Mickey Z. -- World News Trust
July 9, 2013
“Drop out of school before your mind rots from exposure to our mediocre educational system.”
- Frank Zappa
The other day, a friend of mine sent me the link to an article called, “29 Shocking Facts That Prove That College Education In America Is A Giant Money Making Scam.”
Despite the tabloid-style title, the piece offers useful and documented information like: Americans owe more than a trillion dollars on their student loans, the total amount of student loan debt has increased 275 percent since 2003, and approximately 167,000 Americans currently have more than $200,000 of student loan debt.
Since the person who sent me the link is someone who continually gets grief for choosing the path of self-education (as I have), she requested I write about the education industry because “it is getting worse and worse” and “awareness is necessary.”
So here goes, in the name of awareness and so much more…
Life or debt
The standard mainstream comeback on the topic of student debt goes a little something like this: "Why did they take out the loans in the first place?" While I will soon attempt to prove that a variation of this question has serious merit, this version is steeped in denial. Here's why:
One of the enduring myths of any profit-based culture is that must all strive and sacrifice in order to "pay our dues" and end up in position to ascend within the dominant hierarchy. Go to school, get a degree, and find a job at which you will earn enough money to eventually pay back your loans (with major interest, of course) and go on to become a "productive" member of society.
This façade is easily cracked. Students now buried under mountains of debt were sold a bill of goods and most stand little chance of ever obtaining such a job and/or living the life they were promised. It was a bait and switch with indentured servitude presented as the "only" path out.
It’s a lose-lose paradox: If you buy into the myth being marketed (education as the path to the mythical American dream) and complain when you finally recognize the depth of the charade, you're mocked for lack of foresight. Then again, if you don't play by the rules and you choose not to follow the predetermined game plan (school-job-house-family-retirement) and opt instead to follow your own path, well… you're mocked for lack of foresight.
FACTS: In 1993, the average student loan debt burden at graduation was $9,320. Today it is $28,720. In 1989, only 9 percent of all U.S. households were paying off student loan debt. Today, 19 percent of all U.S. households are. Since 1986, the cost of college tuition has risen 498 percent, the cost of college textbooks has tripled over the past decade, and the average cost of a four-year college education is projected to soar to $120,000 by the year 2015.
Is there life after debt?
FACT: The federal government has begun docking the Social Security payments of elderly Americans who are behind on their student loan payments.
The Occupy Student Debt Campaign, launched in November 2011 with the goal of "building a student debt abolition movement," based their campaign on the following principles:
Let's first address principles 1-2-3, lumped together: If all forms of education were made free or available through interest-free loans and all current student debt relieved tomorrow, yeah, it would offer much-needed financial relief to many but what would it truly accomplish in terms of actual education?
Even if it were free -- even if they paid you to go to school, for that matter -- the current system isn't worth salvaging. The education industry doesn't exist to nurture critical thought. It exists primarily to create obedient workers for all those "good jobs" we're promised.
Speaking of which, exactly what job would you suggest for a socially aware and compassionate human? Please, do enlighten us as to what (and where) all these “good jobs” are.
Since capitalism is an economic system based on perpetual growth and the relentless exploitation of what we've come to call "natural resources," by definition, such an approach is unsustainable and cannot be reformed. Thus, the vast majority of jobs within such a lethal system directly or indirectly contribute to the looming ecocide.
FACTS: During 2011, 53 percent of all Americans with a bachelor’s degree under the age of 25 were either unemployed or underemployed, only 56 percent of all law school graduates in 2012 were able to find a full-time job that requires a law degree, 48 percent of all recent college graduates have not been able to find a job in their chosen field, and close to half of all recent college graduates are working in jobs that do not even require a college degree.
This brings me back the mainstream retort I detailed above: "Why did they take out the loans in the first place?"
Student debt is merely a symptom -- a ghastly symptom like an oozing tumor, but a symptom nonetheless. Covering the tumor with a band-aid may assuage some but the cancer will continue to spread until holistic action is taken.
Returning to the fourth principle above ("the elimination of current student debt, through a single act of relief"), this approach does virtually nothing to challenge the corrupt system. Hence, please allow me to suggest a couple of basic "acts of relief" we can each execute right now without begging the 1% for crumbs:
All of these would serve to smash the current system of for-profit programming -- I mean... education -- while striking a debilitating blow to the entire commodity culture.
FACTS: Today, 34.9 percent of all student loan borrowers under the age of 30 are at least 90 days behind on their student loan payments. The delinquency rate on student loans is currently 14 percent and it is steadily rising while the delinquency rate on student loans for students that attended a “for profit” college is 23 percent.
Reality Check: The education industry -- a system based on fear, conformity, and indentured servitude -- is not worth rescuing.
FACTS: In the United States today, real earnings for young college graduates have fallen 15 percent since the year 2000, approximately 365,000 cashiers, 317,000 waiters and waitresses have college degrees, while more than 100,000 janitors have college degrees. Not surprisingly, 27 percent of those with student loan debt said that they moved back in with their parents after college.
Abandon the universities and colleges, default on your loans, opt out of the consume-and-dispose culture, and connect with others to form learning collectives and alternative communities.
The bigger picture, beyond education
Since it’s far from just the realm of education that needs a new perspective, let's imagine the state of the planet as a fire raging through a high-rise building, how would the 1% react?
My guess is that they'd immediately call on the corporate media to make certain that most of the 99% refuse to acknowledge even the smell of smoke, never mind the flames. In fact, with enough programming, mainstream America would opt to perceive "rumors" of a fire as some kind of socialist scheme. Once the masses have been sufficiently pacified, well… there's a shitload of money to be made off the inferno and “re-building,” and many, many future blazes to be planned.
Meanwhile, activists would behave like a sincere but dysfunctional fire department. They'd bicker over tactics, debate who pulled the fire alarm first, complain about which of them gets to hold the fire hose or drive the fire truck, get distracted by discussions about electing a new fire chief, and waste a whole lot of time imagining how to salvage the building within its original framework.
I say, let the building burn. The structure is not salvageable so let it smolder right down to its fuckin' foundation.
I say this because the global "problems" being exposed by activists are not merely flaws within a basically fixable configuration. Economic inequality isn't a hiccup. Epidemics of preventable diseases are not an anomaly. Institutional hierarchies are not systemic blind spots. Capitalism -- hell, all forms of industrial culture -- cannot be gently reformed into sustainability.
Let's not waste resources putting out fires set by the 1%. Let's instead build our own structures so that those people yet to embrace their 99% status are better able to visualize an alternative to the way of life to which they fearfully cling.
Such a radical departure from archetypical activism requires a steadfast commitment to cultivating deeper and deeper solidarity among those already rebelling while simultaneously toiling -- day and night -- in the essential realm of outreach.
One possible method to achieve both of these objectives is to foster more and more small scale and/or short term alternative community models.
"You can’t have a functioning democracy without what sociologists call "secondary organizations," places where people can get together, plan, talk and develop ideas," explains Noam Chomsky. "You don’t do it alone. The Occupy movement did create spontaneously communities that taught people something: you can be in a supportive community of mutual aid and cooperation and develop your own health system and library and have open space for democratic discussion and participation. Communities like that are really important."
Reminder: Mutual aid and cooperation aren't utopian. They are our last best chance.
So, while the dominant hierarchy drowns in its own hypocrisy, fear, and greed, let's use our energy and passion to create -- and occupy -- a whole new model.
You don’t need a college degree to change the world and preserve the future…
Mickey Z. is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here.
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