The Plight of Public Education

Here in Oregon, it feels like we’re on the front lines of the crisis in higher education these days. For those of us who believe in public education — who once dreamed that a decent public education should be available at all levels and for free to our country’s children — these are dark times. We’ve watched tuitions increase, we’ve seen the number of first generation college students drop, we’ve seen the effects of a generation’s disinvestment in education (thank you Reagan) on the students who enter our classrooms.

As sociologist Pierre Bourdieu once put it, we’ve seen the left hand of the state (the hand responsible for the caring functions of the state — health care, education, public works) wither away, while the right hand (the military, the prison-industrial complex) has grown stronger and stronger. You can’t invest in public health or education, when you’re financing a war machine and when you’ve created an economy rooted in militarism.

Having been forced into quasi-privatization, having been told that our futures rest on our entrepreneurial abilities here in Oregon, what we see is an outdated system trying to maintain its control over a monster it’s created. It reminds me of Gramsci’s fable of the beaver (no reference to Oregon State intended): in order to prevent his testicles from being used for medicinal purposes, the beaver bites them off. Not a particularly productive strategy.

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