State spending on higher education across the United States has fallen precipitously in the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse, according to a study published Wednesday by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
On average, states are spending $1,805, or 20 percent, less per student than before the recession. Five states—Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina—slashed their higher education funding by more than 35 percent since 2008, with Arizona cutting its spending by an astronomical 47 percent.
Decades-long cutbacks in state and federal funding for higher education have been used to justify massive increases in tuition, combined with budget cuts to educational and other services at public colleges and universities.
The CBPP report highlights the cumulative impact of this process, noting, “In 1988, public colleges and universities received 3.2 times as much in revenue from state and local governments as they did from students. They now receive about 1.1 times as much from states and localities as from students.”
Simultaneously, wages have stagnated or declined for the vast majority of workers, so that, “Since 1973, average inflation-adjusted public college tuition has more than tripled—increasing by nearly 270 percent—but median household income has barely changed, up merely 5 percent.”
The report added, “Tuition jumped nearly 28 percent between the 2007-08 and 2013-14 school years, while real median income fell roughly 8 percent over the same time period.”
As a result of budget cuts, tuition at universities in Arizona has skyrocketed by an average of 83.6 percent since 2008. In five other states—California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, and Louisiana—the cost of tuition has increased by more than 60 percent, while every state has seen a marked increase in average tuition since 2008.
The CBPP report notes, “Annual published tuition at four-year public colleges has risen by $2,068, or 29 percent, since the 2007-08 school year,” while at the same time colleges have “cut faculty positions, eliminated course offerings, closed campuses, shut computer labs, and reduced library services, among other cuts.”
The CBPP report corresponds with the findings of another recent study on higher education by Mark Kantrowitz, a writer for the college advice website Edvisors. Kantrowitz found that the average college graduate in 2015 has accumulated over $35,000 of student-loan debt, almost thee times the amount of debt for a college graduate in 1995.
As states and the federal government have demanded ever-deepening austerity, college students are forced to rely on student loans. Roughly 71 percent of all 2015 graduates will have to repay some type of student loan, compared to 64 percent 10 years ago and less than 50 percent in the mid-1990s.
Parents of college students are often forced to take out additional loans, with roughly 17 percent of 2015 graduates’ parents also saddled by their children’s student loan debt. The average parent who takes out a student loan for a 2015 graduate has incurred $30,867 of debt, up 4 percent from $29,684 in 2014.
Newly-issued student loan debt is expected to reach a record $68 billion this year for undergraduates and their parents, more than 10 times the total in 1994 and an enormous addition to the ballooning $1.2 trillion total student loan debt in the U.S.
The only states that have increased funding for higher education since 2008 are Alaska, Wyoming and North Dakota, which respectively rank 50th, 49th and 45th in total college enrollment. With a combined enrollment of roughly 118,000 students, these states account for a mere 0.6 percent of the total college student population in the U.S.
The defunding of higher education is a component part of the broader drive to dismantle public education in the U.S., as the American ruling class moves to claw back the gains won by previous generations of workers.
The Obama administration has played a central role in this assault, enforcing a 12 percent cut to Title 1 funding geared toward low-income schools, while providing $248 million in charter school funding and $378 million for standardized testing to further justify the firing of teachers and closure of public schools. A 2014 CBPP report found that 54 percent of K-12 public schools in the U.S. saw rising class sizes for the 2011-12 school year.
In a popular video on YouTube, George Carlin aims his caustic wit at the dread political scourge of euphemisms. “I don’t like words that hide the truth. I don’t like words that conceal reality. I don’t like euphemisms, or euphemistic language,” he kicks off his rant.
Our “public discourse” is, and to some extent always has been, polluted by an epidemic of euphemisms. This category overlaps with the category of political correctness, but it typically serves rightwing, not leftwing, ends. It also overlaps with kitsch, the category that Milan Kundera brilliantly analyzes in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Kitsch is “the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and the figurative senses of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence.”
The essence of this definition applies equally to euphemisms. Both kitsch and euphemisms serve to shield us from unpleasant truths — in other words to disguise reality.
Kitsch is everywhere where fake prettiness — or pretty fakeness — silences authenticity. It is at social gatherings, cocktail parties, academic conferences; it saturates interactions between salespeople and customers, and inspires the decor of every shop in the mall. It is the impulse that sustains the tourism industry. It is the regulating principle of institutional norms, whether in the intellectual, the political, the cultural, or the business world.
Kitsch is what coheres a consumer capitalist society, with its ubiquitous product-advertisements and self-advertisements (for the self has become but a product to be sold). In fact, power-centers in any advanced society will impose a regime of political and ideological kitsch on the population, for power has to lie in order to extract some semblance of consent from its subjects.
Kitsch, in short, while pretending to exalt all that is wonderful and pleasant in life, manifests the anti-human. Where social atomization happens, so does kitsch. Where power happens — and bureaucracy, and the state, and “the free market,” and atomizing totalitarian tendencies of whatever sort — so does kitsch. And in the realm of political kitsch, the use of euphemisms is indispensable.
George Carlin mentions a few. Consider the evolution of the old, honest, direct World War I concept “shell shock”. In World War II shell shock morphed into the more innocuous term battle fatigue, then during the Korean War it was called operational exhaustion, only to become post-traumatic stress disorder in the Vietnam era, or simply PTSD now. So, from shell shock to… an acronym.
This history exemplifies the role of power-structures in the ideological sphere, namely, to squeeze the life out of life — and out of language, and out of dissent, and out of anything that can potentially disrupt the smooth functioning of institutional relations. This is as true of academia as of politics. The imperative is to propagate appealing myths at all times; but if it proves necessary to acknowledge the existence of something negative, at the very least change its name so that it becomes inoffensive and boring. (Ideally, put a positive spin on it as well, so the bad thing magically becomes good.) Eradicate every vestige of humanity; that is the imperative.
