Friday, November 11, 2011

Student Loans

As it turns out students apparently owe somewhere in the vicinity of a trillion dollars for their student loans. This has led to an outburst of criticism of the student loan program. Ron Paul says student loans have been a “total failure.” Newt Gingrich says they are a “complete absurdity.” Rick Perry says the government shouldn’t be in the business of giving loans to students. There seems to be pretty much agreement on the part of Republicans that student loans are a bad thing. I agree, student loans are not only a bad thing, absurd, and best avoided, but this is so for reasons that soar above these petty Republican objections. Students should not have to have loans to go to Colleges and Universities, attendance at such institutions should be free and subsidized by the government.

Margaret Halsey, a witty but also very insightful writer, among other works, wrote a book called the Pseudo-Ethic. Wikopedia describes this as a defense of Alger Hiss. As I recall Halsey was persecuted as being a communist or at least communist sympathizer, probably because of this and her other works on social problems at the time (she also wrote a book titled “Color Blind…” that had to do with integrating the USO). I remember reading these books quite a long time ago and do not think of them as being so problematical, but as they were written about the time of McCarthyism, anything written was suspect. What I remember about The Pseudo-Ethic has nothing whatsoever to do with Alger Hiss, but, rather, what Halsey had to say about Business (the pseudo-ethic). She argued that societies that were dependent upon one single institution were basically somewhat “primitive,” and the U.S. was such a society because of its dependence upon the single institution of business. She discussed how it was that business was inserting itself into all aspects of American life, including the Universities (my memory of this might be a bit faulty but I don’t think it is wide of the mark). In any case, I remember being impressed by her insights on this matter and have admired her ever since. But even Halsey had no idea just how insidious this business ethic was to become.
In fact, she must be rolling over and over in her grave.
It would seem obvious that for any nation to flourish and survive it is necessary to have an educated citizenry. In some successful countries, as Scandinavia, Finland, the Netherlands, University education is basically free, paid for by the taxpayers, but clearly this in the best interest of the country. To fail to provide educational opportunities for the young over time will quite likely spell big trouble for the future of that nation. We are actually seeing this begin to occur in the U.S., where, in spite of massive unemployment, we also lack enough sufficiently trained people to fill the jobs that are available. This is a suicidal course if allowed to continue. Why has this happened? Because we have allowed business to in effect turn our Colleges and Universities into “cash cows,” forcing our young people, the future of our country, to have to take out loans in order to attend, thus having to pay interest on their loans to the banking industry. In other words our schools have become just another form of business where the goal is not in the national interest, or even in the best interest of education, but, rather, just another source of profit. The Universities have been complicit in this massive business enterprise, perhaps not willingly but out of necessity. As they receive so little funding from the States or the Federal Government, in order to keep functioning they have to raise tuition and other charges, thus demanding more and more money from students who are forced to go into debt to pay off their loans, and thus provide more and more profit to the lenders. The move to more and more privatization of education has exacerbated this situation and made it worse. Universities, and education in general, should not exist to make profits for business. Indeed, they should be completely independent of business interests, and this is true for research as well as education in general. But business has now insinuated itself so insidiously into our educational system as to convert it into just another part of the business economy. Education for its own sake has long since ceased to be a value in the U.S., at best our schools have been converted into little more than trade schools, training people at the moment for jobs that do not even exist. They do, however, among other things, keep large numbers off the unemployment line while at the same time lining the pockets of increasingly greedy capitalists. When schools are run for profit they cease to offer genuine educational opportunities to individuals and at the same time sacrifice the well-being of the nation itself. Republicans are right, student loans are absurd, but for far more important reasons than they seem to be aware. Not only are they absurd, they are an absolute abomination and fatally harmful for the future of our country. Our young people are the future, they should be given every opportunity to have a first-rate education, not treated as sharecroppers in debt to “the company store” at the end of their studies. It is absurd, it is crazy, it is disgusting, it is national suicide, but when you are forced to depend so exclusively on a single institution, and that institution is business, and business is in business solely to make profit, what else might you expect?

Never regard study as a duty, but as the enviable opportunity to learn to know the liberating influence of beauty in the realm of the spirit for your own personal joy and to the profit of the community to which your later work belongs.

Albert Einstein


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