“I think we often forget the value of adversity and how important it is, said Sen. Wagoner in front of other human beings.
“I think we often forget the value of adversity and how important it is," said Sen. Wagoner in front of other human beings. Courtesy of Washington State Legislature

On Saturday, the State Senate passed a bill, sponsored by Sen. Guy Palumbo, that guarantees free college and trade school for students from the poorest families in Washington. In order for students to access and retain that scholarship money, according to the bill, they'll need to maintain "satisfactory academic progress" toward graduation, which institutions generally interpret as a 2.0 GPA, i.e. a "C."

But that provision wasn't good enough for Washington state Republicans, who offered an amendment requiring students to maintain a 2.5 GPA (i.e. a "C+") in order to retain the scholarship. The amendment was voted down, but, in defending their case, Republicans revealed yet again the barbarism at the heart of their party's value system. No one embodied that value more than Sen. Keith Wagoner, who stood up on the Senate floor and championed the virtue of making the lives of his constituents more miserable because, basically, he thinks misery will make them work harder.

“I think we often forget the value of adversity and how important it is," Sen. Wagoner said in front of other human beings after telling his story about working his way through college. "When you give something to people, there’s no adversity. If we knock down Mount Everest so that everyone can get to the top, it wouldn’t have any meaning.”

Here we have a lawmaker openly admitting that he thinks it's his job to maintain—and in this case construct—obstacles in order to make life harder for his own constituents.

But it's difficult to focus on the absurdity of this claim because all I can hear when I listen to Wagoner's little speech is a Baby Boomer patting himself on the back for working his way through school in the early 1980s. Every time that happens, I have to fight an uncontrollable urge to scream the comparative cost of credit hours from 2017 and 1979 at them until they stop.

To indulge his line of reasoning: Just as the point of Mount Everest isn't to climb Mount Everest, the point of going to college isn't to learn how to balance the stress of working a minimum wage job with the responsibilities of attending class, completing homework, and in some cases choosing between finding a babysitter and going to a study group. The point of going to college is to learn how to think so that you don't wind up making stupid arguments like Wagoner over here, and also to expand the universe of things you can think about.

The fact is that kids today are facing adversity by working their way through college. The problem is the work doesn’t cover the cost of tuition—let alone living expenses—so they’re only working to keep their heads above water.

Unfortunately, lots of students from low-income households end up dropping out of college because, no matter how hard they work, they can't seem to earn enough money to pay for college.

That's the issue Palumbo's bill is trying to fix (in its limited little way). Due to intense financial pressures, low-income students have a harder time getting into college in the first place, and they have a harder time staying in once they get there. Guaranteeing free college for the poorest Washingtonians—meaning students from families living below 110 percent of the federal poverty line, e.g. a family of four making just under $28,000 per year—will help ease the financial burden these students bear, which will give them a fairer shot at succeeding in college.

Maintaining a C average during that process—rather than a C+ average—shouldn't discount those students from receiving that aid. A few Republican U.S. presidents, after all, only did about as well. And as Democratic senator Jannie Darneille pointed out on the floor, it's harder to raise your GPA than it is to watch it fall dramatically for one reason or another. These grades are averages—you could get two As and two Fs one semester and be paying for it for the next four years. For that reason, GPA isn't the best indicator of completion rates in college. Financial stress, however, is.

Passing this law isn't just a nice thing to do for students. From Washington's upside-down tax code to its inability to adequately fund K-12 education to its history of slashing public funding for higher education, this state has made climbing out of poverty a near impossibility for hundreds of thousands of people. Washington owes it to these families to do something, and guaranteeing scholarships to its poorest households is THE LEAST lawmakers can do.

Anyhow, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that a Republican like Wagoner would so baldly praise the "gift" of adversity. That's the value the Washington state GOP has always stood for. They value putting up barriers to education. They value immiserating the population. They're political sadists. Which, if nothing else, makes their stern opposition to sadism all the more confusing.