Recently, fellow Fakenation contributor Jonathan Edwards skillfully diagnosed several maladies afflicting the Millennial generation. In his article, Edwards touches on our weak inter-personal relationships and a general retreat from intimacy, which he pegs as stemming from feelings of cultural betrayal.
For this generation, has there been a greater betrayal than higher education? The relentless narrative of a fulfilling career, of meaningful purpose, revealed to be an illusion. Worse than that, a con to trap us in debt serfdom. And all perpetrated by the elders entrusted with our care — the deepest cut of all.
Of course the whole masquerade is facepalm-worthy in hindsight. From their very outset, universities were designed to entrench class divisions and fortify the aristocracy. The oldest, most “prestigious” American universities are all private, and they're called that for a reason: keep the fuck out. It must be considered the height of foolishness that the university system ever became a symbol of equality and upward-mobility in the public consciousness.
Exclusivity was the whole point, and the college setting itself is a manifestation of this trait. Many universities are found “out in the cornfields”, remote locations where the school might be the only substantial entity. How could the university ever be an agent of public good under these isolated conditions? Similarly, highly esteemed urban universities (such as Yale or the University of Chicago) often sit as affluent islands within depressed ghettos — proof that they never sought to serve anything other than personal objectives.
But the problem extends beyond mere exclusivity, to what I'd term the pedagogy of isolation. This gets back to Edwards' observations about the Millennial generation's overall detachment. I would contend that our aloofness is not only a reactionary defense mechanism, but also a learned behavior instilled directly by the educational system.
One of the most frustrating aspects of college is that your work never finds useful manifestation anywhere outside of the classroom. Your research papers will be read once by your instructor, then forgotten. Your presentations will be delivered only to classmates. All of your assignments and coursework will circle back into the university, a closed system.* This is the pedagogy of isolation. No wonder we feel so disconnected.
Now take all that stymied energy, all that wasted effort, and multiply it by millions of students. Countless hours misspent on busywork that never amounts to anything. This is what we have lost. That brief essence of youth, squandered. At colleges, the human spirit is piloted into the ground.
Imagine instead if that same vigor was directed outward. What if students worked directly in their communities, with financial support and mentorship from the university, producing tangible effects? In our continuing recession, with our communities crumbling, consider what could be achieved by these multitudes of new projects and organizations. This is a vision of the university as a true public service.
Instead, this characteristic of isolation is now culminating in the travesty of online classes. Here, the solitary student, alone in their home, reaches the final stage of complete detachment and utter dis-empowerment. Cut off from peers, cut off from their community, focused entirely inward, their student life serves nothing beyond university profits.
Deserted and alone, we can thankfully turn to the benevolent guidance of Bank of America and online-education upstart Khan Academy. The two have teamed to create BetterMoneyHabits.com, "a free platform to improve financial literacy".
"... we believe that financial understanding is now an economic imperative for all,” said Sal Khan, founder, Khan Academy. “Partnering with Bank of America will help us reach a significantly larger group of people searching for unbiased information on personal finance and other topics we teach.”
And what better source than BofA to learn about financial responsibility? Of course at BetterMoneyHabits you won't find any videos about debt-based currency, fractional reserve banking, or any of the numerous on-going trading cons. You can however learn a good deal about your mortgage, credit cards, and credit score — all things that make a fine BofA customer.
Following this trajectory, surely we can look forward to courses on environmental stewardship from Monsanto, and nutrition tips sponsored by Coca-Cola.
Deserted and alone, we're easy fodder for these leviathans.
*Yes, we know you could take a course in, say, Industrial Design and maybe Nike or GM will come peruse your work, but this is little more than your college pimping your efforts. Universities should unleash the full creative potential of their students as a public good, not horde their vast productive capacity to sell to the highest bidder.