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(Pt. 3:  Education, Impoverishment and Inequality)

The MIT Fall Report (https://workofthefuture.mit.edu/sites/default/files/2019-09/WorkoftheFuture_Report_Shaping_Technology_and_Institutions.pdfviews education from two perspectives as regards the condition of the working class in America.  The first is as the primary factor which bifurcates the working people into an “elite” component which earns good wages and enjoys a good life, and a much poorer segment which labors but earns little.  The second perspective is as the primary source of satisfaction in the future, of both the need of workers to find work, and corporations and companies to find suitable workers.  They conclude their Fall report by tying the needs of workers directly to the personnel needs of capitalism.  From both these perspectives, the report demonstrates its bias towards capitalism .

One primary way it exhibits its capitalist bias is by perpetuating a variant of a key myth of liberal democratic/capitalist ideology, known as the “Protestant Work Ethic. In his must read classic, The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, MaxWeber argued that the values of Protestantism which emphasized hard work, discipline, and frugality, served to support Capitalism’s growth.  These Protestant values would form the heart of liberal democratic ideology in America; the belief that if you work hard enough, and possess the right character structure,  you can achieve the American Dream.   When education for all became a first principle and literacy the first need of governments, it was added on to the list of things which were necessary to succeed.  One had to work hard and be disciplined both in and out of school.  Thus, it became part and parcel of American ideology that they key to success was a good education from a great university.  I think it is safe to say that most Americans believe that their entire future will be better if they get a good education.

The MIT report subliminally propagates this myth as it outlines the differences in earning potential between those with a college degree and those without one, or between the elite workers and those at the bottom end.  If one focuses solely on the amount of money earned over the course of a lifetime, it does seem as though educated Americans have a distinct advantage.  However, the lifelong financial advantages appear to be illusions when one takes into consideration the cost of an education. While it is true educated workers will earn more the course of their lifetimes than others,   the reality is that they will begin life deeply in debt, and that a good portion of their income will go to paying off the debt they have acquired trying to get a good education.

Because education in American is not free, but in fact, ridiculously expensive, even students who might be considered well off, must take out loans to attend.  The scope of America’s student loan problem — total debt is now about $1.4 trillion — is vast. Millions of people are in default, and many young people are graduating into adulthood facing payments that limit their ability to buy homes and to start families of their own.  While  Donald Trump points with personal pride to  booming stock market and low unemployment, for college graduates the improved economy has yet to mean higher wages for graduates already struggling to pay down massive debt nor assure those who are currently attending colleges and universities and are looking towards six digit loan obligations in the future.

Reflecting the racism of American society as a whole, things are much worse for Black students.  They owe an average of $7,400 more than white students when they graduate, the Brookings Institution found. After graduation, the debt gap continues to widen. Four years after graduation, black graduates owe an average of nearly $53,000 – nearly double that of white graduates

Meanwhile the price of attending college has increased in price.   Eve thought the US government has been trying for decades to make college more affordable, the cost of higher education continues to rise.  Federal student loans are the only consumer debt segment with continuous cumulative growth since the Great Recession. Student loans have seen almost 157 percent over the last 11 years. By comparison, auto loan debt has grown 52 percent while mortgage and credit card debt actually fell by about 1 percent, according to a Bloomberg Global Data analysis of federal loans. All told, there’s a whopping $1.4 trillion in federal student loans out there (through the second quarter of 2018), marking the second largest household debt segment in the country, after mortgages.  As the cost of tuition and borrowing continue to rise, the result is a widening default crisis that even Fed Chairman Jerome Powell labeled as a cause for concern.

How great the concern  is over the burden of debt incurred by those individuals who seek to improve their lot in life is reflected in the fact that the “student loan issue” has become a front and center issue in the upcoming presidential elections.  . Bernie Sanders has announced the most radical plan, with a promise to wipe out the undergraduate and graduate debt of all Americans. He plans to pay the $1.6tn cost with a new tax on Wall Street.  Elizabeth Warren has pledged to cancel the student debt of over 95% of Americans, which she plans to finance with a tax on the wealthiest 0.1%.  Joe Biden has previously shown support for free higher education.  Pete Buttigieg, who himself has $130,0oo in student debt, has pledged to make public college “debt-free” for lower income families and “zero tuition” for middle income families. Kamala has said she would make college debt-free for future students and provide relief for those who already have student loans.

