"There is a really interesting post over at Crooked Timber. . .about the difficulty in treating a decision about whether to have a child as a purely rational (let alone economically rational) decision; you cannot really know what it is like until you do it, at which point (at least for most responsible people) it is too late to change your mind. Certainly once you've done it, if it doesn't turn out to match all of your dreams, it can be fairly devasting [sic] for all concerned, parents and children both. Happily, (or so it seems) a goodly number of people either find that being a parent does meet their dreams or they adjust their dreams accordingly. In reading this piece I was struck by the parallels between the phenomonological problem described - i.e., that the experience of being a parent is something virtually impossible to "know" or convey before you experience it and thus makes rational choice difficult - and the decision to go to law school . . ."Professor Tamara Piety, University of Tulsa School of Law.
Tamara Piety is a law professor. As indicated by her CV, she has not practiced law in many years, but the legal profession continues to be very, very good to her. Tamara earns a six figure salary without having to endure the stresses and frustrations typically experienced by highly successful lawyers who earn salaries in the Tamara range--demanding judges and clients, the anxiety and drudgery of trial or oral argument preparation, the constant deadline pressure. In addition to her big paycheck, Tamara has job security, the status that comes with her title, and plenty of time to cogitate and write in areas of her scholarly interest.
Noam Chomsky has said that persons in privileged circumstances have enhanced moral responsibilities, and intellectuals particularly so. And it would seem to me that the students who made a teacher rich should fall dead-center in the circle of that teacher's moral concerns. Yet when Tamara Piety blogs about the law school catastrophe, in a style that swings strangely from sweetly reasonable to condescending and pissy, her main concern seems to be throwing the blame back on students for their bad choices. True, she does so subtly, as befits an academic, by fogging up discourse with theological-sounding jargon, such as "the phenomonological problem." In the above post, Tamara draws an incredible analogy between going to law school and having a child. It is a leap of faith, not a rational choice. You cannot know what it will be like until you do it. It will be stressful, expensive, and life-changing. But, in most cases, there will be a happy outcome, even if the outcome is radically different than what you envisioned going in.
Contrary to Tamara, the decision of whether or not to attend law school, unlike having a baby, is highly rational--that is, it is a weighing of costs and benefits to arrive at a decision that will maximize personal gain. The kind of kids who consider law school as an option are typically not those who would otherwise be pursuing some other wildly romantic dream, such as trying to make a living as an artist or a poet, or climbing a Tibetan mountain peak in pursuit of wisdom. These are bright career-oriented young people who are investing a ton of borrowed money in the expectation of a professional career that will allow them to pay back the money and make a living besides. True, some of them want lesser-paying, but more interesting, do-gooder type jobs, such as that of public interest lawyer or public defender (jobs that are, ironically, often harder to get these days than work in the private sector due to austerity and other factors). But even the law school idealists want to practice a profession and make an income.
Tamara's assertion that deciding to attend law school is strikingly parallel to deciding to have a child is false. But, worse, it is sickening and offensive. If law school turns out to be economically devastating, you don’t get the compensating sweetness and charm of a child's smile; instead you get Sally Mae’s harsh glare. Indeed, as dupednontraditional's post noted, you may have to deny your child things that you desperately would like to give her or him because Sallie Mae has a preexisting and superior claim to a chunk of your earnings. So, in practice, a graduate will be taking resources from his or her dependent family, including children, in order to pay interest on the massive student loan debt that has made Tamara rich and cozy. And what does Tamara do with the contemplative leisure made possible by that money? She writes blog posts about how the decision to go to law school is phenomonologically like having a baby.