Reviewing the movie Ivory Tower and the rhetoric of crisis and collapse, William Deresiewicz, author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, makes points central to our goals and concerns. One is educating the public, especially parents and prospective students, about college realities such as debt and the corrosive effect of contingency on learning conditions. Put them together: are students getting what they and their families are paying — going into debt — for?
❝Americans…have very little understanding of what college is about—how it works, what it’s for, what larger social benefits it offers—and those employed in higher education have had very little practice in explaining it to them. The debate has been left to the politicians, the pundits, and increasingly, the hustlers and ideologues. Few who talk about college in public understand it, and few who understand it talk about it.
Ivory Tower, for the most part, is an honorable exception.❞
Other points also central to Mobilization are free public education and a coalition of interested groups working to that end. Deresiewicz closes [emphasis added],
❝If service workers can demand a $15 minimum wage, more than double the federal level, then those who care about higher education can insist on the elimination of tuition and fees at state institutions and their replacement by public funding furnished by taxes on the upper 10 percent. As with the minimum wage, the campaign can be conducted state by state, and it can and should involve a large coalition of interested groups: students, parents, and instructors, to start with. Total enrollment at American colleges and universities now stands at 20 million, on top of another million-plus on the faculty. That’s a formidable voting bloc, should it learn to exercise its power. Since the Occupy movement in 2011, it’s clear that the fight to reverse the tide of growing inequality has been joined. It’s time we joined it.❞
Free public higher education is a solution to both contingency and the student debt problem. Peter Brown reminds us that NYS used to have it in CUNY and SUNY. The California Master Plan, now tattered, exemplified its ideals. Bob Samuels has written extensively on how to make all public education free. It still exists in most industrial democracies.
In between — and back to our goal to educate, ❝Ivory Tower shows us why it’s so important that we get this right: that we think with facts, with respect to college costs and what they get you, not emotions. When we cherry pick the scariest stories and numbers, we do two things: We open the door to hucksters selling easy answers, and we forget what college is really for.❞