Thursday, December 8, 2011

Debt Trap: Education Dream Deferred

Today I bumped into a (less-well known) newspaper. Here is something stemming from that encounter:
NEW YORK CITY - Pamela Brown recently added her name to the "pledge of refusal." By doing so, she agreed not to repay her student loans----if 999,999 other Americans sign the pledge, too.
   Ms. Brown, a graduate student at the New School here, has more than $100,000 in education debt, which she's long planned to repay after graduating and finding a job. Like many students and recent graduates, however, she's come to see higher education as a promise gone sour, an ever-deepening pit of debt.
(reproduced from "The Chronicle of..." LVIII, 15)

It comes down to how easy it really is to make it. We live in a world that promises a lot of stuff. The world promises everything. What you need is money. So, if persons are allowed and encouraged to borrow in order to get into that dream, they may take the loan.  The bottom line... ...ha ha ha... that banks are doing this as part of their business. This is true. I experienced it myself,when I took out a student loan. This was a frictionless effortless feat on my part. All the bank needed was to have a form filled out. The agreement was between the bank and the governmental agency guaranteeing the loan, not trust between the bank and myself. As for myself, I knew of course that I was taking on the responsibility to pay it back. But this was only my own interior knowledge. No one discussed it with me, or suggested I reconsider what I was doing. It was about going to the bank and having them wire the money to the school. It is a general truth about banking and the economy that profitable loans are lucrative for them. They are perfectly willing to make loans if they will profit. So, the loan was no problem, but, in a broader sense, there was a promise floating around. For my part, I thought I was going to become an economist (I remember - I actually believed that!) and I couldn't do the mathematics. Not only ---- I also quickly figured out that the theory, called "neo-Classical microeconomics," was wrong. (period) No one else seems to have figured that out, but, hey, what kind of grade would you get if you did? Well, remembering all this really make me want to yawn; it is just such a waste of my time.

     We promise everybody everything...
               ...but is the world really what it claims to be?

In yet another article in the same newspaper, pollster Yankelovitch is quoted as saying that universities like Penn State and Davis (U.C.) are "examples of institutions that seem to be concerned with themselves rather than their students. That's the rap against the banks". [my emphasis] Well put, Mr. Yankelovich. Just to add a further contour to it: what exactly is the "self" of a university? It is the business aspect of the institution. Before the universities developed this "business model," which they developed in the early nineties, according to Mary Evans, i.e. at least in Great Britain it occurred then, the university would have been deemed psychotic if the university believed it had its own interests, separate from that of its student body. So, what happens when we add the "business model"? We get a third person into it? Deleuze calls it "object-ism." (See "What is Philosophy," a weird little thing I started reading yesterday by this French individual and did not like at first but now I think I am getting it, although  my application of the object concept is quite different than his is in the book----but, I think Deleuze would've loved that.)  

Also: the first page of the December 2, 2011 edition (the edition under consideration) of this less famous newspaper has good pictures. When I see a copy of it, usually at a university library, "The Chronicle of Higher Education" [insert trumpet fanfare as object-ism payment for my revealing its title] always seems to b a good product. For me it looks like ...a pretty good thing anyway.
Another aspect of it is that of a divide between administrators and academics. Academics have their own problems of course but administrators are, after all, administrators, so they are going to be looking at the bottom line --- that kind of stuff, you know? (Why did I call this another aspect?) They are going to want things like power. Their priorities tend to lead them away from the matter of learning and knowledge and, as is the case with the topic of the "profit motive" in economics, the worst-case scenario is that they think only of "themselves," as Daniel Yankelovitch put it. Nothing a bit more relevant to students or to the real idea of university education? No. We don't get to have that. Not with this indispensable new business model that we are forced to employ.
    So, again, my point is made. You cannot get everything. The world always promises us just about everything so we get a lot of false information which is the 'info' if that is the word ---- about how easy it is to "make it" and so forth ---- when what we need and would rather have is maybe something a little more realistic. It could also be something maybe a little more useful to the real bottom line which is ourselves. The real bottom line is is ourselves. Schools are for students. Not the ego of the university administrator but our lives ---- all of our lives.
     So, is the "business model" a good idea or a bad idea, applied to higher education? It seems to be the only choice that the protagonists in this sphere of activity can make. It is a "good" idea by default, since there is no other alternative available. Whether it is a good idea in some other, broader context is unknown if there is no other, broader context. Once again, all analysis fails if we cannot find a broader perspective. (see blog for Dec. 11th --- of course this is a re-write of this blog post, done on the twelfth...)

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