But above all, American society at large must stop pushing the notion that everyone should, or deserves, to go to a four-year college. It took a recession and massive taxpayer bailout for Americans to realize that not everyone should, or deserves, to own a home. We can’t afford to learn this lesson the hard way again.
William Bennett, former secretary of education under Reagan, wrote these words for a CNN Opinion piece. I want to look at the second sentence before the first.
What the recession taught us, so says Bennett, is that not everyone should or deserves to own a home. I’m a little surprised, because I thought what the recession taught us is that we should not let bankers offer loans to people who seem unlikely to be able to pay them back and then take out insurance on those loans defaulting. Bennett has done the classic Republican move of transforming the blame of a crisis onto people who should be seen as victims, or, at least, offering up a scapegoat for who the real perpetrators of the crisis were. If we let people like Bennett construct our world this way, we fail to exercise our own autonomy by seeing how the world really is.
But I also want to focus on this notion of should. What is the meaning of should here? Growing up in United States classrooms, I was taught that everyone in the US has a dream of owning their own home. In fact, that what was great about liberal democracy is that people could do that. By “should,” is Bennett making the simple statement that, given their income, some people should not have been given loans by greedy, sharks wearing bankers suits? I think not, for he follows should we “deserves.” I find it appalling that any one should say that a human being does not deserve to own his or her own home. It certainly goes against anything John Locke, who inspired Jefferson, would say. But it also stands against fundamental human dignity and Christian conscience: Jesus, representative of the poorest of the poor, was born in a manger. Did He not deserve to be born in a home. What allows Bennett to make the judgment that some people do not deserve a home?
Finally, the first sentence: again, the “should” and “deserves.” Why would someone not deserve to go to college? Here we must ask, what is the purpose of going to college? Bennett is quite clear — it’s to get a job. Yet, even if this were true, which it is not, the question remains, Why should some people not deserve to get a job? Bennett, again in classically Republican fashion, has already weeded out the deserving and the undeserving, the haves and the have-nots. For of course, the people who do not deserve to go to college are those who cannot afford it — his article is about stopping student loans after all. He says nothing, or very little, about the evil behind the continuous rise of college tuition. It passes, just like sub-prime mortgages, because it makes money for people.
Given the complexity of the world today, everyone should and deserves to go to college. Why? Because college is not about getting a job. If that’s what you think, then both your high school and your college served you poorly. Education has always been about being prepared for citizenship. An inability to question the use of the words “should” and “deserves” in Bennett’s passage shows that our culture does not appreciate citizenship. Choose your side: democrat or republican, doesn’t matter. Just choose a side and vote. Or better yet, stay at home, have a brewski, and let the big boys determine the laws of the land. No need to worry yourself.
Why have democracy at all?