Ask most university students in the United States how they afford their education and the answer will be "student loans." I once had a discussion with a professor at a film school in California. He said that his students take out student loans of tens of thousands of dollars in order to fund their final film projects but upon graduation are often only able to land unpaid internships in Hollywood. "How do they cope?" I wondered aloud. "Well," my friend replied, "each year a couple of them commit suicide on campus." It turns out that for some students, suicide is the only way they'll ever repay their loans. Student loan debt is a chain that shackles our brightest minds to the consumer society and forces them to use their education to make money rather than benefit society. Those who are unable to make their payments are afforded few protections by the law.
In 1970, Ivan Illich wrote "Deschooling Society" in which he challenged us to rethink the role of compulsory education. Illich explained his position thus:
"Equal educational opportunity is, indeed, both desirable and a feasible goal, but to equate this with obligatory schooling is to confuse salvation with the Church. School has become the world religion of a modernized proletariat, and makes futile promises of salvation to the poor of the technological age. The nation-state has adopted it, drafting all citizens into a graded curriculum leading to sequential diplomas not unlike the initiation rituals and hieratic promotions of former times. The modern state has assumed the duty of enforcing the judgment of its educators through well-meant truant officers and job requirements, much as did the Spanish kings who enforced the judgments of their theologians through the conquistadors and the Inquisition. [...] Now we need the constitutional disestablishment of the monopoly of the school, and thereby of a system which legally combines prejudice with discrimination. The first article of a bill of rights for a modern, humanist society would correspond to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: 'The State shall make no law with respect to the establishment of education.' There shall be no ritual obligatory for all."
If job discrimination was not permitted based upon previous education, but only upon ability to preform the task, then the drive to secure ever more expensive schooling would be undercut. Perhaps what we need is a movement to "deschool society" coupled with the formation of alternative, blackspot schools that impart knowledge in a radical (low-cost) manner.
What is your experience with student loans? How do you think we can revolutionize the educational model?
Micah White is a Contributing Editor at Adbusters Magazine and an independent activist. He is writing a book on the future of activism. www.micahmwhite.com
Attention: do you have a blackspot idea? I would like to print an occasional guest post on this blog and I am now looking for submissions, if you have something to share that will further the blackspot philosophy, write it up in under 500 words and send it to micah (at) adbusters.org.