In 1905, Eugene V. Debs, the popular labor activist and Socialist Party leader, had a speaking engagement in Rochester, New York and went to visit the aging women’s rights pioneer Susan B. Anthony at her home there. They exchanged memories of their previous meeting; then Anthony took Debs’s hand and, with good humor, said, “Give us suffrage and we’ll give you socialism.” Debs’s good-natured reply was: “Give us socialism and we’ll give you the vote.”
The U.S. higher education crisis has been well documented. College is overpriced, over-valued, and ripe for disruption (preferably, for some critics, by the outcome-driven private sector). At the same time, many Americans are flailing in the post-recession economy. With rising income inequality, persistent long-term unemployment, and declining real wages, Americans are searching for purchase on shifting ground. Not so long ago, the social contract between workers, government, and employers made college a calculable bet. But when the social contract was broken and policymakers didn’t step in, the only prescription for insecurity was the product that had been built on the assumption of security. We built a university system for the way we worked. What happens to college when we work not just differently but for less? And what if the crisis in higher education is related to the broader failures that have left so many workers struggling?
What is “capital”? To Karl Marx, it was a social, political, and legal category—the means of control of the means of production by the dominant class. Capital could be money, it could be machines; it could be fixed and it could be variable. But the essence of capital was neither physical nor financial. It was the power that capital gave to capitalists, namely the authority to make decisions and to extract surplus from the worker.
This article originally appeared on the Dissent Magazine blog.
Here’s a trick you can try at home. Next time you hear a pundit say that to preserve America’s competitiveness or dynamism, we must replace the liberal arts with something more “practical,” take a second to check what they studied. Thomas Friedman, who asserts that students should study engineering and science because “average is over”? Mediterranean Studies, Brandeis. Charles Murray, who advocates shifting huge numbers of students into vocational training? History, Harvard. Dori Jones Yang, an accomplished writer and journalist who nonetheless told parents to funnel their children into “practical” disciplines? European history, Princeton.
Barack Obama’s K-12 “reform” policies have brought misery to public schools across the country: more standardized testing, faulty evaluations for teachers based on student test scores, more public schools shut down rather than improved, more privately managed and for-profit charter schools soaking up tax dollars but providing little improvement, more money wasted on unproven computer-based instruction, and more opportunities for private foundations to steer public policy. Obama’s agenda has also fortified a crazy-quilt political coalition on education that stretches from centrist ed-reform functionaries to conservatives aiming to undermine unions and privatize public schools to right-wingers seeking tax dollars for religious charters. Mitt Romney’s education program was worse in only one significant way: Romney also supported vouchers that allow parents to take their per-child public-education funding to private schools, including religious schools.
This article originally appeared in Dissent Magazine.
Here’s a familiar story from about a decade ago: a pair of political antagonists conduct an increasingly bitter election campaign, ending in frustrating indecision. Disputes pile up over the legitimacy of the balloting process, and government officials are called in to intervene. Finally, a federal panel, boasting a majority of Republican appointees, shuts down the vote-counting outright, yielding a conservative victory.
"Won't Back Down" Presents a Ruling-Class Wet Dream: Teachers and Parents Working to Destroy Their Own Institutions
This story was originally published at Dissent.