The other day in class I explained to students how debt, including student debt, works.
First, banks make loads of money extending credit to individuals (and, of course, other corporations)—money begets, through interest, more money. Second, sellers of commodities (including institutions of higher education) can charge higher prices, because the buyers (e.g., students and their families but also, of course, car- and home-buyers) can, through debt, purchase more than their current incomes allow. Finally, those who have gone into debt (again, including students) are forced to have the freedom to sell their ability to work in order to receive an income to repay the debt (remember, student debt can never be cancelled)—and, much to the consternation of at least some students, not pursue other dreams that don’t promise some kind of steady income.
A real teaching moment, for them and for me, since it required that I look at my own teaching position in a new light.
Just as it did for Andrew Ross [ht: ke]:
The burden of debt has become the lens through which I see my workplace, and it is rapidly altering my view of my profession. I can no longer fulfill my classroom duties without wondering if the ultimate price, for many of my students, is a form of indenture. This is not an extreme way of putting it. After all, the indentured have to go into debt in order to find work, and their wages are then used to pay off the debts. I have concluded that it is immoral to expect young people to privately debt-finance a basic social good like education, especially if we are telling them that a college degree is their passport to a livelihood that is increasingly thin on the ground.