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Want to annoy Santorum? Go to school

Elise Patkotak

It's simply amazing that all these many years later I find out my mother and father were secretly trying to wean me and my siblings from the religion that was an all encompassing part of their lives by insisting we attend college. All this time I just thought it was because they wanted a better life for their children, what used to be called the American Dream. Thank goodness Rick Santorum has corrected that obviously wrong idea.

My mother actually attended college, a rare to almost unheard of feat in her world at a time when both men and women did not necessarily even graduate from high school. My father's mother pulled him out of school the minute he turned 14. It was the Great Depression and she needed him to bring money into the family coffers. Not that she ever admitted that was the reason for pulling him from school. No, nonna told everyone he had to leave school because the doctor said he'd go blind if he didn't because his eyes were getting so bad from reading. So she apprenticed him to a butcher. Yep, if you're going blind, the best career move to make is to one that involves big sharp knives.

My father got his GED when he was in his 40s. He was as proud, if not prouder, of that accomplishment than any of his kids probably were about their college diplomas. And, much to no one's surprise, he was still seeing just fine with the help of glasses when he died. That mysterious eye disease never did rear its ugly head again.

My mother, on the other hand, was the youngest girl in her family and much doted on. Her father, upon emigrating from Italy, had done manual labor at a woman's college located in a very snooty section of Philadelphia. The family legend my mother repeated to me with great frequency as I grew up was that he swore that one day a child of his would attend that college. That was how he'd know he'd made it in America.

It was an immigrant's dream and my mother made it come true for him. Even though, as she admitted to me once, one of her older sisters was smarter, she was the chosen one. So her older sister went to work behind the counter in her dad's grocery store and my mother got a college degree.

Despite her education, my mother spent most of her life behind the counter of our grocery store, working side by side with my dad. When my siblings and I grew up, the mantra in our family was that we were going to college, no questions asked, no excuses accepted. We were going to be the generation that moved from blue collar to white collar. That was the signal that our family had truly arrived in America. Italian immigrants who could go back for generations in Italy and find only illiterate farmers had come to America and in two generations risen to the ranks of doctors, lawyers, bankers and teachers. America was truly a great country.

Rick Santorum's family is also a family of Italian immigrants. Rick earned a college degree, an MBA and a law degree. He managed to do all that ostensibly without losing his religion or becoming a snob. So I find it interesting that he wants to save us from those terrible fates by having us avoid higher education. Unfortunately for America, if our young people are not educated beyond a high school diploma, we'll soon find ourselves confined to assembling the inventions other countries create. That's not the way to regain America's leading role in today's world. Whether it's technical training or a Ph.D., something beyond high school is a requirement for tomorrow's workforce.

As our world becomes more complicated and technologically challenging, Rick would have us believe that not getting an education is the answer. Or -- and I'm just throwing this out there for discussion -- maybe now that he has his, he doesn't want you to have yours so that he can be assured of always having a group of ignorant people who will believe every idiotic thing that comes out of his mouth.

If you would do one thing for your country this year, do this. Annoy Rick Santorum. Get an education.

Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer and author of "Parallel Logic," a memoir of her 28 years in Barrow. Web site, www.elisepatkotak.com.


ELISE PATKOTAK
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