Showing posts with label Olivia Sylvester. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Olivia Sylvester. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Why borrow money to get a college education? John Kenneth Galbraith, education and The Good Society

More than 40 million Americans are burdened by student loans; and collectively, they hold $1.4 trillion in student-loan debt. A great many of these people are finding it difficult to repay what they borrowed. Last year, Americans defaulted from the government's direct lending program at the rate of 3,000 a day. About 8 million people  are in default on their loans. Almost 6 million are unable to repay their loans over the standard 10-year repayment period and have enrolled in income-driven repayment plans that stretch their monthly payments over 20 or 25 years.

Why should Americans go into debt to get a college education? Is a college degree so valuable that it makes sense to borrow money to get one--even when it might take a person a quarter of a century to repay the debt?

The higher education industry argues ad nauseam that workers with college degrees make more money than people who have no degrees--about a million dollars on average over their working lifetimes. But of course, this bald statement does not explain why going to college has gotten so expensive or why a college degree is useful beyond its power to raise lifetime income.

John Kenneth Galbraith: Education and The Good Society

About 20 years ago, John Kenneth Galbraith wrote a book titled The Good Society. Galbraith defined the good society as a society in which  "all of its citizens . . .  have personal liberty, basic well-being, racial and ethnic equality,[and] the opportunity for a rewarding life" (p. 4).

Galbraith argued that the achievement and sustenance of a good society depends on education. He devoted a chapter of his book to education, which, Galbraith wrote, was valuable in three senses.

A. Economic value of education

First, Galbraith acknowledged that education has economic value not only for the individual but for society as a whole. At the personal level, education enables individuals to raise their economic status.

To make this point, Galbraith pointed to the upward mobility of European migrants during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Most of these immigrants arrived in the United States in utter poverty; yet by the second or third generation, their descendants had scrambled into the middle class.

This remarkable achievement was made possible, Galbraith argued, by education. "For upward escape, either by the individual or by his or her children, education is the decisive agent," Galbraith wrote.

But education is also critical to society as a whole, Galbraith continued, because it contributes to societal stability. "For one thing,' Galbraith wrote, "education has a vital bearing on social peace and tranquility; it is education that provides the hope and the reality of escape from the lower, less-favored social and economic strata to those above."

B. Intrinsic value of education

Galbraith then went on to articulate the intangible rewards of education:
Education is, most of all, for the enlargement and the enjoyment of life. It is education that opens the window for the individual on the pleasures of language, literature, art, music, the diversities and idiosyncrasies of the world scene. The well-educated over the years and centuries have never doubted their superior reward; it  greater educational opportunity that makes general and widespread this reward.
In this passage, Galbraith summarized perhaps what academicians across the country have been saying for years--that higher education, and liberal arts education in particular, enhances the quality of our lives.

C. Education is an indispensable component of a modern and complex democratic society


 Finally, Galbraith argued persuasively that education is necessary to maintain a modern and complex democratic society. As societies advance economically and accept more and more responsibility for social welfare, Galbraith wrote, the problems of government become more complex and diverse.
There must then be either a knowledgeable electorate intellectually abreast of these issues and decisions or a more or less total delegation of them to the state and its bureaucracy. Or there must be surrender to the voices of ignorance and error. These, in turn, are destructive of the social and political structure itself.
Further, Galbraith wrote, education not only makes democracy possible, it also makes it necessary. Democracy "is the natural consequence of education and economic development," he argued, because there is no other practical design for governing people, who because of their educational attainments, expect to be heard and cannot be kept in silent subjugation."

American higher education today is eroding The Good Society

I think almost everyone would agree with Galbraith that education has both economic and intrinsically life-enriching  benefits. But let's look at the state of higher education today--20 years after Galbraith wrote The Good Society.

First, the federal government allows for-profit colleges and schools to prey on unsophisticated young Americans, particularly those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged.  Millions have taken out student loans to pay for educational experiences that are overpriced and often do not lead to good jobs.  Consequently, students who attended for-profit schools have a five-year default rate of 47 percent. Meanwhile, many of the schools themselves have been charged with fraud.

Even reputable private liberal arts colleges are charging more for a liberal arts degree than the degree is worth in economic terms. It is simply indefensible for someone to pay $150,000 to $200,000 to get a four-year degree in history, English, sociology or philosophy.  People who borrow to attend these expensive institutions are often unable to pay off their loans over 10 years and are forced into income-driven repayment plans that obligate them to make loan payments for 20 and even 25 years. For these people, higher education was not a liberating experience; rather it became the instrument by which they became economically enslaved.

