FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Back to School in the Twilight of Capitalism

Universities serve multiple purposes in a modern capitalist society.  One of those purposes–the education of young adults–is a noble and worthy one.  It is how this is done that is often less noble.  If capitalism requires technicians and managers, it is technicians and managers that are trained.  If capitalism needs fewer of these positions, then fewer are trained.  Education as a worthwhile pursuit in itself is diminished by its subservience to the agents of capital.  It is further diminished when those agents limit said education by raising the costs beyond that which is affordable for most.  It is also diminished when the research it undertakes is primarily that demanded by the military and corporate behemoth commonly known as the military industrial complex.  When that subservience is enforced by police operating at the behest of the university administration (who are beholden to the corporate state for their funding), its function as an educational institution is replaced by its function of control.

Like protests in the 1960s and onwards, the Occupy-related protests on university and college campuses last year proved the veracity of the previous sentence quite dramatically.  The aggressive use of nightsticks and pepper spray by campus police remain vivid images in the memories of those who saw them, no matter what their opinion of the protests.  Like nightsticks and chemical agents of the past, the instances of their use are even more vivid in the memories of those who were the targets.

I work at a college in a college library.  I am not a faculty member, but my work involves plenty of interaction with both faculty and students.  Unlike many other institutions of higher education, the place I work tends to hire full time positions more than adjuncts.  Most places where higher education is sold tend to hire the latter for the simple reason that adjuncts are cheaper.  Indeed, they are the equivalent of hiring temps.  No benefits, lower wages for the same work, no guarantees.  In short, the same work is expected from adjuncts that is expected from full-time tenured faculty.  Often, however, adjuncts work at two or three institutions just to make ends meet.  Consequently, the work they do occasionally suffers.

Another aspect of today’s colleges that I would like to address is the shrinking of the recruitment pool targeted by colleges today.  This is caused in part by the decrease in government supplied financial aid, from grants to work-study. In an environment where most private colleges cost $40,000 per year, the cutback in financial aid ensures even less access to potential students from working class families. Another cause can be read into the questioning by right wing candidates of the value of a college education.  Of course, it is not their children for whom they are questioning the value; it is for those very same students that the curtailment of financial aid has already made clear they are no longer so welcome.  Many people can just plain not afford to go $20,000 or more in debt for an education, nor can their families afford to support them.

The first time I attempted college was in 1973.  When my dad dropped me off at the Bronx campus of Fordham University I was greeted by my RA and an invite to the freshman orientation picnic.  The first thing I noticed when I entered the courtyard where the picnic was just beginning was a garbage can full of iced-down Rheingold beers.  The next day I went to pay my bill.  I had received a scholarship for everything but five hundred dollars of my total costs.  Oh yeah, those total costs were around $5300 for the entire year.  Fordham now costs almost ten times as much.  I left Fordham after one year for non-financial reasons.  I spent my sophomore year at the University of Maryland’s College Park campus.  The cost for in-state tuition there in 1974 was $600 for the year.  It is now a little more than $5300.  That is almost nine times the rate in 1974.  The bottom line is that these increases make it very difficult for many desiring young people to go to college.  It cannot be stated often enough that much of this change is due to a decrease in funding from the government.

As news reports of protests against tuition hikes from around the world prove, this is not merely an American phenomenon.  In fact, student protesters in Britain, Chile and Quebec (among others) have not only protested tuition hikes, they have also made it clear that those hikes are designed to prevent working class students from getting a university education by making that education unaffordable.  The neoliberal mentality taking over education will destroy its essence.  That which is not necessarily quantifiable should not be commodified.  When this occurs, the wrong elements will always be those which are measured.  Education is not necessarily about getting a job.  It is about learning to think critically.  When the educational system no longer emphasizes this, its demise may not be far off.

Why are there not more student protests in the United States?  Perhaps it is because US residents are convinced that the government does not have a role in funding education.  When teachers are blamed for the recession and vilified for their wanting decent working conditions and a good wage to educate our children, there is something demented about the assumptions of our nation. When billionaires who made their money by destroying the economies of entire communities are given television shows where they “fire” people, there is something demented about our media.  When politicians from both the major parties are afraid to jail government officials, military officers and torturers for crimes against humanity, there is something fundamentally wrong with our entire nation.  When bankers write the very laws that govern their business practices and those laws have nothing to do with ethical business practices, the very system of laws is as bankrupt as the millions of people negatively affected by those laws.

The combination of high costs, a smaller job market, and decreasing financial assistance has made postsecondary education a less-likely choice for many capable potential students.  This is not an accident.  Neither are the attacks on education by politicians bought and paid for by the wealthiest of the human race.  After all, this latter bunch can always get a quality education for their offspring, just like they can get enough of the rest of us to fight their wars and work in their minimum wage jobs.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American Night is now available and his new novel is The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

 

COMING IN SEPTEMBER

A Special Memorial Issue of CounterPunch

Featuring recollections of Alexander Cockburn from Jeffrey St. Clair, Peter Linebaugh, Paul Craig Roberts, Noam Chomsky, Mike Whitney, Doug Peacock, Perry Anderson, Becky Grant, Dennis Kucinich, Michael Neumann, Susannah Hecht, P. Sainath, Ben Tripp, Alison Weir, James Ridgeway, JoAnn Wypijewski, John Strausbaugh, Pierre Sprey, Carolyn Cooke, Conn Hallinan, James Wolcott, Laura Flanders, Ken Silverstein, Tariq Ali and many others …

Subscribe to CounterPunch Today to Reserve Your Copy

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

January 17, 2019
Stan Cox
That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant
David Schultz
Trump vs the Constitution: Why He Cannot Invoke the Emergencies Act to Build a Wall
Paul Cochrane
Europe’s Strategic Humanitarian Aid: Yemen vs. Syria
Tom Clifford
China: An Ancient Country, Getting Older
Greg Grandin
How Not to Build a “Great, Great Wall”
Ted Rall
Our Pointless, Very American Culture of Shame
John G. Russell
Just Another Brick in the Wall of Lies
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers Strike: Black Smoke Pouring Out of LAUSD Headquarters
Patrick Walker
Referendum 2020: A Green New Deal vs. Racist, Classist Climate Genocide
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Uniting for a Green New Deal
Matt Johnson
The Wall Already Exists — In Our Hearts and Minds
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Flailing will get More Desperate and More Dangerous
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Three
January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Two
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail