A friend of mine was recently incommoded by a neighbor (in an upper-middle-class neighborhood) who informed her that yes, everyone should have free education, and that people like her should pay for it, because she could afford it.
We’ll leave aside the immorality of arrogating to yourself the right of determining what your neighbors can afford and also of thinking you’re entitled to take it from them by force for purposes you think (but have no direct proof) are trustworthy and serve the community.
We’re not talking of providing for the common defense, here, or even stopping rioting on the streets. Yes, I know, I’ve seen the bumperstickers too. “More schools fewer jails” or something like that. If we needed more proof that they were nonsense, the 9/11 planners were among the richest, best educated of Muslims. They weren’t striking out of privation or despair, but out of hatred (most of it probably inculcated by our own schools) and a thirst for power and self aggrandizement. By and large this is true of our criminals too. There might have been — truly, I doubt it — back in the time of Dickens people who stole bread because they were hungry and were therefore horribly punished. Maybe. Most of what we hear of that is via authors like Dickens who thought they knew better ways to organize society and who had an ax to grind.
Read into the biography of any Victorian criminal, or even the seamy underbelly — I’ve skimmed it, when reading about Jack the Ripper, or other true-crimes of the period — or for that matter any Elizabethan criminal, of the sort that would be easy to paint as “he stole because he was hungry” and what you find is an habitual life of crime and the sort of weaving line of morality that we find among our own under class.
There was hunger aplenty before the industrial revolution, and yes, some people died in famines. But barring the ultimate, desperate push and that usually affected everyone in a region, the laws held. Most people — most morally formed, normal human beings — do not wish to hurt people and take their stuff. Or at least they don’t wish it enough to do it.
So any possible “plus” of free college for all (I presume that’s the type of education this moral monster was speaking about, since high school is already free) was linked by this tenuous idea of the liberal left that education thwarts crime. (It might even have been true once, when education was, unapologetically, about teaching the bourgeois virtues, but that type of education, nowadays, is non-existent, destroyed by the left itself. What is left is more on the grounds of teaching people why they’ve been wronged by society and that, as you might understand, does not inculcate probity or respect for society’s laws.)
Let’s leave aside that moral flaw, though, and the lies the gentleman in question told himself to pretend he had a right to take his neighbors’ money for the good of a nebulous third party. (I.e. ultimately for the satisfaction of taking other people’s stuff, the savage joy of being able to cause suffering, all of it masked under altruism.)
Let’s say that he got his way and we were all taxed out of wazoo to pay for free college education for all. What would we get out of it?
I’ll start by saying my education was if not free at least extremely cheap (I paid the equivalent of $20 a course and about the same for late exam fees) and paid for by Portuguese tax payers.
“See,” you’ll say. “You’re an hypocrite, who benefited from the program you would deny the poor of America.”
Which would just show that you know diddly squat about how “free education” works in most of Europe. (Most because it might be different in Nordic countries. I simply don’t know.)
In most of Europe there is Free College for some. For the rest there are a variety of paid colleges and technical colleges.
The “Free College” in Portugal had its numbers frozen back in the sixties. When I came through in the eighties, your grades had to be above the top one percent to qualify. Some people waited and retook the exam for five years or something like it.
I entered first try. Sure. The downside of this was that I had “paid” for my education with blood, sweat and tears and a good part of my youth. Before you say I was being melodramatic — and I know it doesn’t work this way now. The system has changed markedly since I went through it. For one, in our day, there was only one paying university and it was frowned at — only a little. We were the year that the “revolutionary” changes hit hardest, right at the start of middle school equivalent. Which means sometimes our curriculum changed five times in a year and we never got past the intro.
What this means, in practical terms, is that by the time we hit ninth grade no one had a clue what we knew. So an exam took place, which overrode the class grades. You had to be above a B to go on to tenth grade. Much of the material was stuff we’d never covered, because of the crazy changes every year. There was no excuse.
I think something like 95% of people either failed that exam or were below the B. A lot of my friends ended up going to “technical schools” after that (hard to explain to Americans. They were still high schools, but they trained you for things like secretary and teacher’s assistant. I think (THINK) they’re the equivalent of the British o-levels. I KNOW that in my school, where the forms grades were pasted on the front hall some forms had NO ONE pass. They looked all red, like they’d bled. Our form and our rival form, being culled from the best students, were reversed and we only had four fail in each.
Leading up to that exam it’s as close to going crazy as I wish to try. And we did have a few suicides.
Then the tenth and eleventh grade (I did twelveth in the US) “cuts” were just as brutal. And even so, of those that graduated, most didn’t make it to college.
I didn’t have a choice. My dad would have been heartbroken if a descendant of his couldn’t cut it. So I made it. But I paid for it, just not in coin.
Even so, and returning to our point, I’m not sure those are good investments of the taxpayer’s money. Take my degree, when I went through it. Sure, languages are the most rigorous of the humanities, and I have no problem with that. But a lot of our training — literature, poetry — was less to develop the languages, and more, it seemed, designed to make us into “well rounded young misses.” Which is, arguably what the degree had been when it was first founded. Because it was paid by the state, only the state had the power to change the curriculum.
Most people who graduated with me went on to be language teachers, but we never got any actual TRAINING for that. There was one course. There were two for techniques of translation. What there wasn’t was any of the training we actually needed and that most of us had to get in the first years in a job. You know, drawing lesson plans, dealing with discipline problems, or conversely dealing with harassment among diplomats or bosses in a translation setting. Or what to soft pedal for what cultures.
I find it really useful, in general, in life, particularly in complex situations to ask “who benefits from this?” and “who controls this?” It tells you everything you need to know. If those people are not the same, then you’re going to get malinvestment.
The people who benefited from the free college I received were, to an extent, students. To a greater extent, public schools and employers for translators and multilingual employees who could be got relatively cheap since there was no debt to pay.
The problem is the people controlling the education were neither of those two groups, but government bureaucrats. They neither knew nor cared what the two groups NEEDED and if the students ended up unemployed, or had to learn on the job and cost the employers money, no one was going to come after the bureaucrats.
And that is for a system which culled for the most academically gifted students, which means the chances of their learning fast and well on the job were pretty high, as were the chances of their adapting to whatever was thrown at them.
America is more egalitarian and during its long march to the left has gotten quite averse to the claims of merit. Because I’ll point out my husband also had practically free education, because he got a full ride scholarship. These are rarer now for merit. Merit is — AT BEST — a factor, taken in account with ethnicity and other signs of “group oppression” which have nothing to do with oppression.
The chances of a system like what I described above and what operates in most of Europe are next to none.
When these people talk of free college, they talk of free college in the same way that people talk of free high school: if you want it, you march up, sign up for it and take the college.
Who benefits from this? Arguably the same group as above: students and employers. Who controls it? In all likelihood the federal government.
To what extent do those interests match?
Oh, not much at all.
The federal government will want people to be taught according to the latest theories of what makes students law-abiding or non-violent or what have you. Most of these theories will be, as most such are, wrong and based on Marx and nothing else much.
Beyond that? Professors’ lobbying have much more influence with the government than employers do. Already curriculums include a good dose of “grievance studies” that have no relevance to the market place and are only kept alive to give some professors jobs. Already a good course on Western History is impossible to come by.
What more will happen with free college? Oh, what won’t happen. (“The fun we will have” — in a Dr. Seuss voice.)
First of all it will go the way of mandatory high school. Most people are no graduating from high school with literacy skills that would get them flunked of middle school 25 years ago. Note “most” (I made d*mn sure my kids could read and write at a level that didn’t disgust me) and also no I’m not exaggerating. I have for my sins been conscripted to help college students with work. Their reasoning skills are non-existent (their indoctrination is impeccable, though.)
In short, most people graduating high school are NOT ready for college. You put them in college and it’s “bonehead college” all the way. This means more “studies” degrees, where the learning is fuzzy and it’s very easy to pass even if you can barely spell your name, at least in some colleges.
Then there is the … use of such things. American students, already, are taking six years to finish degrees, because they can. Oh, sure, they can’t, but they will take it out in easy loans and they don’t fully understand the pain they’re letting themselves in for. The reason for the extended time in school is what I call “major dance.” People enter in a major, decide they don’t like it, go to another, then another, then….
This is insane to me. Remember the process I went through, explained above. You knew what you could get to, and you went there, and you finished.
Now imagine free college in the US. Never mind the people who will stay in their whole lives, taking degree after degree (hell, I might do it) as that might be forbidden. Imagine how many people will change degrees five times in a row and stay in for 15 years, before emerging with the least useful of degrees.
And then take the average student, who really wants to be in and really wants to take, say, engineering. If college is free, can you deny admission to ANYONE who wants to be an engineer? What are you? Some type of evil conservative?
People would get in with barely algebra, and the classes would all be dumbed down. the resulting bs wouldn’t be worth the paper it’s printed on. Depending on how far the “free” goes, employers would start demanding masters or doctorates, thereby delaying the time when young people become productive members of society and can start families of their own.
We can’t afford free college for all. It would be an empty piece of paper. And it would cost the future.