A Thanksgiving Rant

It’s Thanksgiving here in the U.S., so despite the fact that I have a long list of things for which I am very definitely not grateful, I feel some obligation to find something for which I can be thankful.

I’m thankful that I was able to get a great education without bankrupting my parents, working ridiculous hours while going to school, or accumulating massive debt.

The more I read about student loan debt, the angrier I get. It’s unconscionable for people to come out of college with a huge burden as they try to find their way in the world.

That’s especially true in a world in which the way of work is changing and in which many of the things that need to be done don’t pay well at all. Plus we need a lot of creative new ideas and ways of doing things, and people with huge stacks of bills are too busy trying to keep from drowning to create new things.

My family wasn’t rich by any means. The reason I didn’t end up in deep debt is because I’m old enough to have gone to college back in the day when most good state schools in the U.S. charged very little tuition. Not only that, but room and board were cheap in college towns, especially if you lived in group houses. I came out of seven years of college and law school with a total of $600 in debt, and I mostly used that money to study for the bar exam.

My parents had saved up $3,000 for my education. That paid for the first two years. My grandmothers helped me out, one from her social security. I got tuition scholarships. I worked part time and took summer jobs. I also played a lot.

Nobody suffered to pay for my college education, which gave me the freedom to study what I wanted to study. My undergraduate degree is in liberal arts — I was in the honors program and didn’t have to major. (It says on my diploma from the University of Texas that I have a B.A. with Special Honors in Plan II. I’m very proud of that even though the only people who know what it means were also in Plan II.)

Recently I saw someone observe that they didn’t want college to be free because some people would screw around. Me, I’m fine with people screwing around. Screwing around is part of the point of college. All these people so focused on jobs that they think will ensure them financial prosperity, and therefore be worth the loans they’re taking out, they’re the ones who freak me out.

Youth is a time when you need to explore new ideas and try things out. Not that you don’t need to keep exploring when you’re older, but it’s easier to try things when you don’t have as many responsibilities. I want young people to be free to be irresponsible.

I’m willing to pay taxes for free education. I bet all those people with student loans would much prefer paying taxes for free education. That’s paying it forward. It’s the way we should do things.

Let’s bring back free tuition at all state colleges and universities. We should also put a lot of money into developing student housing co-ops while we’re at it, so that kids don’t have to spend a fortune on rent. Replace the loans with grant programs.

And declare a jubilee on all the student loans out there right now.

We need a lot of smart, creative, educated people to get us through the rest of this century. Let’s make it easy to get them.

And then I can be thankful for them.

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A Thanksgiving Rant — 4 Comments

  1. I just want to say ME TOO to all of that. I paid for my college education entirely–a combination of loans, jobs, a significant annual grant from an employer, and… well, in the early 70s the cost of my last year at my fairly expensive East Coast private college–including room and board–was about $5200. I emerged with about $9000 in debt–but at the early 70s interest rate, which was never over 3%. I was extraordinarily lucky–not least because I was of a generation where college was not considered a kind of high-end training school. The sense I got was that college was where you were supposed to experiment, explore new things, screw up occasionally, and learn to do better. (I could write an entire screed about the current ‘fail once and your life is over’ narrative that kids are imbibing in public schools, but I do have to get to work this morning.)

    As I head into my declining years–slowly, but they’re out there, and I know it–I want to make sure that the next generations are smart, capable, creative, and perhaps appreciative that the generations before them made it possible to move forward into our challenging future. Put in its absolutely most narcissistic way: I want the people changing my IV and administering my medical power of attorney to be well educated, and not resentful. College should create possibilities, not mash people flat.

  2. Very well said.

    I would add, since I’m still in rant mode, that the fact that college has been made ridiculously expensive is yet another example of how we’re spending money on the wrong things. (I would add a rant about the lack of compassion, bureaucracy, and cost of caring for the very elderly, but I’ll save that for another rant.)

    • I will say, having been on the alumni board of my grade school, and involved in public school stuff because of my kids, part of the rise in expense of college (aside from inflation generally) is the rise in expectation of what an education -is-, coupled with the erosion of Federal support for education from toddler-to-PhD. It has forced schools to compete in terms of amenities as well as academic standing (we have a gym! We have a better gym! Well, our gym serves mocha lattes while you’re on the elliptical! Well WE provide pedicures…)

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