In helping Sunrise Appleton organize the climate strike on Earth Day (Apr. 22!), I have encountered numerous responses from students, ranging from enthusiasm to indifference. One that I think is telling about our campus culture, though, is the fact that Lawrentians fear failing a class, being unable to graduate on time or even just losing money they paid for tuition. We are discouraged to live our own lives outside of Lawrence and, perhaps more importantly, to engage in political struggle. I dedicate as much time to organizing the climate strike (Apr. 22!) every week as I do to my part-time job, so I know how difficult it is to stay balanced. The destructive soul-siphoning of the Lawrence Busy-ness has already been talked to death. That is not my goal here. Instead, I point to the disturbing fact that the Lawrence Busy-ness prevents us from actively addressing existential concerns like climate change. Sure, we may consume a billion books and articles for education’s sake, but the issues of our current moment cannot wait four more years.
The very idea of putting a price tag on education in the first place is ridiculous. Education is not some object for sale in the marketplace. High schoolers strike fearlessly because they are debt-free. College students are bonded to their loans and the very institutions that siphon money from their pockets with vampiric lust. Intense education programs may lead to high returns in the future, but what good are those investments if they come at the expense of our present wellbeing? Under price tag education, wealthier students are privileged to participate in politics when they are not held at gunpoint to succeed. I used to spend hours goofing off in high school, but now I must budget my time for cost effectiveness. For many, of course, such memories are nonexistent because of responsibilities to earn money in support of family. This further points to the spectrum of economic inequality in society today. Imagine if college allowed a level of lifestyle flexibility for everyone, including us working class students.
Considering these issues, I am calling for free education at all levels, including trade school, as well as an end to socioeconomic inequalities that exist regardless of whether education has a price tag. The poor disproportionately contribute greater slices of income to political campaigns compared to the rich, yet many poorer people are unable to set aside time for active participation in politics like canvassing, staying educated and organizing because they must work. This occurs in our broader society as well as at Lawrence University. Students who are otherwise interested in activism instead must prioritize their degree or suffer the guilt of wasting their money, or worse, their families’. As for myself, I am putting off paying my student loan interest in hopes that Bernie Sanders wins the presidency, yet, that is a gamble. If he does not, I will likely have to dedicate several years beyond graduation to lifting that burden of debt. I am putting off getting a new vision prescription for similar reasons.