Shelving the dream

Dina Strasser’s daughter wants to start a bakery that serves pie and gumbo. “You can do whatever you want,” she told her. But that’s not true, Strasser writes in Shelving My American Dream.

She works as an English teacher. Her husband is a minister, who has little hope of finding work outside the South or Midwest. Her brother is mentally disabled. Her mother is widowed.

In June of this year, I turned down the most prestigious scholarship for doctoral work that my local, nationally recognized university had to offer. It was as generous as you could hope for: full tuition, opportunities for stipends and grants. The gracious professors there, and others who helped me with my applications, spent hours of their own time walking me through the process, writing recommendations; they said, to wit, you were born to be a Ph.D. And I knew it, because I had figured that out for myself in third grade. It was the only lifelong dream I have ever had.

Strasser would need “exquisite mobility to find the kind of rapidly dwindling tenure-track job required to support my family, most of which were located in places best described as not in the South or Midwest,” she decided. Instead, she will “stay in a related job that pays double the national average with good benefits, in a decent school district, with marriage and family healthy and happy, in a big blue colonial.”

Yet she wonders what to tell her daughter and son about their dreams. “It’s not you can do anything you want. And it’s not you can do everything you want, just not at the same time. It’s not even something will work out.”

She hasn’t figured it out.

Going for a PhD is “risky business,” writes Fredrick deBoer. “I tell people– if you can imagine doing literally anything else, do that instead.” However, “mocking graduate students . . .  features a lot of weirdness about risk, choice, and other people’s lives in late capitalism.”

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