The state of Hedge-ucation

by wildcowsofboont

The coercive element did not pass without notice. Ralph Waldo Emerson observed that political leaders call for popular education because they fear that “This country is filling up with thousands and millions of voters, and you must educate them to keep them from our throats.” But educated the right way: Limit their perspectives and understanding, discourage free and independent thought, and train them for obedience.

Oh, Noam Chomsky, full of such brilliance. And depressing doses of reality. This state of affairs and strategy is indeed anti-progressivism, anti-intellectualism at its finest and indeed, most insidious. This article hits close to home of course, because where am I but closest to the skeletons (well…) of this famed and once great(er) public system of higher education, which is currently crumbling. I recently read, either in Salon or maybe AlterNet, or shit it’s just horrid not-common-enough-yet-knowledge, that the state of California spends more per capita on prisons and prisoners than it does on higher education (the idea is mentioned in the article quoted below, though not specifically in reference to California). Yes, well, look into the whole matter of  for-profit prisons and you will see why: corporations investing in the “business” of incarceration, with dividends! War on drugs, anyone?

And I sit on all of this, considering it alongside the idea that I think I would like to be working at a university, because gee, I just love that setting and situation and I feel at home in that environment. I miss the academic and the intellectual community which are, in a sense, ready-made on a college campus. But has the rug been pulled out here? Am I just buying into the top-heavy prestige of certain institutions, versus making my own way, in the shoes of an autodidact, and learning for the love of it, because I will always want to do that anyway, without the heavy burden of debt which is a big, fat, overbearing reality. To paraphrase Will Hunting, “you pay a hundred grand for a f&%$in education you could have gotten in late fees to the public library.” But that was a quote from 1998. Fourteen years later, that price tag has nearly doubled. Yikes. Where’s my library card, again?

I’ve always been a fiend for utopian/dystopian literature. And here we are, folks. The Corporatopian reality. Henry A. Giroux also has a couple of other excellent, and equally disturbing, essays on the matter, which go into further analysis and detail.

Of course, this is not merely a debate about education; it is really about the emergence of an anti-reform movement that wants to create armies of low-skilled workers and consumers for the privatized, deregulated and commodified world of the 21st century where a survival of the fittest ethic has been elevated to the status of commonsense …. The American public needs access to a new political and educational vocabulary in order to fashion democratically vibrant educational institutions; social movements; community educational centers; bookstores; and a lively, independent press. Young people, educators, activists, artists, parents, and others need alternative media such as Truthout, AlterNet and CounterPunch as popular civic outlets to make education central to building the formative culture that would create new generations of real public intellectuals, youth activists, social movements and a vibrant range of public spheres.

While I struggle with the often overwhelming task of searching for a job and trying to figure out the next step, whilst in a state of underemployment, I am also see-sawing on where to land with that what-to-do-next, and much of that consideration lies within the dilemma (as I see it) presented by these articles. I’m seriously questioning the value, or no, let me say merit, of “furthering my education” in such a system, and in such economic times. I mean, surely, what’s not to love about being in a learning environment, drowning in books? I mean, and isn’t the idea of getting higher levels of degrees also to escape from being a wage slave? Well, at one point, that was a big fat part of it. Here’s to hoping it still is, even if you don’t want to get an MBA. Which, BTW, I do not want to “get.”

I’d really most prefer to be a perpetual student, like my grandfather was until WWII forced him to drop this pursuit because, you know, intellectuals were being killed in his part of Europe at that point in history, and the fact that he had three Masters degrees wasn’t going to help him in any way if he didn’t renounce that formerly idyllic life. Intellectual pursuits, ideas, creative approaches, all seem like very important elements in a society that hopes to progress, even to proceed. If you listen to Giroux here, he’s talking about something that speaks with eery echos to the current state of affairs, though it’s wearing a different mask than it did in the 1930s and 40s.

To the values I was raised with, to want to be a part of this seems… well, I could say noble, but certainly engaging. It can be successfully argued that it’s necessary, even crucial, to the survival of our species. Nature? Well, I’m becoming more and more convinced lately that Nature will reclaim her own if we let corporate control go too far, as we already have. Sorry. Man’s demise though, through this avenue, will be his own undoing. Nature will figure it out. It is humanity which pays the ultimate price for this level of hubris. Sad, but true.

