14 year-old Courage

Warning: This is a rant

Malala Yousafzai is 14. She lives in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, a place where our family spent many lovely vacations. And while Swat is lovely for vacationers, it’s not an easy place to live by any standard.

Malala is not your typical 14-year-old. At age 11 she was writing a blog diary for the BBC under a pseudonym and two years later she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize for her work promoting the right for girls in Pakistan to get an education.

And yesterday she was shot — shot in the head and the neck and is now fighting for life at a hospital in Peshawar. The Taliban proudly claimed the shooting; she has been on a hit list for over a year for her work promoting education and rights for girls. They saw her as a threat, a threat to an ideology and way of life, a threat to who they are. You can read about the shooting here.

It got me thinking about a lot of things. About courage — she stood so boldly for what she believed. About extremism — a 14 year-old girl is a threat in what universe? About apathy — the 14-year-olds I know are interested in boys, sex, Justin Bieber, and New Direction. I’ll take Malala any day of the week. Standing up for education is somewhat nobler than looking forward to getting birth control pills from your school nurse.

I know that’s harsh and I want it to be. 

Because I’m a little tired of this country and our whining. I’m tired of our apathy. I’m tired of watching teenagers and adults who don’t give a rat’s ass for the world they live in and I see it every day. I’m tired of us thinking we have all the answers for a world where 14 year-olds get shot for believing in education. I’m tired of the election and tired of not having worthy leaders. I’m tired of a world that condemns the attack one day, and goes back to being just as awful the next.

I’m tired of myself being a part of this because I’d like to be a little more like Malala. I’d like to be braver, I’d like to stand up boldly for what I believe, I’d like a good dose of 14 year-old courage.

How about you? What are you tired of? What do you want more courage to change? 

Readers – Thanks to CAB reader, Debbie Wood, here is a link to an interview with Malala and her father when she was eleven.


#Occupy Sallie Mae

Has it been awhile since you’ve heard a rant from this blog? Well! Let’s not disappoint!

Last week US News and World Report highlighted student loan debt in an article called “Are Student Loans the Next Debt Bomb?” with the tag line “Experts worry that the mortgage finance crisis could happen all over again with student loans!” Really? How clever of the experts. Ask any parent or student and they could have told you the same thing without the high salary of the expert. Young men and women are drowning in debt, and bystanders, including Congress, are standing by taking pictures of them with their smart phone cameras. It’s so wrong.

Let’s look at some facts about student loans and see if I can bring you on board with my rant and my call to action.

  • At public universities, average debt was $20,200 — 20% higher than in 2004, when the average was $16,850.
  • At private nonprofit universities, average debt was $27,650 — 29% higher than in 2004, when the average was $21,500.
  • Private student loans are growing at double-digit rates.
  • Accumulated student debt is expected to reach over a trillion dollars this year.
  • To repay $40,000 at 6.8% at a payment of $800 a month it will take 26 years and add $15,000 to the payment for a grand total of $55,000. (economists – am I correct?) $800 is a pretty hefty monthly payment for someone who is starting out.
  • The average debt is enough for a 10% down payment on a $200,000 dollar home.
  • A person can declare bankruptcy and although all other debts are forgiven, their student loans are still not discharged. Let me put that in other words – debt from credit cards or gambling can be discharged but NOT student loans.
  • But worst of all – the average private student loan interest rate in 2010 was the eye-popping, hyperventilating figure of 12 percent!

Is it a wonder that I despise Sallie Mae even as I owe her my life? She is a cruel mistress and she owns many. She’s like Rumpelstiltskin only worse. But it’s not only Sallie Mae who is guilty of owning students. Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase – these too give out private student loans. The web sites are slick and the legalese slicker. They captivate and draw in. Even the clever among us are not a match for these modern-day loan sharks.

Let me be clear – I do not think either education or healthcare should be free. That which we pay for we value more. I see this everyday in my job and personal life. But I also do not think that loans should carry the interest rate of 12%. I don’t think they should carry an interest rate of 6%. I think there should be a mandated cap at 2.5%. Even as we sit around and endure pathetic partisan politics nothing is being done to protest that interest rates on subsidized loans will double by this next summer going from 3.4% to 6.8%.

Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of FinAid.org and Fastweb.com says that In the coming years, a lot of people will still be paying off their student loans when it’s time for their kids to go to college,” Many parents have co-signed for their children to ensure a lower interest rate. If their children graduate and cannot find work, or find only minimum wage jobs given the economic landscape, the parents are left paying those loans as well as the parent loans they took out to cover burgeoning costs of higher education.

So what can we do? I don’t have many answers but I know that we need to make some noise. There are enough people to begin a strong social movement and it can begin online. We’ve already seen Sallie Mae back down in recent weeks to pressure over a $50 fee that was demanded of “struggling borrowers”. So today start with contacting your representatives and asking that they fight to keep the interest rates on subsidized student loans at 3.4% or lower. While you’re at it, ask that they cap the interest rates that Sallie Mae and others can apply to education-based loans. And spread the word. There are significant numbers of people who are struggling with student debt – we need to change this! This is a generation of kids that was raised on Raffi so using his words –  Let’s make some noise!

Let’s make some noise
we girls and boys
we got a voice, so lets make some noise”

This post is dedicated to my wonderful children and lovely nieces and nephews – most of whom are owned by Direct Loans and Sallie Mae.

A word about the video – I don’t even know this little toddler but let’s make some noise so that his situation is better!