New Orleans This fall will undoubtedly see a huge number of students mobilized by the November election, but I’m starting to believe that the student army that is going to be activated this fall is going to be marching to a different tune for a change: their own self-interest. The evidence may be isolated, but once one begins looking, it is not hard to see signs of stirring that could interject student issues around education, opportunity, jobs, costs, and debt into the middle of political debate.
This is not merely a question of the tactical maneuvering between American political parties and Congress around student loans and debt, because the outcome being debated largely postpones the problem rather than looking at the core issues. In student strikes in Northridge, California, Quebec, and Chile triggered by rising costs we are starting to see the core issues confronted, and students are not stepping down or wearing out.
A piece written by Martin Luckas in The Guardian on the “Maple Spring” in the streets of Montreal expresses the issues at stake eloquently as a fundamental challenge to the increasingly entrenched policies of neo-liberalism:
The fault-lines of the struggle over education – dividing those who preach it must be a commodity purchased by “consumers” for self-advancement, and those who would protect it as a right funded by the state for the collective good – has thus sparked a fundamental debate about the entire society’s future.
Luckas’ point is well taken. The students in California engaging in a hunger strike now are partially incensed that administration is getting raises, including a 25% hike to $400,000 per year for the new Northbridge president, even while classes are being cut, fees increased, and teachers ghettoized as adjuncts without benefits. How is this fight different than reading about the complaints of shareholders to a $15 million package for the head of Citibank, when everything about the bank is on life support? One of the major themes of neo-liberalism is essentially “corporatizing” all debate about all public policy.
Student self-interest where debt is competing with ambition and opportunity and jobs are still in scant supply could be the match that lights a much better fire!