Skyler Simpkins ’23
When you think of hell, what comes to mind? Perhaps the biblical landscape of a fiery, inescapable prison or, maybe, something much more tangible. When I think of hell, I think of a life void of freedom and defined by utility.
I am from Arkansas, a very rural state by comparison to those in the Northeast. Most of my family is from the poorest and southernmost areas of the state.
In the most rural parts of Arkansas—where a two-bedroom trailer is considered a mansion—the people are considered pawns in the hands of factories and surrounding governments. Their teachers are uneducated and many students—some of my family included—graduate without the ability to read.
These children lack crucial education and cannot advance in life. They are condemned to the work of their neighbors—farming or poultry plant work. The corporate brands Tyson and Walmart have a strong grip in Arkansas’ economy, and their powerful economic presence has a rippling effect on the surrounding population. While it is fortunate that these companies provide basic labor jobs to help our failing economy, I think the lack of educational quality that drives students to blue-collar work is a forgotten hell in today’s world. Government caters to these corporations and betrays the individual—the centerpiece to republican government—in favor of a utilitarian collective.
Many of you might see the parallels in this piece to Brave New World. While my recount is much less narratively enticing, it is real; and I believe freedom is better than the euphoric ignorance of manipulated education and job placement. I do understand that these individuals working for these powerful corporations are making the choice to do so, however, the faculties of lifestyle improvement are stolen from them without their consent.
Some of you may be thinking about the students that receive higher education in Arkansas, those that want to improve themselves. To those, I must point out a community college in Morrilton, AR, where there is an adjoining education program for truck driving. Below I have quoted from the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton (UACCM) website: “According to the Arkansas Department of Labor, commercial truck driving is a high demand occupation. The UACCM Commercial Driver Training Program prepares you for not only the commercial driver licenses written and skills exam, but prepares you to be a safe driver.” As one can see, even in higher education Arkansans are continually pushed into low-paying, unwanted work. Why invest money into improved education when these individuals will produce more for the state as a blue-collar worker?
Truck drivers are critical to production, and their work is quite honorable in my opinion; nevertheless, individuals with unfavorable backgrounds should not have educational quality stolen from them to suit the demands of economic powerhouses. This cripples the importance of individual creation in favor of human’s utility to the collective.
The problem is not only an Arkansan one, however. It is a much more wide-reaching societal problem. The southern stereotype of the uneducated redneck has been propagated not only by the Arkansan environment, but also the American opinion of the south. Just last week I heard a student in one of my classes talk of how southerners cared only for their farms while those from the Northeast were concerned about business. This ignorance is strengthening the divide and allowing the most unfortunate rural Americans to be forgotten.
I believe it is important to understand the power corporations have over government and the consequential effect it has on those without the faculties to escape their reign. Blue-collar work is honorable and the most valuable work in this country, but work should never be assigned to a person based upon their birthplace. Governments should stand for the people, and not the economic powers that use their wealth as tools of corruption. This life will continue for rural Americans until governments begin to value their constituents over the money of corporations. It is our responsibility to promote government for the people, and to understand the reality faced by rural Americans instead of condemning them to the stereotype of uneducated rednecks. Individuals should be able to pave their own destiny and achieve the American Dream which eludes so many rural Americans regardless of background.