I teach AP literature to some extremely motivated, bright seniors, and this time of year is bittersweet: it’s college decision time. As the letters of acceptance — or rejection — come pouring in, I feel for these kids as they figure out how to make this very adult decision.

As a mother myself, I also think of their parents, and of how tempting it must be to congratulate oneself on a job well done (or chastise oneself for missed opportunity). So often, we judge our own success based on the success of our children. But how do we truly define success, anyway?

Watching my students deal with this stressful season, I have felt immense pride — sometimes at unexpected times. So, from a high school teacher who sees teenagers on the brink of adulthood everyday, here is my list of qualities that should make teachers and parents very proud — even more proud than an acceptance to Harvard:

 

1. He knows how to say thank you. A kid who knows how to express gratitude for a gift he never asked for? Who writes a thank-you note for a letter of recommendation or thanks his mother for a ride to a basketball game? That should make you proud, indeed.

2. She embraces failure and learns from it. It’s not fun to hear “no.” But I am always so impressed by kids who can face disappointment bravely, maybe even embracing it. I might even argue that there is more to be proud of in this than there is in a letter of acceptance.

3. He loves learning because learning is fun, not just because he needs a 4.0. It’s admirable to be driven by a desire for excellence, but I find it truly inspiring to see kids reading, writing and creating for the love of it. Those kids who start clubs about dying languages? Write fan fiction? Start a new website from scratch? That makes me proud.

4. She is genuinely happy for others’ successes. It’s hard to feel truly happy for someone when competition and envy keep getting in the way. If a kid can manage it, be proud.

5. He keeps his sense of humor. I think it’s important to be able to laugh at the absurdity of the world — and ourselves — from time to time. Laughing at something can help us gain control over it, and these kids need to feel some control over a college admission process that can sometimes seem entirely unpredictable.

 

Not all of my amazing students get into Harvard. We should be proud of those who do. However, there is so much more to our kids than where they go to college. There are so many reasons to be proud.

Elaine Bransford, Stillwater

HIGHER EDUCATION SYSTEMS

Why is the Star Tribune bleeding maroon and gold?

Your editorial concerning the missions of Minnesota’s two higher-education systems could not have been more one-sided had it been written by Goldy Gopher (“ ‘One State’ needs one top-notch university,” Dec. 20). When you write, “Minnesota looks to MnSCU for a well-educated workforce; it looks to the U for problem-solving discoveries,” you certainly reflect a common view — one that the current chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (groomed in the U system himself) seems to share. But this view of things does not stand up to scrutiny.

We in the colonies, while preparing our students for changing workplace demands, actually engage in substantive problem-solving discovery as well, and often at twice the courseload. In the College of Arts and Humanities at Minnesota State, Mankato, where I have worked for over 30 years, teaching artists win NEA grants, McKnight fellowships, and Minnesota Book Awards, and they are recognized in other ways for their contributions to their respective fields of knowledge. In other colleges across campus, there are faculty members who, while teaching full loads, are similarly recognized for their engagement — alone or with students — in primary research that benefits the citizenry at large.

When the Star Tribune Editorial Board reduces the function of any MnSCU school to that of a worker-manufacturing facility — some place created to serve the needs of business and protect the elite higher-education system — it not only insults the reader’s intelligence, it reinforces an insidious emerging narrative about the service role of certain levels of higher education — a thinking enshrined in the MnSCU chancellor’s disastrous Charting the Future scheme. While there is much to say about that plan, suffice it to say here that, like the editorial, it does not acknowledge the vitality and potential of work going on within MnSCU. The plan opts for a narrow view: Like the editorial, it’s all about serving business and protecting the U, and not much about maintaining a broad palate of educational opportunity for individual students.

Richard Robbins, Mankato

The writer is a professor of English at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

 

HEALTH CARE

To lower consumer costs, ‘single-payer’ method works

A writer is not convinced universal health care is the answer (“Universal coverage is not the answer to rising prices,” Dec. 19). It’s important to distinguish between universal health care, where everyone has health insurance or assurance of health care, and single-payer health care, which is “universal” but eliminates insurance companies from the equation. Single-payer is similar to the system we now have in place called Medicare. It works. If the author of the letter needs more proof, he need only look at many other countries around the world where single-payer is quite effective and has resulted in far lower cost to the consumer. The closest example is Canada.

Warren Blechert, Excelsior

• • •

The Dec. 19 letter writer’s plan for health care reform won’t work for a variety of reasons.

The first is that health care, like natural gas for heating, is not a discretionary purchase and therefore is not governed by the free market. That’s why we have the Public Utilities Commission and why Xcel Energy can’t raise the rates for electricity (also not a free-market commodity) without government approval.

That’s also why drug prices are twice as high in the U.S. as elsewhere in the world.

The writer asks how universal health care would have any effect on total costs of Obamacare, and summarily declares that it won’t without any reasons why not.

He misses the point. Universal health care is an alternative to Obamacare, not a modification, and we have plenty of evidence that it works very well.

The U.S. is one of the few developed countries that doesn’t have universal health care, and we have the most inefficient system. We also know that Medicare, which is universal health care for the elderly, works very well. If you want to see efficiency, check out what percentage of costs go to overhead vs. services. Medicare is about 2 percent, compared with upward of 20 percent for private insurers. Part of the difference here is that Medicare does not have to make a profit.

All that would be needed to implement universal health care would be to provide Medicare for all, and if you’re worried about paying for it, consider for example, the trade off in paying $8,000 a year more in taxes in exchange for no longer having to pay $12000 a year in premiums to a private health insurance company.

David M Perlman, New Hope