Sunday, January 22, 2012

Student Debt vs. Freedom

On the first day of class I talked about the contrast between today's students, who are so over-burdened with debt and work that they have no framework or time to think of freedom, and the student protesters at Berkeley in 1964, whose main concern was not money (since college was so inexpensive and well supported by the State back then) but freedom and civil rights.  It is very easy for students today to envy the students at Berkeley in the 60s, or to deride them as hippies of a bygone era who had nothing better to do than to protest.  But it is a stark lesson in contrasts that should wake us up to the ways that growing student debt is not just a problem for the individuals affected but also a very serious problem for our democracy.  

The evening after our first class I went home to find the latest issue of the AAUP's Academe with an article by Jeffrey Williams titled "Academic Freedom and Indentured Students," which makes an extended comparison between indebted students today and the indentured servants who helped settle this country. It brings home the opposition of debt and freedom in ways I hadn't anticipated.  Anyone interested in the question of debt should read this article, and anyone interested in pursuing this topic should definitely track down other articles by Professor Williams, who has written extensively on the subject.  

After reading that article, pause to listen to Mario Savio's speech on the Sproul Hall steps in 1964.  And ask yourself whether or not students today will rise up to reclaim their freedom in the same way -- or if they just have too much to lose today by doing so.

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