Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Envisioning That Better Future -- Four: Educating Ourselves

Everyone should have the right to -- and access to -- a free public education all the way through advanced degrees if they're up to it. This right should not in any way be compromised or questioned, any more than a right to adequate and accessible health care should be.

I got an education myself about just what has happened to public education in this country during the early weeks of the Occupy Movement. I literally had no idea how bad the economic situation was, especially for college students. I had no idea that a public college eduction now cost so much and that the majority of the financial burden was being placed directly on the shoulders of students and their families, and that those costs could neither be paid off through employment (there were and are no jobs for millions) or be discharged through bankruptcy.

This situation is simply debt-slavery for many, many millions. There is no escape.

The economics are one side of the dilemma faced by so many modern students; the other side is the deplorable -- unconscionable -- quality of public education itself. I've been aware that the quality of education has been on a declining path for many a long year, but I was oblivious to how bad things had gotten.

One of the important aspects of public education in the Pre-Reagan Era was learning how to learn -- which led to life-time learning whether or not one engaged in formal research and study. One learned the techniques of learning fairly early in one's education, and so one was always learning; no topic or study was out of bounds, one pursued one's interests as one saw fit and information was available.

But that aspect of education seems to be gone now. Students don't learn how to learn any more, they learn discreet topics, and then only partially. They don't follow their own interests, they are channeled into particular occupational categories and needs. Nor, shockingly, do they learn critical thinking skills; instead, they are often taught to simply accept what they are told by Authority and often to follow commands of Authority unquestioningly.

Good heavens! What happened?

So in addition to paying an arm and a leg -- and their firstborn -- for the privilege of being educated at all, students are having to put up with absolutely crap educational standards that don't even begin to advance or support the notion of learning as a good thing in and of itself.

Clearly, the Powers That Be don't consider adequate public education -- especially higher education -- to be a public good at all. They see it as a privilege for an elite, not for the common people at all.

One of the primary impetuses for the Occupy Revolution has been the crabbed and extraordinarily costly -- and ultimately deceitful -- nature of what passes for a modern public education. Students provided much of the energy for the rising in Wisconsin last winter, and students and recent graduates have been at the forefront of the Occupy Rising throughout. They are the ones who have seen their futures stolen right out from under them, and they have been the ones bearing the brunt of the repression as well. But then I'm coming to the realization that that's been their lot in life all along.

Repression is the hallmark of modern public education.

And that has to change fundamentally.

The Internet has provided a means -- that previously could only be imagined -- to provide a free and quite public education for the masses that includes such things as learning how to learn and critical thinking that have been long absent from the classroom.

What it doesn't and can't provide is the classroom itself. One of the things I discovered in the early weeks of the Occupy Movement was that classrooms could be spontaneously generated and that people would almost automatically attend -- because they truly wanted to learn, were almost desperate to do so. And they wanted to do it in direct connection with others of like mind.

How to translate that desire and those resources into the education of the Better Future we envision is still a work in progress, but there is no doubt that completely overhauling and revising education in this country is a key factor in the Rebellion that's taking place.

Education is the core project of the Revolution.

It is through education that we create the Future we want to see.


  1. I was lucky enough to have attended public K-12 in the 70's... it was surprisingly good. My first experience with the crumminess we see today was 1982-86 at U of O. It was already anti-learning: an antiquated "arena" scheduling meant many terms would be wasted, lower division classes were all taught by lowly and uninspiring GTF's, and whole disciplines (mine was journalism, initially) had already turned into diploma mills for advertising/PR wannabes. The corporate takeover had begun, but at least it was (comparatively) cheap. I got out with a mere $10,000 in debt. Today, that would be a semester.
    Aside from an extremely unlikely overhaul of the whole concept, not to mention funding model, "higher" education will continue to be anything but. And it will continue to disserve students, while impoverishing them.

  2. Indeed.

    We can cheerfully criticize some of the aspects of public education in our day, but the fact remains that for the most part it was a real education, intended to do much more than simply feed the maw.

    I have been really appalled at the situation faced by so many students today. Not only have they been forced to pay outrageously -- and permanently -- for grossly inadequate (I would argue deliberately inadequate) learning, they see no future, at least not under the current regime.

    Talk about a "Lost Generation."

    I had to learn about it from the students themselves, though. I blame my own blindness.