I posted this to my personal blog the other day and Becky thought you all might find it interesting. Apologies for any note of superior Canadianness.
The discussion about student loans occasioned by this Gawker post is sobering as a non-American. Even as a non-American who spent five years working with people who were usually minimally $150K in the hole because of their fancy law school educations, whereas I owed about $9K coming out. It was always hard not to feel a little smug about educational policy in Canada whenever I had some kind of discussion about this.
I see people getting snippy about how any smart American could have avoided this kind of situation by going to state school or something. I suppose that’s true, but on the other hand, the most obvious marker of class within America’s supposed “meritocracy,” it seemed to me, when I lived there, was what school you went to. I honestly do not believe that my having attended McGill for undergrad/law would net me a better job in Canada than it would if I had attended, I don’t know, Laurentian or something. The analogue was patently not the case for most of the Americans I knew, especially in law, who would say that they couldn’t apply for such and such a job because they went to a “Tier Two law school.” (It took unbelievable amounts of time for me to understand this phrase. If you have not encountered it before, don’t bother googling it, as you will turn up all manner of nonsense from idiot JD students.)
I have actually heard similar things about the UK, mind, from people who complain that their job prospects are considerably constrained because they did not attend Oxbridge.
But in any event: I think it is the wrong reaction to condemn people who are seeking to thus “better themselves” socially-speaking by attending a “higher-end” school, and who end up in the process getting duped by the gigantic corporate bureaucracy of the modern American private university. I would tend to agree that the “bettering yourself” rhetoric is bullshit, but it’s not completely wrong, as far as I can tell, to presume that going to a better school, and doing well at one, will change your prospects somewhat when you graduate. It’s also completely understandable that, at 21, one’s sense of long-term financial planning is… poor. It is furthermore the case that the tuition levels are out of fucking control in the U.S., and that financial interests have influenced Congress to pass overly-permissive lending laws related to student loans that allow universities to keep these tuition levels so damn high. If those laws were not so weighted in favour of the banks, students simply couldn’t obtain this kind of staggering loans, and then the student debt problem would not loom quite so large.
I say this only because it seems to me that the whole “you should have been smarter about your money” thing rather closely echoes the general right-wing belief that poor people ought to more or less keep to their station in life unless they have the funds to do otherwise. It seems to me that by far the most insidious effect of class in America or frankly any other country is the way that one can allow it to constrain your expectations and dreams in life. (This may be true of other axes of disadvantage like race or gender but we’ll stick to class.) In other words: I don’t see how the solution to this kind of thing is for people to never aspire to something other than that to which they were born. Not only is it just generally unfair, it makes inequalities permanent. The point is not to accept the current system and shrug ones shoulders at those who dare to think beyond its dictates; the point is to ask whether this is the kind of system that is, genuinely, building a better society for you. My instinct is not, but then I don’t vote and I don’t even live in your country anymore, so who cares what I think, anyway!