Thursday, January 28, 2016

Online Discussion #2 - February 2nd


As William Deresiewicz describes in "The Neoliberal Arts," "neoliberalism" reduces all "values" to market values, so that the question of "what is the value of a college education?" can only be answered in monetary terms -- such as, "$1 million more in lifetime earnings, on average, than those with only a high school education."  But aren't there other ways of "valuing" a college education -- in terms of having an educated citizenry, more widespread prosperity, better quality of life, and greater critical and moral consciousness?  College is good not only for earning more money but for making graduates into better people and helping to build a better society.

Besides reducing all values to monetary terms, neoliberalism also reframes "value" in terms of individual or private interests rather than social or communal interests.  As suggested by the readings collected in "Understanding Privatization," college becomes (under the privatization wrought by neoliberalism) an investment vehicle by which individuals can make more money, rather than a social institution by which society can be strengthened and enriched, especially through the making and sharing of knowledge.  When the state defunded higher education, colleges were thrust into the marketplace and began to function like businesses, focused on the bottom line of making money to stay afloat.

How do the terms and ideas from the readings on neoliberalism and privatization help us to make sense of specific cases presented by some of our other readings, including those we discussed last time (Armstrong & Hamilton, Ho, and The Red) and Default: The Student Loan Documentary?  Be sure to reference specific quotations or examples from at least two of the readings in your response.  And return to reply to another student's response to gain the full 2 points participation.


Friday, January 22, 2016

Online Discussion #1 - January 26th

All of the readings for today suggest that there is a social dimension to how we define ourselves, because identity is strongly influenced by how others perceive us.  The readings  also describe or show social institutions -- such as "the party pathway," "the Ivy League," or an "affluent" or "middle class" consumer lifestyle -- that can influence personal goals and trajectories during college and beyond.  After doing the reading for today, you might begin to wonder how much conscious control students or recent graduates exercise in making choices that will have a big impact on their futures.  Do we make mindful, conscious, realistic choices about how to live our lives or do we just follow the herd, do what's expected, and try to fit in with the crowd?

In their book Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, sociologists Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton tell the stories of many students whose choices to join the "party pathway" (either as "socialites" or "wannabes"), to focus on school and career, or to become "social isolates" seem almost dictated by their perceived (and sometimes misperceived) membership in a group or social class -- and how these choices impact their future success.  In "Biographies of Hegemony" (the first chapter of her book Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street), anthropologist Karen Ho points out signals that students at elite schools receive that seem to dictate their sense of self or choice of career.  And the film The Red portrays the way a recent graduate struggles to live a middle class lifestyle on the earnings of an impoverished debtor.


How might specific terms or ideas discussed by Armstrong and Hamilton and/or Ho help to understand the choices made by characters portrayed in the short film The Red (see below) -- or in one of the other readings? How does the pressure of social class expectation practically force people to make certain choices, and what might it take to make more conscious or mindful or realistic choices?  



Use the comments feature below and make direct reference to the readings in your comment.  Then please comment on another student's comment (you may need to come back later if you are the first respondent, of course).  You must post and comment to receive the full two points participation credit.  Note: if you post anonymously, please sign your post with at least your first name.  

Friday, September 18, 2015

Online Discussion #2 - September 22



At the most basic level, privatization signifies the shift from public to private financing.  As state governments cut back on their support for higher education, colleges have to turn to private sources of finance, which include higher tuition, donations, loans, and corporate sponsorship.  In today's three readings, we consider the problem of student debt that privatization has created, and we consider an alternative private funding model where corporations pay for college as a benefit for employees (much in the same way that many companies provide health benefits to their employees).

In Amanda Ripley's "How to Graduate from Starbuck's," we hear about the coffee franchise's offer to its workers to pay for college, which Ripley presents in mostly a positive light. In Marc Bousquet's "Students Are Already Workers," we hear about a similar partnership between a community college and UPS, which the author judges more critically.  And in the film Default, we hear about the experiences of students struggling with college loans.  After reading these selections, respond to the question below and to another student's response (before we meet on Tuesday).

Question: Do you think corporate funding of higher education -- especially through tuition benefits to workers -- is a good model for making college more affordable?  Why or why not?  What specific evidence do you have from two texts to support your view?

Respond in the comments section below, with specific references to the readings, and then respond to someone else's response before we meet on Tuesday to receive full credit.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Online Discussion #1 - September 15

All of the readings for today assume that there is a social dimension to how we define ourselves, because identity is strongly influenced by how others perceive us.  There are also established social institutions (such as "the party pathway" or long-standing corporate recruitment relationships) that can influence personal goals and trajectories during college and beyond.