Perhaps more importantly, contemporary higher education has morphed into a distorted version of its former character. Today, students shout down speakers who espouse disfavored points of view on political or social issues. Our civilization's heritage of literature, history and philosophy are disparaged and dismissed as irrelevant and even racist.

Indeed, students now think they are more qualified to decide what is important to study than their professors.  At the University of Pennsylvania, for example, students took down an image of Shakespeare and replaced it with the photo of Audre Lorde an obscure black female writer.

Will Lorde's photo remain in a place of honor indefinitely? Not likely. The incoming freshman class may decide that another writer is more important than Shakespeare or Lorde.  

And if the freshman class chooses to discard Lorde's photo for another writer--perhaps someone who has more "likes" on Facebook--who are the faculty to demure? After all, students at some colleges are paying about $5,000 a seat to attend an undergraduate class. Shouldn't they have the absolute right to dictate what it is they want to study?

Tragically, education and the good society have become uncoupled. In fact, in some sort of bizarre reversal, education may now be eroding the Good Society rather than nurturing it.

John Kenneth Galbraith: some old white guy whose work you need not read


References

John Kenneth Galbraith. The Good Society: The Humane Agenda. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.

Olivia Sylvester. Students remove Shakespeare portrait in English dept., aiming for inclusivityDaily Pennsylvanian, December 11, 2016.






Monday, December 12, 2016

University of Pennsylvania demotes Shakespeare and Colby-Sawyer College eliminated its English major: We don't need no stinkin' Shaksespeare

Students at the University of Pennsylvania recently removed a portrait of William Shakespeare from a prominent place in the building that houses the English Department. They dumped Shakespeare's mug in the Department Chair's office and replaced it with a photo of Audre Lorde, a black female writer.

Jed Esty, chair of Penn's English Department, apparently approved. "Students removed the Shakespeare portrait and delivered it to my office as a way of affirming their commitment to a more inclusive mission for the English Department," he wrote benignly.

In the same spirit of tolerance, Esty also wrote this:"We invite everyone to join us in the task of critical thinking about the changing nature of authorship, the history of language, and the political life of symbols." I have no idea what that means.

Meanwhile, at approximately the same time, Colby-Sawyer College in New London, New Hampshire, eliminated its English major altogether. Colby-Sawyer has seen its enrollment drop from 1,500 students four years ago to just 1,100 today and has had a budget shortfall for the last three years.

What is the significance of these two unrelated events?

The lunatics are running the asylum. First, regarding the University of Pennsylvania, it is worth noting that it was students, not the faculty, who decided to take Shakespeare's portrait down and replace it with the image of an author of their own choosing.

There was a time when the faculty determined the curriculum and focus of a university department based on the common assumption that the faculty knew what was is doing.

But no more. Now the students dictate to the professors what is worth studying. Let's read more Audre Lorde and less Shakespeare, the Penn students decreed. And perhaps that's just as well. The English professors at Penn may not know any more about Shakespeare than the students.

The liberal arts are dead. Second, I think recent events at the University of Pennsylvania and Colby-Sawyer are signs that liberal arts education is dead.  A liberal arts degree has become incredibly expensive even as its purpose becomes ever more difficult to articulate. Colby-Sawyer, for example, is experiencing annual budget shortfalls and shrinking enrollment. In the years to come, fewer and fewer young people will be willing to borrow $100,000 or more to attend a tiny liberal arts college in an obscure New England town. Even at the University of Pennsylvania,  a prestigious university located in Philadelphia, fewer students can be expected to take out student loans to read a book by Audre Lorde.

Liberal arts advocates pitch the notion that they are educating students to live rich and meaningful lives. But they know that's not true.

In fact, when Robert Oden, a former liberal-arts college president, was asked whether Colby-Sawyer will survive, he gave this disingenuous answer. "I do not know enough to say yes," Oden replied coyly.  "It's a highly regarded liberal arts college that has discovered a niche that distinguishes it."

The niche that distinguishes it! Oden did not identify which niche Colby-Sawyer fills, but perhaps it is this: Colby-Sawyer is one of the only liberal arts colleges in the United States that does not have a major in English.

References

Rob Wolfe. Colby-Sawyer Eliminates Five Majors to Stay Afloat. Valley News, December 9, 2016.

Olivia Sylvester. Students remove Shakespeare portrait in English dept., aiming for inclusivity. Daily Pennsylvanian, December 11, 2016.