The Trajectory of American Education

From “Our Educational Colonialism” by Chris Arnade:

Yet it is the kids sitting in middle row I have the deepest sympathy for because they are the most harmed, and the ones you hear the least about. They are mostly working class kids who don’t really fit into the back row because they are very disciplined, eager, and want do what they are told, and especially want to do the right thing. Which now means going off to college to better themselves, so they go off to college to better themselves, regardless of the cost.

They buy into our faux educational meritocracy the most, swallowing it hook, line, and sinker. They buy the dream peddled by every successful person they have ever run across or heard, from Obama down to the middle school guidance counselor: Education is the pathway to a successful and meaningful life.

So they apply for loans and eight years later that child is a young adult with 100K in debt working in a government bureaucracy five hundred miles away and missing the weekly family backyard BBQs.

When I researched the history of student loans, one of the most striking currents underlying our educational debt crisis is the sad fact that student loans basically function as a subsidy for universities paid as a crippling tax on a generation of young Americans.

Education is wonderful, so is bettering yourself by getting as much of it as possible. But done on your terms and because you want it for your reasons. Not because you, your community, and everyone else you know, is competing with the Chinese, or the Germans, or the Indians. So you have to take countless standardized tests so you can win a golden ticket to ship off to Princeton and hang with others who are good at taking standardized tests, to then be taught more stuff, to then go to grad school to learn even more stuff, so you might, if you are lucky, get to go to San Francisco and live in an a small room hundreds of miles from your family to start in a firm trading bonds, or helping Google sue someone, or running from teaching one introductory writing course at one school to another introductory oratory course at another school, or maybe so you can write papers for a non-profit funded by a billionaire arguing that we need more education. That isn’t good.

What we have now is a top-down educational system that intellectually strip mines America and humiliates everyone. What we need is a democratic educational system that provides pathways to dignified lives for everyone. That provides Shakespeare and differential topology to those who see the beauty of each, but also provides skills to those who would rather focus on things like music, mechanics, nursing, parenting, farming, or whatever.

Education is wonderful. But right now we have an educational arms race, and we’ve forced people to mortgage their brains and futures to get degrees that simply function as overpriced old-fashioned card punches: just a ticket to enter the workforce.

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