In their book Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, sociologists Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton describe many subtle ways that social class is marked at college, and they suggest that these tiny markers can magnify seemingly small differences in family background and income.  In "Biographies of Hegemony" (the first chapter of her book Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street), anthropologist Karen Ho similarly points to signals that students at elite schools receive (from big banks recruiting on campus) that shape their sense of self or choice of career and lifestyle.  And the film The Red portrays the way a recent graduate with debt struggles to establish a secure foothold in the middle class while surrounded by the subtle signs of social class membership or exclusion (of which she is in denial.)

Choose ONE of the following questions and use at least two of the readings to answer it, then post a comment on another student's post:

1. Social Engagement vs. Isolation.  How exactly does social engagement or disengagement impact academic and career?  (Consider, for example, Armstrong & Hamilton, from page 111 forward). Are there downsides to too much social engagement?  And how does social class or economic limitation impact how well students fit in socially?  

2. Social Reproduction vs. Mobility.  Armstrong and Hamilton's discussion of "fit" (or lack of fit for "wannabes") between student and "pathway" through college, and Ho's description of the way the idea of "smartness" reinforces belonging and entitlement within elite institutions, might suggest that social forces conspire to reproduce social class and defeat social mobility.  Is it possible to read against the grain of our texts to find evidence for social mobility? Is it possible to use ideas from these texts to suggest ways of helping more students to break through seemingly impermeable class boundaries?  Or is there really no hope?

3. Subtle Signifiers of Social Class.  Class consciousness is often communicated through very small gestures and seemingly insignificant remarks -- including entitled swagger, ostentatious displays of consumption, subtle snubs, microaggressions, passive aggressive behavior, or what one student calls "being mean nicely" (Armstrong & Hamilton 101).  These gestures of association or "disassociation" (A&H 100ff) can cause a "vampire effect" (A&H 104ff) in the dorm, and they have a big impact on the relative success of "socialites" and "wannabes" (A&H 118ff) who follow the "party pathway."  Class division is thus usually communicated and received in very unconscious and unremarked ways. All of the readings for today draw our attention to the tiny ways that class consciousness is created and "hegemony" is reinforced.  How might specific terms or ideas discussed by Armstrong & Hamilton or Ho help to understand the behavior of the characters portrayed in the short film The Red (see below)? What parallels can you draw between the roommates in the film and students discussed by Armstrong and Hamilton or Ho?  What specific details from the film connect to these authors' analyses of the ways college helps to "maintain inequality"?  



Use the comments feature below and make direct reference to the readings in your comment.  Then please comment on another student's comment (you may need to come back later if you are the first respondent, of course).  You must post and comment to receive the full two points participation credit.  Note: if you post anonymously, please sign your post with at least your first name.  

Friday, January 30, 2015

Online Discussion #2 - Due Tuesday, February 3rd



After reading the selections from Ken Ilgunas's Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom, the Introduction and first chapter of Alan Collinge's The Student Loan Scam (both available in the Resources --> Required Course Readings on our Sakai site), and watching the online video Default (above), please reflect on one of the questions below regarding student debt:

College debt in the U.S. has surpassed a staggering $1.2 Trillion, becoming a hidden drag on the economy and a secret drag on many people's lives.  I say "secret," because most Americans do not talk about their debt in public, and therefore few of us recognize just how widespread a problem it is.  Our readings today reveal many of the lives touched by debt and thus offer us real insight into the ways that student debt shapes (or perverts) the lives of many college graduates.  The readings also touch on (especially in the film Default, in Collinge's story about the privatization of Sallie Mae, and in Ilgunas's stories about his best friend, Josh Pruyn, who goes to work for a for-profit school) the sleazy relationship between colleges and the student loan industry, as well as the very troubling practices of for-profit schools and private banks that have made student loans such a profitable area for both bankers and investors.   For this discussion, I want you to take a closer look EITHER at the lives of students in debt OR the larger picture of how the student loan industry widens the gap between rich and poor. 

Alternative Question #1: "No one gets into debt by accident..."
Based on the readings -- and citing specific evidence from at least two of them -- discuss the ways that students get into debt and the ways they react to being in debt.  Do students consciously choose to get into debt or is it a trap they fall into?  How is debt caused by limited choices -- and how does being in debt itself constrain choice?  How does it warp debtors' minds?  How can debtors regain or reassert their "freedom"?  What do you think students can do about the growing problem of student debt and the larger problem of income inequality it exacerbates?

