Why Go to School Kids? Drive a Big Rig Instead




NB: I just realized I’m trying say 17 different things at the same time here and they all are trying to come through the door at once. So it’s more than a little jumbled. I think what I’m expressing here is just skepticism of the institutions of higher learning. I think that certain ways of seeing the knowledge imparted by universities as being ancillary to capital ultimately serves capital anyway.

The problem is that, as you acknowledge, this is where it is going and there doesn’t seem to be any movement whatsoever at turning that back. Even proposed social democratic reforms take that for granted. At some point, the institutions themselves are complicit in this and it tacitly affects the pedagogy. I think it’s really a mistake to pretend that universities can serve us detachable noble purposes in the current environment. The package itself is sold to us rotten, and I don’t draw a lot of solace from the parts of it that are good, even if I acknowledge those parts are there.

I cannot honestly say that I believe that. Not because I disagree, exactly, but because again, I don’t think it’s possible to separate how the institution functions in society from why people seek to take part in it. As much as I’m currently trying to wiggle my way into academia, I do find myself wanting to hold it at arms length and ask what it’s really about. Like I spent a lot of time chasing a piece of paper that my alma mater can pretend doesn’t exist if I miss a loan payment… So what is the piece of paper for? That answer turns out to have very little to do with whether or not I know things. I know those things regardless of what the piece of paper says. And yet every assignment and academic requirement is about the piece of paper. So it’s hard for me to believe, on a genealogical level that the academic requirements are not part of the dynamic. That they can be isolated on the basis of the idealism of the academics who are part of that institution. An institution which justifies its existence primarily now on the “job market” (whatever the fuck that is supposed to be.) I mean sure, I learned about civil disobedience and monopolies of violence, and I learned those lessons well enough that with undischargable student loan debt, I’m a very fucking docile citizen. Like it really doesn’t matter what the higher ideals of the university is, the function it serves in society doesn’t square with the message of trying to create actualized human beings. Like I didn’t learn the haloform reaction because of its environmental friendliness. I learned it because of its industrial preponderance. It’s the kind of thing you would still learn it in a society where capital doesn’t dominate, but perhaps for different reasons that might unavoidably change the very structure of the pedagogy. The fact is that we can’t know how it would because we are so locked into this current paradigm of what education looks like.

What I’m trying to say with all of this is that I genuinely no longer believe that universities will look anything like they currently do, if and when society finally balances its books. In which case the idea that university would be free would be a given, because “free” would not mean anything as a concept in a society which meets the basic needs of its population. But then, that new context might make “university” as we currently understand it evaporate. In other words, I’m starting to come to the conclusion that talking about the function of a university education in terms that cater to the ideology of higher ed does more harm than good.


I complete agree with that. It just frustrates me that it’s the case, when almost everyone around me has that ideal in mind, at least from what they say. Then again, there are plenty of people I know who are more than willing to stab others in the back if it benefits their careers.

Yes, and this frustrates me. One of things I’ve tried to illustrate to my students in my classes is that change doesn’t just happen - history isn’t outside of us, rather it’s made by us (although in imperfect levels of agency). History (and other humanities fields) can give us that broader perspective to show how cause and effect have worked, and how we can seek out these turning points and try to steer them in a more productive directions… what do we WANT out of a university, in other words, and how can we make choices to steer things in that direction. Pie in the sky, I know, since so many of us are just keeping our heads down and trying to carve out something of a life. But collectively, we do have the tools to make change… it’s a case of getting people to see that we do and getting people to want to make changes. Then again, much like you, I’m just sort of a fucking docile citizen, because of the job market… If I make waves, it’s curtains. So just more of me getting hammered into a hole I don’t really fit into, just with slightly less cruelty than I grew up with…

I get that. The question is how to dislodge the ideology and replace it with something different. Not sure how that works in the age of neoliberalism, frankly.


Maybe we are conflating several problems here.

One which is specific to the USA is that university degrees can be expensive. That is less the case in Europe (except England, maybe?) so that if you have the ability to study, it always makes sense to do so. Conversely, if 3 years of university cost more than the premium you will get from a bachelor diploma, it does not make economical sense to study.

The other question is: is what one learns at university useful in your daily job? I think this was nicely answered by stating that university teaches you logic and thinking skills…

The last question, which I do not see clearly asked here is: what is the point of view of the employer? From their side, your diploma is seen as an indication that you may be fit to the job (for your first job, after a few jobs your resumé is more important). That implies your technical skills, but a few untold criteria as well:

  • whether you were obedient enough to survive the education system
  • whether you are from the adequate social background or not (I believe this is the reason for expensive MBAs in the USA).