It’s all pretty disturbing to think about, bleak even, but also shows oh how ripe for revolution we are. Because so much of this ideology has arguably been fully internalized by U.S. “strivers,” myself included. I struggle with the stranglehold of these ideas and realities fairly regularly. Bouncing back and forth between : I don’t want to be a part of this sytem! Wait, dammit, I already am and I owe oodles of money to it, and I’m not making near enough to counter that in any meaningful way. We as products of said education system(s) have been subsumed by this, even those of us who were presented with and immersed in an arguably more progressive education, seemingly closer to that Enlightenment ideal/model which Chomsky mentions. At least, some of the time. We can blame ourselves for not measuring up, and not conquering the system – playing by the rules, perhaps – when the system is fairly rigged, and generally not in the favor of those in the middle and lower tiers of socio-economic circumstance. Hrrmph.

I live in a little rural pseudo-paradise in which I sometimes try to pretend this stuff? Well, it only belongs to the bigger, badder problems of the wider world in which many of us arguably are trying to step away from, to live apart from and set a finer example of how humans can treat each other when they are few and far between and are forced to take accountability for their actions and! And! Yeah, right.

How do you truly, successfully accomplish this task? I don’t mean fully cutting one’s self off from the world. Even Thoreau went to town every now and again, and I have no desire to be a complete misanthrope, because that’s beside the point, and actually, the antithesis of what I’m talking about here, and what I think a lot of people who choose to live here are hoping to discover or accomplish. What I mean is that it’s very hard to find a place that is truly a world apart, because it’s all interconnected, like it or not. Even when you think you are an island, you are not a goddamned island. And the sad reality is that indeed, the economy of the bucolic little valley where I reside is largely controlled by wealthy outsiders, who have relatively little – comparatively – substantive contact with the people and the way of life here (of which arguably there are oh so many).  Though it often feels largely lawless, at least in comparison to the more densely populated regions of the northern part of California, that’s partially an illusion. And when I say I think there is a direct relationship to the value of your property and how quickly law enforcement will respond to your call, I am merely speculating, but also from some only somewhat indirect experience with the matter. But I digress…

Land values, wealthy absentee landowners, speculators: these are the situations and circumstances which tend to make it next to impossible to consider owning a piece of this paradise, if you have any kind of non-gajillionaire level of income, which is, you know, most of the entire world. And, any hope of not just being a serf on the land. This was not the case a not so very long time ago. At the same time, I think there is a prevailing attitude here (which may not just be particular to Here, but to many sparsely populated rural communities) to leave well enough alone, and it’s widely appreciated, and then sometimes deplorable for various other reasons I won’t go into at the moment. What I’m getting at is, even though I live in lovely little valley which is free of billboards, and at least the hills hide the fact that there are a McDonalds, Starbucks, and Walmart, just 20 miles from downtown, you would think these things are far and away and that we are untouched by the spoils and evils of civilization. You would think that the rolling hills are dotted with family owned businesses, and that there is zero corporate influence, and that we’re all happy and all the time well-fed and pleased as country bumpkin punch.

After all, we are talking about a place where cell phone reception is spotty, high speed internet is a joke, almost no one has TV, and, no, I’m sorry, but you do have to drive a least a half an hour to the nearest bank or credit union. And there is a health center yes, but if you’re in serious medical need, a legit hospital is a 20 minute helicopter ride away. But no, Gap Inc. owns logging land 20 minutes from my house (yes, for real. Gap = preppy clothes + they also log redwoods, among other sometimes questionable things), less huge but still fairly large corporate interests own or are in the process of overtaking the old guard wineries that pepper the valley, and yeah, because these outsiders own so much of the land and the prices are now sky high, most people here under 40 are renters serfs.

Yargh! I have so much more to say about this, and yet… and yet. What it mostly boils down to is OVERWHELMING FRUSTRATION and those pesky feelings of being incredibly small and powerless in a very, vastly, hugely, gianormously big world. There are so many problems presented herein, and in order to begin to feel hopeful again and not totally and utterly and completely discouraged about humanity, the economy, and everything else, I have to begin seeking out solutions and means of positive action. In conclusion: Drink your milk. Don’t do drugs. Stay in school.  Join a credit union and support your local co-op!  (And do yoga and meditate, if that’s your thing. It helps me to feel more sane and even-keeled, at least.) And read this, because it’s one piece of positive news in my book, and not enough people have heard about it, evidently, because it was number 7 on the top 25 censored stories of 2012: 2012 was totally the international year of the cooperative according to the UN! Now, that’s cool news. Congratulations on your win, cooperative.