Alternative Question #2: "It's the banks, stupid!"
The documentary film Inside Job (which can be watched free online here, here, and here) is one of many good sources that help to explain the roots of the world financial meltdown that happened in 2007-2008 due to the trading in securities based on unregulated sub-prime mortgage loans (among other things).  At the end of that film, we are shown how the same people who were in charge of the financial industry and its "regulation" leading up to the crisis continue to set government policies today, so that a similar debacle seems inevitable -- if not in mortgages then in less regulated banking industries.  Recently, for example, there have been a number of stories about the way that sub-prime used car loans are being promoted in much the same way that sub-prime mortgages were.  And many are warning that the student loan industry is another potential bubble that eventually could burst, due to many of the same forces in place that led to the mortgage bubble: the government is pushing people to go to college by any means necessary, even poor and poorly prepared students are taking on debt to do so, banks like Sallie Mae are increasingly privatized and acting in their own interests rather than in the national interest, for-profit schools are willing to help any and all students sign on for a sub-prime education and help them get the equivalent of sub-prime loans backed by taxpayers, and wealthy investors are buying up securities based on the growing portfolio of student loans (especially since the government backs them and will always force students to repay them even in bankruptcy).  Banks are deeply invested in the for-profit higher education industry, which is a growing source of their own profits, leading to some of the same shady practices leading up to the mortgage crisis (as Josh Pruyn's story illustrates).  Given the Republican takeover of Congress, people with portfolios and a lot of money are returning to for-profit colleges as an investment, predicting that there will be fewer government regulations in the near future.  Just ask yourself: "why is the Super Bowl being played at University of Phoenix stadium this weekend?"  The situation has caused economists like Joseph Stiglitz to claim that the "rent seeking" behavior of the top one percent has led not only to them sucking money from those below (the opposite of "trickle down" economics) but also to a stagnant economy that is not creating enough good jobs (except in finance and banking), because the rich are seeking "safe" investments in securitized debt rather than investing in companies that create jobs and grow the economy.  The situation is what Marxists label "rentier capitalism," which is even worse than regular capitalism in their view. Based on the readings -- and citing specific evidence from at least two of them -- how does the larger system of higher education privatization and the student loan industry effectively transfer wealth from poor students to bankers and wealthy investors, thus furthering the ways that college maintains inequality?  What do you think can be done about the growing problem of student debt and the larger problem of income inequality it exacerbates?

Respond to this question using the comments feature below, making direct reference to two of the readings in your comment.  Then please comment on another student's comment (you may need to come back later if you are the first respondent, of course).

Friday, January 23, 2015

Online Discussion #1 - Due Tuesday, January 27th

In their book Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton show how social class can enable or constrain student choices and chances.  For example, Armstrong and Hamilton show that students from upper class backgrounds who choose the "party pathway" are much more successful than their partying lower-class peers because they are best prepared and best situated to make use of the social connections to be found on that path, and they are most insulated from the negative effects of a low GPA that might result from partying all the time.  Armstrong and Hamilton also explore (especially in Chapters 4 and 5) how class background affects social and romantic success and can thus strongly impact student emotional well-being, academic engagement, and motivation, both at school and after graduation.

Reading their book made me think a lot about my own college experience, and just how completely unconscious or simply oblivious I was about the social class implications of my choices.  And it makes me wonder if I could have made more conscious and calculated decisions regarding friends, associates, coursework, and career if I had been better informed and more fully aware of the way social class shapes college and post-college experience.

Choose one of the following questions where you put one of the other readings into discussion with the excerpt from Armstrong and Hamilton:

Alternative #1: : How might Paul Tough's chapter from How Children Succeed offer some remedy for lower class students, whose struggles are discussed by Armstrong and Hamilton?  Or do you think that the class issues raised in Paying for the Party are not so easily addressed?

Alternative #2: How might the characters portrayed in the short film The Red (see below) illustrate the continuing class issues faced by recent graduates who have had to take out loans to get through college? What parallels can you draw between the roommates in the film and students discussed by Armstrong and Hamilton?  What specific details from the film connect to Armstrong and Hamilton's analysis of the ways college "maintains inequality"?  



Whichever question you choose, use the comments feature below and make direct reference to the readings in your comment.  Then please comment on another student's comment (you may need to come back later if you are the first respondent, of course).  And if you post anonymously, please sign your post with at least your first name.  

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Online Discussion #2 - The Student Debt Problem



After reading the selections from Ken Ilgunas's Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom, reading the Introduction and first chapter of Alan Collinge's The Student Loan Scam, and watching the online videos Default and The Red, please reflect on the following question for discussion regarding students with debt:

College debt in the U.S. has surpassed a staggering $1.2 Trillion, becoming a drag on the economy -- but, more directly, it has become a secret drag on many people's lives.  I say "secret," because most Americans do not talk about their debt in public, and so few of us recognize just how widespread a problem it is.  Our readings today reveal many of the lives touched by debt and thus offer us real insight into the ways that student debt shapes (or perverts) the lives of many college graduates.  For this discussion, I want you to take a closer look at some of those lives. 

Based on the readings -- and citing specific evidence from at least two of them -- discuss the ways that students react to debt.  How do students get into debt?  How does debt constrain their choices?  How does it warp their minds?  How can they regain or reassert their "freedom"?  What do you think should be done about the growing problem of student debt and the larger problem of income inequality it exacerbates?

Respond to this question using the comments feature below, making direct reference to two of the readings in your comment.  Then please comment on another student's comment (you may need to come back later if you are the first respondent, of course).