Each year at about this time the American Dialect Society chooses a “Word of the Year.” It’s another classic end of the year time waster, but it allows us to think back about what was ‘top-of-mind’ in the last 12 months. The idea is that the winner must be — demonstrably new or newly popular in 2011 and — widely and/or prominently used in 2011.
OK, so this past year “occupy” barely beat out “fracking.” So, there you have it. Hard to argue with a word newly used as a sign of global protest and an environmental verb so new that MS Word doesn’t recognize it in spell check.
But this post isn’t really about words alone; it’s about how words are a mirror into our modern times. I’m using my nomination for what I hope will be the word of the year for 2012 to begin the discussion. I nominate 'recountability.” This word is a logical contraction of ‘reason’ and ‘accountability.’ My definition of recountability is: a trait whereby a person uses reason before his/her actions and then accepts accountability for the results.
Seems simple doesn’t it?
Let’s look at where recountability is missing today. My target is higher education. A recent Bloomberg News front page story lamented the growth of student loan debt and announced that this trillion dollar liability now exceeds credit card debt in America. That means our young adults are borrowing money to get a college degree at a rate greater that all Americans are borrowing against their credit cards for staples, extravagances and bourbon (I consider bourbon a mid-point product situated squarely between staples and extravagances… leaning towards the former).
The first example the reporter used was a young woman who had gone $50,000 in debt obtaining a degree from the Interdisciplinary Master's Program in Humanities and Social Thought at New York University. I kid you not. Other examples included a man who had gone to Fordham University to get a law degree and declared that his debt was now so onerous that he would never be able to have a family.
Are we truly expected to have sympathy for this group? Where’s the recountability that says I weighed my options, I made a choice, I rolled the dice, I made a bad decision and now I must pay the piper. Earth to college students…. Private colleges are for the rich and the scholarship earners. State college is for the rest of us.
If Bloomberg is going to tell a story using anecdotes, I feel permitted to do the same. My daughter’s boyfriend, we’ll call him Beau, wants badly to be in the medical services field. So Beau gets a job at a surgical center and works his tail off and commutes on public transportation where he takes night courses at a big public university.
Will Beau end up with tuition debt? Probably some. Will he be camping out in some Occupy protest, complaining that he cannot get a job that pays well enough to pay the debt back? Highly unlikely. And it’s because Beau practices recountability. He’s made choices and he’s going to honor the obligations that came with the decision he has made.
The lack of recountability is not restricted to the students alone. Parents go nuts, too. At a recent Town Hall meeting in Pennsylvania, a mother of two sons complained to Vice President Biden that the tuition at American University for her oldest would soon be trumped by the next child’s desire to attend the University of Pennsylvania or George Washington University in DC. All three are incredibly expensive private universities.
I’m sorry, to paraphrase JP Morgan discussing the cost of his yacht: “If you have to ask, you cannot afford it.” In private school tuition, if you feel obliged to complain, it’s probably not a good idea.
The reason part of the word of the year recognizes that a professional degree from an Ivy League school is probably worth the debt. And if you’re willing to go into debt for twenty years in order to make the connections that attending Yale might provide, do it with your head held high and learn to be popular.
Obviously, Count Raoul feels that Athens, GA, is a map point likely to accept my logic. A big public institution which hard-working Georgia residents can attend for modest tuition and fees, thanks to the Hope Scholarship.
But there will still be a need for many Georgians to go into debt to afford a degree from UGA. My suggestion is to apply some recountability before you pick a major. If the money is tight, choose a degree that will pay you back.