, printed over a couple of years, that included comments from people in rural areas about how they really didn’t want their children to go to the big bad University of Minnesota and their fears about those children taking on the ways of the city and losing their “good, small-town values.”
It was a topic that showed up with surprising frequency in stories originating in what Minnesotans call “out state” areas — that is, outside the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area.
So I asked quite a few of the many “out state” kids I knew at the university whether the newspaper stories showed an attitude really held by their parents and people in the communities where they were raised.
My fellow students were surprised by the question; the affirmative answer was so obvious, they thought, that it amounted to a universal truth. It was something a majority of them had to contend with.
Many parents from rural Minnesota towns such as Crookston and Fergus Falls and Montevideo were willing to have their kids attend one of the little public colleges in those or other small towns. Those with money often were willing to pay to send their kids to very expensive but academically superior small colleges in yet other small towns – Carleton, say, or St. Olaf – especially if they were run by religious denominations. A lesser number would even sanction the substantial and growing St. Cloud State University or University of Minnesota-Duluth, with or without a fight first.
But the University of Minnesota’s main campuses in the Twin Cities? A whole lot of parents fought against that, often to the point of saying they’d rather the kids didn’t go to college at all. And some, of course, just thought that small or big, cheap or expensive, college was “a waste of time,” and would “do more harm than good.”
I pushed on the questions when I visited friends out state, or took long weekends in the country, and when I had a summer job in a small town. People, including parents of my fellow students, quite readily confirmed what the students already had told me: College in general “made kids think they’re better than their parents,” and “made them get above themselves.”
Attending big schools that pushed general scholarship, as opposed to just career training, meant that kids “lost their good small-town values” and “forgot their religion” and “taught them to sneer at morality,” and the like.
That has changed some, of course, as people have seen more of the world, mainly through the eyes of television. But those attitudes and that fear of the wider world and wider knowledge still are common. And, as the world seems every more frightening to people who want nothing to change, resistance to knowledge and education seems to be regaining much of the power it lost in the 20th century.
It’s a scary world to people who think American should be always white, that power belongs in the hands of white men, and that old-time Christian religion should be forever followed by all Americans.
And then, of course, there is the dirty little secret that has existed all along, certainly since long before I became a freshman at the University of Minnesota: A surprising number of people are jealous of their kids who learn more and earn more; and they take their kids’ new lives as a rejection of themselves and their way of life.
That’s what I came to understand after much questioning and prying into the thoughts and feelings of others. Also, of course, education tends to scatter families; the kids move to where the jobs are.
Though they sometimes won’t admit it, some people are happier when the young don’t go off to learn different things and to be taught to accept other values and other ways of living. Those who worry that decent health care for all is “communist socialism” and are horrified to see a black man who is not the butler in the White House are almost sure to be the same people who want their kids to stay home and stay ignorant.
Kids can’t afford college? That’s good.
One more thing: I’ve traveled extensively much of my life, and something else I know that applies here: Minnesota is, and long has been, less provincial in many ways, including those discussed here, than most of the deep South, or Kansas, or much of the West. And pockets of such anti-learning bias can be found in every state.
James Clay Fuller