This entry is in reference to the recent New York Times article “Placing the Blame as Students Are Buried in Debt.” Read it here:
I am re-posting what I wrote as a comment to this article, not so much in response to the article itself, but in response to the many surprisingly negative comments that it garnered on the web. Here is a link to the comments left on the NYTimes website, though more colourful/less intelligent commentary can be found on various sites all over the net.
This is what I wrote:
Wow. The response to this article – here and elsewhere on the web – is astonishing…and not in a good way.
Many here are hostile to the idea of a financially challenged girl choosing a liberal arts major – in this case, Religion and Women’s Studies – though I can only imagine the response if this girl had a major like mine: Music! God – the Arts! How worthless to humanity! (but if you think so, I’m wondering right about now why on earth you’re reading the New York Times website instead of the Fox News website. I’m just saying…)
The question raised by this hostility is actually a question of whether there should be an open-ended list of possible majors for the rich kids and a different list presented to the poor kids, and likewise, a list of possible colleges and universities for the rich, and those for the poor.
It’s easy to be libertarian about material things – about buying the car you can afford, the house with a mortgage you can pay off (though I’d live in the woods before engaging in a mortgage. Notice the “mort” part of mortgage? It means death, folks.).
But to be a libertarian about an education? To suggest that access to the best professors and resources is limited to those who can afford those relationships, experiences, and opportunities for intellectual growth – opportunities that come even more from the environment than from what a book can tell?
The American dream may be dead, but we further desecrate the corpse when we are forced to tell our children that they’re limited to the possibilities dictated by their caste. Anyone who has truly embraced the experience that is education knows that it’s more than the purchase of a fancy name on a diploma.
An education is NOT a material thing. It’s a thing that has the power to change a person and, in turn, change the world.
To the people posting comments with no empathy for the students now buried in debt: don’t you look at your brilliant and hard-working kids and ask, “Doesn’t my daughter/son deserve the same stimulating education that the kid with his name on the building gets? And why should my kid have to do so much more to get it?”
Saying that “the world ain’t fair” isn’t an answer. With that kind of complacency, we’d still be in the dark ages of segregation and the like.
Education should be given to those who can use it and who can take it as far as it can go. It should never be a matter of having a relative’s name on a building, in other words, a matter of financial class. To think otherwise is to tell your kids to accept their serfdom – a very sad prospect, indeed.
Whether or not there are amazing state schools, which there are, really isn’t the point. The point is that the currency of the intellect should not be measured in Federal Reserve Notes, or gold, or in the willingness to wager your life against your tuition in a time of war. Education is too noble a thing to be measured in blood or gold or worthless shards of the most lacerating paper.
Perhaps our author, Ron Lieber, could have chosen a splashier subject for his article – maybe an über-genius middle class gal at an Ivy doing a degree in social work and catching a flight to the UAE to pay off her tuition using the oldest means there is, something she never had in mind. (It exists, people, more than you think.) Maybe then those who lack empathy for these, our buried children, would finally understand what’s really going on here – maybe then they’d understand the lengths that people must go to in order to develop their gifts to the level that those gifts deserve – really to the level that we all deserve, for we all benefit when people come into the world making the absolute most of their gifts.