Civil Discourse Now

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Education is not "free" but ignorance is far more expensive

Yesterday a couple of people on Twitter criticized my statement that education is not “free.” They referred to California’s system of post-secondary education that, until Reagan took office as Governor of California, had not charged tuition for individual students from California.
Nothing is “free.” Someone has to pay for it. By falling into this rhetorical trap, people like Betsy DeVos ultimately take charge. Let me explain...
Taxes were central to the early days of this country. Europeans who arrived on the shores of North America were drawn here, in part, by free land. That people already occupied the land was an inconvenience.
Europeans called the indigenous peoples “Indians,” under the mistaken belief the “New World” was near India. The British monarchy had to pay a lot of money to secure its colonies in North America.
Among other items of expense were those of military. The British fought the French and the Spanish, as well as the people who already lived here. The price of the French and Indian War led to taxation that gave rise to the Declaration of Independence.
When we read about the taxes that King George pushed through on these Colonies, some miss an important element of this taxation: settlers who enjoyed “free” land (occupied by fewer indigenous peoples) were beneficiaries of expenses fronted by England.
King George was insane - “The Madness of King George” is both graphic and accurate about the monarch who ruled his Colonies. There is no dispute that people who settled here were without representation, as colonists with members selected by colonists, in Parliament.
Amongst other laws, the 1765 Stamp Act imposed duties “on most court-sanctioned documents” and even “playing cards, dice ... and newspapers...” amongst other items. Ferling, “A Leap in the Dark,” 2003, p. 31.
The Boston Tea Party was a reaction to the 1773 Tea Act - the effect of which, actually, was to reduce taxes to the Colonies on tea. Ferling, p. 94. American history has been anti-tax. Colonists resented any taxation.
U.S. politicians only are popular if they promise “no” or lower taxes. Former VP Walter Mondale said he’d have to raise taxes. Mondale lost to Reagan who, in eight (8) years, increased the national deficit from $994 billion to $2.9 trillion.
People love “free” things. As already noted, until the 1960s students in California did not pay tuition for college. In Indiana tuition at I.U., in the early 1970s for in-state students only was twenty dollars ($20) per credit hour.
Public colleges and universities in California in the 1960s had to pay salaries and wages for faculty and other personnel. Campuses needed buildings, that, once built, used utilities and required care and upkeep. Of course there are many other expenses.
These facts seem obvious, but are somehow overlooked when people talk about “free” college. Education is as much a part of our infrastructure as roads and bridges. No one would expect to use these resources without money being put into construction and maintenance.
Today the average debt for 69% of college graduates is $29,600. The debt for 14% of parents who took out loans for their kids is $35,600. We need strong post-secondary education, whether it is traditional academic (college) or some form of professional trading for a skill.
No other country - I would say “advanced” country, but I am unsure if USA is advanced anymore - heaps idiotic debt on students who cannot afford, but go to, college. We damage our future by dumping as much money as possible into a military that makes us less secure because we are killing people for little or no reason.
When people use terms like “free” education, they fall into a trap. If college is “free” to students who then go to college and party, it means average taxpayers are paying for keggers. That makes middle- or lower-class kids who would benefit look like moochers.
This enables people such as DeVos to allow glorified loan sharks to gouge money from college students.
She’s also done a number on primary & secondary education: divert money to charter schools - I know, charter schools are “public” but do not work for most of kids as well as traditional public schools - or vouchers.
We should abandon the idea that any of these important items are “free.” We need an education system in which a student can go as far as she or he’s abilities. M.D. or Ph.D. in science, a tech degree or a Ph.D. in history or anthropology. Probably most would do for a bachleor’s degree.
At the end of that education, in a public system, the student should not face horrendous - or any - debt. The student gets one shot to go as far as his or her brains and perseverance takes them. We ALL benefit.
And we should not force kids into the military as what for many is the only choice available to get a degree. (Besides, robots will doing a lot of the work there, soon, and people will be needed far less.)
At the same time we should wipe out all existing student debt, mainly held by the same big banks we bailed out in 2008-2009. They already made tidy profits out of the money we gave them. That influx of cash will result in a huge jump in the economy.
To pay for our system as we go forward, we can cut the defense budget in half.
People who have been saddled for years, in some cases with student debt over $200,000, will be able to buy things and spend that money in domestic markets. They’d also have lives again.
I was lucky to have gone to college at a time when expenses were nowhere near what they are today for undergrad and grad schools. We need to restore sanity to the finance of education.

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