My father was a cab driver. Everyday, he fought a losing battle to make a decent living. No matter what he did and how hard he tried, we sunk deeper and deeper into a black hole of grinding poverty and despair.
My mother unfortunately was unable to help. She was, in fact, a constant burden. She was chronically depressed at a time when the powerful antidepressants that are so readily available today didn’t even exist.
In the 1950’s when I was growing up in San Francisco, I remember all too well that many days there was no more than a $1.25 to feed my two younger brothers, myself, and my parents.
But it wasn’t the physical poverty per se that was so debilitating. The mental poverty was even worse.
On both sides of the family, we were the poorest. I remember witnessing on more than one occasion my father and my mother being made fun of and berated by my relatives for their shabby clothes, the poor neighborhoods in which we lived, and so forth. The things that were said to my mother and my father in front of their children were the cruelest cuts of all. It has taken me a lifetime to try to forgive my relatives for their meanness.
All of these painful memories and more flooded back into my consciousness with the re-election of President Bush. It reminded me why I have been a lifelong Democrat and a fighter for helping those less fortunate than me.
Because of my brains and hard work, I was able to enter U.C. Berkeley in 1956 as a freshman. I took 18 units in engineering from arguably one of the best universities in the world, and all for the mere sum of $56. Even I could afford that.
All during my college days, I was able to obtain federal loans to supplement the little I earned by working part time and summers. When I left Berkeley in 1967 with a Ph.D. in engineering, I paid only $200 per semester in tuition.
As soon as I got my Ph.D., I began teaching at a major university. Over a seven-year period, all of the money that I had borrowed from the federal government was forgiven. Just by being fortunate enough to have been born in California, being able to attend U.C. Berkeley, and obtaining government loans, I essentially got a free education.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Governor Pat Brown who helped build the U.C. system, and U.C. Berkeley in particular, became “substitute parents” to me. They were everything that my poor parents never could be: rich, powerful, highly educated, successful, and most of all, able and willing to help those who were bright, but lacked the money to go college on their own.
To say that, as a result, I have become well-off is putting it mildly. I have become well-to-do beyond my wildest dreams. I live in a house and a town that my parents and I could never have dreamt of in our wildest dreams.
Best of all, I have been married to the same bright, intelligent, and loving woman for over 40 years. I am also blessed with a loving family. Life is good.
But I have never forgotten my roots for one second. I have never forgotten how my parents had to struggle just to barely survive. And, I have never forgotten how the citizens of the state of California gave me the opportunity to succeed.
But as a result, I cannot understand the mentality of those who have so much and are so unwilling to help those less fortunate than they. I can neither understand nor accept the attitude of those who want to lower taxes for the wealthy. I would gladly pay more taxes to help others get the same opportunities that I received.
In public, when I have often said that I would gladly pay more taxes to help further education, I am usually met with caustic remarks such as, “Well, Ian, you go ahead and do it for me.” Such callous remarks hurt me to the core.
This is precisely why I am so angry with President Bush, Governor Schwarzenegger, and the Republican Party. And that’s why I was so depressed at the outcome of the last election.
Why can’t we see that truly investing in education — and not in bogus programs such as Leave No Child Behind, which is poorly under funded — is one of the very best investments we can ever make?
I took the $56 that I paid in 1956 and I projected it forward to see what the inflation rate would have to be to equal the roughly $3,500 that is the current tuition at U.C. schools. It is 12%! That is, $56 would have to be compounded at an annual rate of 12% to equal the $3,500 of today.
I don’t see how today’s kids who are not well off can achieve what I was able to do without government help. And yet, the Republican Administration actually has the gall to talk of cutting back on Federal Loans for higher education.
I know many good Republicans. They are kind and thoughtful. They give freely of themselves. They help many unfortunate individuals.
But to me, that’s not the same as paying taxes in order to help whole groups of people that one does not know and never will. Paying taxes is one of the most important and visible ways by which we show our concern for all citizens.
Who will help today’s poor kids? Does anyone even care?