November 11, 2010

Groomed for Dependency

Justin Katz

After listing a number of the ways in which college students are catered to, Jonah Goldberg gives the lesson (unfortunately, subscription required):

But even as this sensitivity is being cultivated, the student is stuffed to the gills with cant about the corruption of "the system," i.e., the real world just outside the gates of his educational Shangri-La. He is taught that it is brave to be "subversive" and cowardly to be "conformist." Administrators encourage kitschy reenactments of 1960s radicalism by celebrating protest as part of a well-rounded education — so long as the students are protesting approved targets, those being the iniquities of "the system." There is much Orwellian muchness to it all, since these play-acting protests and purportedly rebellious denunciations of the status quo are in fact the height of conformity.

But it is a comfortable conformity, and this student — who in all likelihood will go into a profession at the pinnacle of the commanding heights of our culture — looks at this Potemkin world and thinks it is the way things are supposed to be. He feels freer than he ever has or ever will again, but that freedom is illusory. He is, in fact, a dependent: All his fundamental needs are met and paid for by others. This is what the political theorists call positive liberty — when someone else gives you a whole pile of stuff so you can be "free" to do whatever you want.

Goldberg goes on to concede that many students must work while in college and/or take out loans that place them immediately behind the borrowing/saving curve. I'd argue, though, that the "ideal life" that college represents for "a certain type of elite student" stands as an example even for those who don't manage to live it. The culture tells them, as it tells those on the pre-paved path, that the liberty to learn is still the ideal, and part of the reason they work and incur debt is to reach that ideal lifestyle that is presumed to continue in an easier life of fulfilling, remunerative work.

Life isn't really that way, though, and much damage can and will continue to be done in attempts to bend reality to conform with the experience of the quad.

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Excellent post.

I’d be interested to learn what % of the students who participate in these “anti-establishment” activities are working or in some way supporting their own education. Even getting student loans is basically living on credit-cards and most students at that age comprehend the responsibility of having to pay back those loans.
Goldberg is correct that many of these students are dependants of the very system they are protesting.

Higher education, like most else these days, is a business. The students are consumers, the college the corporation and the product is “make me feel good now” rather than “prepare me for being a responsible adult”.

Finally, “comformist” vs. “rebellious” is not as simple as good/bad. It’s more about maturity, confidence, self-awareness and knowing when/where/why it is appropriate to do either. Just being one or the other to me represents lack of those qualities.

Posted by: msteven at November 11, 2010 3:42 PM

It is interesting to watch the current "student protests" in Britain. I have attempted to follow the more analytical news reports, but am having some difficulty comprehending some of the "buzzwords" of British Socialism.

What I gather is that their system is broke, which necessitates a "current payment" of tuition in the amount of 9000 pounds, as well as student loans.

There also seems to be a waiver of repayment on student loans while income is below a certain level. The income level at which repayment is waived is being raised.

As I understand it, the protests result from this. Most "universities" are heavily subsidized, in fact, that is most of their income. Now, part of the burden of cost is being passed to the students. There is some political complexity which I do not follow. For instance "polytechnic" schools being allowed to rename (should I say "re-brand") themselves as "universities" increases their right to subsidy. This suggests that somewhere in the past, the government had determined to subsidize some types of education, and not others.

Basically, the protest seems to center around a requirement that students be required to pay tuition. I take this from the number of "Socialist Worker" signs in the crowd. These read "F**K FEES, Keep Education Free". It is, of course, only "free" because someone else is paying them.

Except for the confusion of "buzzwords", I wonder how much this differs from our state university systems. A generation, or so, ago state universities averaged tuition of $100.00 per semester.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at November 11, 2010 11:48 PM
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