Reviews | A success story, but also a myth?

For the editor:

Regarding “I Am Not Proof of the American Dream”, by Tara Westover (guest opinion essay, Sunday Review, February 6):

I grew up poor in New York and had similar experiences to Mrs. Westover.

The American Dream is unattainable today for the vast majority of poor students, not least because of the exorbitant cost of getting a college, let alone a graduate school. It’s an American tragedy, a threat to our democracy, but it’s a problem that can be solved if, as a nation, we put our minds to it.

Student debt must be eliminated. As a nation, we must curb the exploding cost of higher education, and we must make it affordable through government grants, an expansion of Pell grants, or other as yet unidentified means.

Our democracy is still an experiment that needs to be constantly nurtured by an educated and informed population. Education has always been and will continue to be a pillar of a successful democracy. This fact should be a guide in bringing our otherwise polarized nation together, as we are all going to “win” or “lose” depending on whether we succeed in meeting this challenge.

Barry S. Sziklay
West Orange, New Jersey

For the editor:

Through her own tenacity, courage, and willpower, Tara Westover, using a modest government grant to help pay for basic expenses and Mormon Church-subsidized tuition, transformed herself from a simple young girl and poor in a highly skilled, successful and well-educated professional. .

But she became disillusioned with the American dream she personified and paints a sadly bleak and disheartening picture of the prospects of a new generation of equally determined young activists.

Ms. Westover vividly describes how she struggled to achieve her goals. She writes: “But it was possible. Without family money, without cultural advantages, it was something that could be done, if only fair, if you really wanted to.

That’s a pretty good definition of the American dream, and it remains a reality for many thousands of motivated descendants of working-class Americans as well as immigrants who came here with next to nothing, and who are as brave and determined as young Mrs. Westover.

The inflated costs (tuition, housing, etc.) that Ms. Westover rightly bemoans can indeed seem incredibly imposing. But lower costs once seemed to him. Why underestimate today’s dreamers? They are there, undeterred.

By all means, let’s pursue Ms. Westover’s suggestions: restore funding, reduce inefficiencies and inequities. But let’s favor the hopeful example of his earlier experience over the disheartening desperation of his current view of the American Dream.

Alan M. Schwartz
Teaneck, New Jersey

For the editor:

Tara Westover’s essay notes that her life was transformed by the financial stability provided by a Pell Fellowship she received in her sophomore year of college.

Ms. Westover applied for this grant because a church leader insisted that she do so. It was this person’s intervention, as much as the grant itself, that allowed Ms. Westover to focus on her academic work, moving from keeping a roof over her head. She succeeded because she had access to personal and financial resources that allowed her to fully participate in her studies.

Most of us have benefited from a timely offer of help, encouragement, or information. Networks that provide such support, at least as much as the resources they mobilize, enable people to succeed. None of us can do this alone.

Ms. Westover’s experiences show how important it is for each of us to take advantage of our opportunities to reach out.

Deborah Beck
Austin, TX
The writer is an associate professor of classics at the University of Texas at Austin.

For the editor:

Tara Westover’s essay resonated deeply with me. I feel like an impostor because people tell me that I should be proud of my success, but none of this would have been possible without the financial assistance from the State of Texas and the scholarships from private donors who support me. allowed for a somewhat more normal college experience than the typical kid who enrolls in college. I can’t imagine devoting time to extracurricular activities or taking a single job while in college if not for that.

Even with all this help, I still had to take out student loans, and without my major and career choice, I wouldn’t have been able to pay them off so soon. I certainly wouldn’t recommend most people make the choices I made.

My story, like the author’s, proves what’s so nefarious about the American dream: we are conditioned to think that if we ask for help, we are influencing society, thereby silencing ourselves. and avoiding an honest conversation about the role of government in this crisis.

Dhananjay Khanna
Seattle

For the editor:

The underlying message in Tara Westover’s beautiful piece is really about the failures of our financial aid system.

Students are confused about the amount of funds available. Ms. Westover didn’t know she was eligible for a Pell Grant until her second year. Even if she had, however, financial aid may still be insufficient today.

If we are to provide economic opportunity to all students who manage the inequalities of the K-12 education system and are ready for college, the financial aid system needs to be more transparent so that students know what college is giving them. will actually cost. And it must provide enough help so that low-income students don’t have to work multiple jobs, go into excessive debt, and survive on ramen noodles. Our current system fails on both counts.

Phillip B. Levine
Wellesley, Mass.
The author is Professor of Economics at Wellesley College and author of the forthcoming book “A Problem of Fit: How the Complexity of College Pricing Hurts Students — and Universities.”

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