What does it mean to do something “on your own”?

I’m in an interesting Facebook discussion with someone I’ll call Hockey Dad — HD is a smart, capable, caring person and we disagree politically.  It started because I posted something critical of Mrs. Romney.  I brought up the fact that I took on substantial student loan debt AND worked off-campus during all of my education.  In contrast to Mr. Romney’s ability to sell some stock to pay living expenses and tuition.  My point was that Mr. Romney’s struggle and mine were not comparable..

HD’s response included the idea that I got my Ph.D. on my own — which I completely disagree with.  I had a lot of help, from society, family, friends and bosses.  It wasn’t something that I did “on my own”.  Sure, I did my own homework and wrote every flipping word of the dissertation, but my academic accomplishment wasn’t a solo gig.

To start with, I went to an excellent public school — I learned to read, write, and probably to think critically by the time I graduated (thanks again, Ms.Moniken).  I went to two excellent public universities to finish my BA and a third excellent public university for my MA and Ph.D.  All of my education was subsidized by state and/or local tax dollars…. just like the facilities necessary to build a business.

I also had the support of my parents, friends, spouse and employers.  Especially important are the last two — my (now ex) husband enlisted in the military for another term so that we could have the financial stability necessary for me to work fewer hours. The hours I worked were flexible because I had a boss (and owner of the company) who wanted to encourage me — and, probably didn’t like the idea of trying to replace me… so, my work hours were flexible and varied according to my school schedule.  Without that level of accommodation and flexibility, I never would have finished a BA, say nothing of an MA or Ph.D.

In a macro-view of the world, I can be thankful that I had good health insurance because of my public employee job and that insurance paid a wonderful oncologist who literally saved my life… he went to a public school as well and founded an amazingly good and supportive cancer clinic.  So reaching back as far as Dr. W’s med school education at the University of MN, I had help to get to where I am today.  I also had a good union that insisted on excellent medical insurance, a situation that is becoming more and more rare as time goes on.

In my job as a community college faculty member, I see people with a wide variety of levels of support for their education and corresponding problems finishing it.  Yesterday I had coffee with D.  D is a former student of mine who is now applying to grad schools — all of which will make him great deals if they have any sense at all.  D’s thinking is that he is grateful for the support he got at my college and he wants to give back, by creating a philosophy scholarship to help students who need it.  He saw that he didn’t do it “on his own”, and he feels the need to give back to a college that helped him out.  To say that I’m proud of D is an understatement… I won’t claim to have given him his excellent value system or sense of perspective, I just graded some papers and gave him the opportunity to think about things — plus, the proper spelling of “Mill”…

So, in both the micro and the macro sense of things, neither D’s accomplishments nor my own were accomplished “on our own” — and to think otherwise is so arrogant and myopic as to be offensive. In fact, I should give HD props for prompting this post… thanks a bunch  :).

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