The Economic Status of Education

This blog is meant to be focused on my work, but I couldn’t help myself. I’ve decided to start mixing in a some timely commentary. This first post will be on education.

I continue to hear about the crisis the education system here in the U.S. is in. It is highly upsetting, and for reasons completely detached from the fact that I am currently in school, though that does not help. It seems like just one more problem coming to a head, it highlights, in yet another way, the failure of measuring success in purely capitalist ways and it is directly attacking the future of our society. We already have consistent budget cuts in education, which make affording materials, or even teachers, more and more difficult. This of course only further whittles our, already questionable, public school system down to only focus on the “necessities” like math and science. These of course creates a recursive loop creating a populous that only understands the world in quantifiable terms. These are the terms of a monetary bottom line. Coincidence? I think not. (This ostracises the arts and those that practice them to hobbiest. It is only recently it seems that design is moving from an end position to the beginning in many business practices, but I digress.)

This quantifiable monetary bottom-line mentality is evident in the fact that now our economic infrastructure is aiming their high-return-on-investment sights at the higher education system, which happens to be in a unique position to be capitalized on. Now, because we have commodified and stratified education in a way that lets us quantify our societal value off of our “earned” ranking in the education system, and our consumerism culture that makes us want to buy more, education is now a hot commodity. Merge that with the fact that our primary and secondary school system continues to get worse and worse. Therefore, if we haven’t already begun personally paying for education through private schools, we are not just being left behind, but almost pushed backward. No one wants to be pushed down, so we decide to upgrade our education.

In this high-unemployment economy, going back to school seems like a great idea. It should provide more opportunities, earn you some extra respect and give you something else to do besides applying to jobs you don’t want anyway. Recognizing this increase in demand, schools have rushed to offer online degrees to make it easier for you to give them your money. Now the schools do not even have to offer you a personal relationships or professional connections, they just show you the Paypal button. Of course, the prices haven’t changed much. They are still relatively unreachable for the majority of the population. This requires the infamous student loan.

If it isn’t infamous yet, it will be. It is the source of a new economic bubble. Student loans have a unique capability of weathering bankruptcy and really sticking around. They also have some incredibly high interest rates at almost 7% (for graduate school loans). Combine both of these and you have a rather attractive offer. Add in the increasing rate of those buying higher educations and you can see a very lucrative business plan start to unfold. However, we are just slowly killing the goose that laid this golden egg.

Now the schools do not even have to offer you a personal relationships or professional connections, they just show you the Paypal button.

Many of these new higher level education systems are literally shams, and the ones the aren’t still often are just in a different, more subversive, way. Many of these, even highly respected, higher level educational institutions are offering dated curriculums that don’t actually teach useful relevant skills (think law school). Sure, as long as the consumer gets “a job” after graduation, they may not care. However this is a very insidious quality, because it puts the onus of real education on the employer and the student, but not the establishment that is being paid to provide it.

This has now become a viscous cycle. America can not turn off its consumerism and so now we are working on ruining the formal system instituted to develop an educated, modern and aspirational populous. This is clear evidence of nature and power of capitalism and its ability to override government services. When we have removed the core value our education system is built on, learning, whats left is but a simulacra of academia’s initial vision. Requiring companies to compensate for this deficiency makes this whole set up even more flimsy because businesses have no infrastructure set up for this task. Thus you get the other recursive loop of not being hired because you have no experience, but how can you get experience if you can’t get hired!

Taking all this in, we see that eventually there will be a huge number of college graduate with no jobs, no skills, and massive debt that follows them like a ghost of past dreams. This will of course ruin our economy even more on now we will be left with un-educated masses.

The solution to this is to re-calibrate our education system. We need to truly value our teachers. Not bait them into this paradoxical position, telling they are highly respected members of our community and yet pay them nothing. In the capitalistic reality that we currently live in no money clearly translates to very low status. We need to put value on breadth not specificity. Do not cut art and music programs because they offer too few numbers to add together. These are the programs foster the ingenuity that even future “non-creative” types use to develop innovative solutions.

In this new global community we need to recognize the prestigious position we have held in the past was not just due to our military and violent capabilities. We are a young country but one uniquely positioned in time, space and culture to adapt. America is the cultural “melting pot” of the world. We still have some of the best schools in the world, which means we attract some of the smartest. If we would only put value on developing our own society, leveraging the unique aspects and intersections of the myriad of cultures we have at our disposal we could not only excel but actually become a model for other countries.

Education is fulcrum for this change because it directly addresses all of these issues over time. It can enable a shift in culture to be inclusive of all cultures, a shift in economics from a strictly monetary bottom line to a triple bottom line (people, planet, profit), enable creative application of an individuals ingenuity to advance, and more.

I recognize that the examples and arguments discussed are extreme cases, but that certainly does not mean that they will not and have not happened. Lets use these turbulent times to help guide our country in a better direction, because a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

A couple suggestions:

Contact your federal representative, a quick google search will let you contact your local rep as well.

Start a paper, or online petition.

A little context: Our military budget is almost 7 times that of our education