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September 23, 2011

Are student loans the new indentured servitude?

For people who fail to graduate, yes. Yes they are. Dissent Magazine - Fall 2008 Issue - Student Debt and The S...
. . . College student-loan debt has revived the spirit of indenture for a sizable proportion of contemporary Americans. It is not a minor threshold that young people entering adult society and work, or those returning to college seeking enhanced credentials, might pass through easily. Because of its unprecedented and escalating amounts, it is a major constraint that looms over the lives of those so contracted, binding individuals for a significant part of their future work lives. Although it has more varied application, less direct effects, and less severe conditions than colonial indenture did (some have less and some greater debt, some attain better incomes) and it does not bind one to a particular job, student debt permeates everyday experience with concern over the monthly chit and encumbers job and life choices. It also takes a page from indenture in the extensive brokerage system it has bred, from which more than four thousand banks take profit. At core, student debt is a labor issue, as colonial indenture was, subsisting off the desire of those less privileged to gain better opportunities and enforcing a control on their future labor. One of the goals of the planners of the modern U.S. university system after the Second World War was to displace what they saw as an aristocracy that had become entrenched at elite schools; instead they promoted equal opportunity in order to build America through its best talent. The rising tide of student debt reinforces rather than dissolves the discriminations of class, counteracting the meritocracy. Finally, I believe that the current system of college debt violates the spirit of American freedom in leading those less privileged to bind their futures. In a previous essay, “Debt Education,” in the summer 2006 issue of Dissent, I detailed the basic facts and figures of student-loan debt, pointed out how it rewrites the social contract from a public entitlement to education to a privatized service, and teased out how it teaches less than humanistic lessons, about education as a consumer good, about higher education as job training rather than intellectual exploration, and about civil society as a commercial market rather than a polis. I also promoted some solutions, notably the U.S. Labor Party’s proposal for FreeHigherEd and fortified forms of public service linked with college. Here, I look more seriously at the analogy to indenture. While it might not be as direct or extreme a constraint as indentured servitude, student debt constrains a great many of Americans. It represents a turn in American thought and hope to permit such a constraint on those attempting to gain a franchise in the adult or work world. I also want to promote a relatively little known proposal for relieving some of the most inequitable terms of student debt, “Income Contingent Loans.” . . .

September 21, 2011

School ‘Reform’: A Failing Grade by Diane Ravitch

This is the most thorough report on the state of American education disguised as a book review that I have ever seen. This is pretty much a MUST READ. School ‘Reform’: A Failing Grade by Diane Ravitch | The New York Review of Books
. . . Because of its utopian goals, coupled with harsh sanctions, NCLB has turned out to be the worst federal education legislation ever passed. Recently, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan predicted that more than 80 percent of the nation’s public schools would be labeled “failing” this year by federal standards, including some excellent schools in which students (usually those with disabilities) were not on track to meet the target. By 2014, if the law is unchanged, very few public schools will not be labeled “failures.” No nation has ever achieved 100 percent proficiency for all its students, and no state in this nation is anywhere close to achieving it. No nation has ever passed a law that would result in stigmatizing almost every one of its schools. The Bush-era law is a public policy disaster of epic proportions, yet Congress has been unable to reach consensus about changing it. The Obama administration has offered to grant waivers from the onerous sanctions of NCLB, but only to states willing to adopt its preferred remedies: privately managed charter schools, evaluations of teachers on the basis of their students’ test scores, acceptance of a recently developed set of national standards in reading and mathematics, and agreement to fire the staff and close the schools that have persistently low scores. None of the Obama administration’s favored reforms—remarkably similar to those of the Bush administration—is supported by experience or evidence. Most research studies agree that charter schools are, on average, no more successful than regular public schools; that evaluating teachers on the basis of their students’ test scores is fraught with inaccuracy and promotes narrowing of the curriculum to only the subjects tested, encouraging some districts to drop the arts or other nontested subjects; and that the strategy of closing schools disrupts communities without necessarily producing better schools. In addition, the “Common Core State Standards” in reading and mathematics that states must adopt if they hope to receive a waiver from the US Department of Education have never been subjected to field-testing. . . .

September 09, 2011

Tips from the Shimmer Editorial Staff

Locus Roundtable -- Keffy Kehrli and Beth Wodzinski in Conversation...