Increasingly, whether they care to admit it or not, colleges and universities operate as competitive businesses and, if they cannot generate the funds they need to survive due to the fact that they have priced their services beyond the reach of average Americans, they do what American corporations have always done, they begin to operate globally.  Just as in the past American companies sought the workers they needed for their factories overseas, and then, in the 1970’s began reestablishing their business abroad, so too American institutions of higher education have done the same when it comes to filling their classrooms with students.  On the one hand extensions of great universities now exist in other countries.  Likewise, they seek students from around the world to fill their classrooms and their coffers.  As Michio Kaku tells us ((https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fphPeRvhjQ), as American secondary education declines in quality and most “our science graduates compete regularly at the level of third world countries” America institutions turn their eyes abroad.

America’s “secret weapon” is the H1B visa which is a “magnet for geniuses”  As he tells us 50% of all graduate students are foreign born.  In his own institution, 100 per cent of Ph.D. graduates are foreign born.  If America were to “remove this visa” the entire educational system would collapse.  Moreover, because American higher education is such a powerful magnet, attracting the best and brightest from around the world, the end result is that the gifted, talented and economically sound foreign students work very hard to get into American colleges and universities, and the vast majority of Americans who are educated in “inferior” American schools: the poor and downtrodden immigrants who speak English poorly if they speak it at all; the native born black and white students educated in a system which is often said to “dummy down” the American people, are unable to compete with their foreign counterparts when it comes to being accepted by and succeeding in those good universities which are no longer solely a part of the American Dream, but are now part of a “World Dream” of a what is needed to live a good life.

Thus, while America as a nation and Americans as individuals spend a huge amount of money on education, there does not seem to be a great deal of correlation between what they spend and what they get for it. Individuals find themselves deeply in debt with student loans, the repercussions of which will, like the aftereffects of our atomic bomb, negatively impact their lives for many years into the future.  As for the Federal Government,  when it comes to the achievement of 15 year olds around the world, America ranks somewhere between 25th and 30th, and individuals as a whole find themselves ill equipped, both financially and intellectually to compete with foreign students when it comes to being accepted by the very best universities America has to offer…such as MIT.  (To be Continued).

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NOTE:  The destruction of unions and the degradation of labor is inseparable from the  impoverishment of the American people.  Under capitalism, all institutions are capitalist institutions whose first concern is for profits rather than for people. Educational institutions are no different from corporations in this respect, and so everyone and everything they encompass is viewed as a commodity.  The degrees they offer are commodities sold like luxury cars to anyone who can afford them.  Knowledge and technology, and particularly technological knowledge is a commodity.  Thus, the educated human beings they produce are like all workers, commodities bought and sold to the highest bidders.  And it is the possession of that precious commodity, a college degree, which indeed bifurcates the working class into an elite section, which in conjunction with technology or not, thinks for a living, and the majority of workers, who employ the technology created by the elite segment, but do not themselves think.  They have already become appendages to machines and so, as the generations of workers before them, give up their activity, the free will, and their ability to think, both to the machines and to the elite section of the working class.  This elite section, however, is still a section of the working class, and as such, is likewise exploited and regarded as a commodity.

Mary Metzger is a 74 year old semi retired teacher. She did her undergraduate work at S.U.N.Y. Old Westbury and her graduate work In Dialectics under Bertell Ollman at New York University. She has taught numerous subjects, from Public Sector Labor Relations to Philosophy of Science, to many different levels of students from the very young to Ph.D. candidates, in many different institutions and countries from Afghanistan to Russia. She has been living in Russia for the past 12 years where she focuses on research in the Philosophy of Science and History of the Dialectic, and writes primarily for Countercurrents. She is the mother of three, the grandmother of five, and the great grandmother of two.


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