We can all easily think of examples. Torture is enhanced interrogation; slaughtered children are collateral damage; a coup d’état is regime change; terrorism we carry out is counterterrorism; invasion of another country is self-defense; destroying a country is stabilizing it; and imposing reactionary regimes on hapless populations is spreading democracy.
Job-destroyers are job-creators; the right-to-scrounge is called the right-to-work; the destruction of public education is “education reform”; destroying social programs and the welfare state is “austerity”; massive corporate welfare is the free market; workers’ mutually destructive competition for jobs and wages is a flexible labor market; renting yourself to a corporation is finding employment; police terrorism is called unnecessary force. The list could go on for pages.
But it isn’t only current political realities that are whitewashed. Rather, a country’s entire history is effaced, replaced with a mess of kitsch and euphemisms. This may be a truism, and we may know it, but it remains very difficult to extricate ourselves from all the subtle wordplays and techniques of indoctrination that have been used to make us think well of our society and its history.
For instance, the recently published book The Half Has Never Been Told, by Edward Baptist, at times may well strike the reader with the force of revelation, while simultaneously embarrassing him for having overlooked the truths it brings to light. Why do we use such bland terms as plantations and slaveholders? Because they’re euphemisms — though we don’t even know it.
Plantations were simply slave-labor camps, and we should follow Baptist in consistently calling them such. (The word “plantation” is actually appealing, quaint, pretty, conjuring images of a lovely countryside ruled benevolently by a paternalistic lord.) “Slaveholders” were enslavers, and we should call them such. Slaves were constantly tortured; that was part of their daily routine, to force them to work harder and submit to white supremacy. Half the country was a torture machine for slave labor, while the other half financed and profited from it.
The kitsch exists on a broader scale too. As Baptist makes clear — and as we all should have explicitly recognized long ago — slavery was not some marginal, economically backward thing; it was the very foundation of the modern American economy and the global industrial economy. It was an astonishingly efficient and effective way of producing cotton, such that from the perspective of economic logic it was irrational for slavery to be made illegal. Nothing is more modern than slavery and the economically productive dehumanization it entails.
The funny thing about kitsch, though, is that sometimes the truth is buried in it, peeking out ironically, only requiring a bit of excavation. Barack Obama, Marco Rubio and their ilk are right: America is an exceptional country. No other country was founded on, or owes its prosperity to, wholesale genocide of the native population together with centuries of enslavement of human beings. (It’s exceptional in other ways too, though they probably aren’t what Obama has in mind.)
It’s hard to look at one’s own country semi-objectively, because one is immersed in a miasma of kitsch and euphemisms. They are absolutely everywhere; they are the air we breathe as citizens, workers, and consumers. But if we can cut through the thick poisonous atmosphere of deceit and indoctrination, we may find that everything is upside down, and appearance is the opposite of reality.
We may find that in our society, as in a stagnant pond, the scum floats to the top. We’ll realize, with the historian Albert Prago, that “in an amoral society, the amoral man is best qualified to succeed.” Perhaps we’ll learn to look with contempt on the leaders and the “successful” — the institutionally obedient, the non-questioners, and the greedy, the vulgarly ambitious, the rich — and admire the downtrodden for their struggles and their stoic survival.
So, whenever a person in a position of authority opens his mouth, we should ask: “What is the reality that is being kitschified here?”
At a time when ecological destruction is more dire than ever, the work of protecting the planet depends on dreamers just as much as of scientists, activists, public officials and business leaders.
Earth Day, when millions of people voice support for environmental causes, is the perfect time to recognize this. While it’s critical to wrestle power away from those who believe that corporate profits are all that matter, we won’t achieve a sustainable, just future without serious attention to imagining a different kind of world. That’s why it’s great to see artists playing an increasingly active role in the climate justice movement today.
What bold blueprints for a green planet will arise if we unleash the full power of our idealism and ingenuity? What visions of new ways to lead our lives would turn the public’s indifference about climate change into enthusiasm for building a society that is more sustainable and fair for all?
The focus for most people’s dreams would be the familiar places they love—neighborhoods, cities, suburbs, villages and countryside. Think what could happen if we declared these places commons, which belong to all of us and need to be improved for future generations. Citizens would stand up, lock arms with their neighbors and demand new political and economic directions for our society. They would open discussions with business leaders, government officials, scientists and design professionals on how to create resilient, equitable, greener communities. But the conversation wouldn’t stop there. We’d plan for less carbon and waste and poverty, but also for more fun and joy and conviviality—which are equally strategic goals.
The chief obstacle to taking action on climate change and global inequality is fear of the economic sacrifices involved for people who are relatively well off today. The decline in the West’s material consumption could be more than compensated for by a richer life filled more human connections and natural splendor. We can look forward to a world with more congenial gathering places like parks, plazas, museums, playing fields, ice cream parlors and cafes—lots and lots of cafes. Millions of acres and hectares of pavement would be torn up and transformed into gardens, performance spaces, amusement parks and affordable housing.
Cities would be greener. Suburbs would be livelier. Rural communities would be more robust. You’d see folks of all ages, incomes, and ethnicities as well as social and political inclinations sharing the same spaces, talking with one another even if not always agreeing. In short, the world would be a lot more interesting for everyone. I can’t think of many folks—from free market zealots to ardent political organizers, religious fundamentalists to confirmed hedonists—who wouldn’t jump at the chance to experience more pizzazz and spirit of community in their lives.
But the biggest change we’d see if the commons became the organizing principle of social, economic and cultural life would be felt in our own hearts and imaginations. These days, most of us experience modern life as a fragmented and alienating, which makes us retreat into ourselves as a defensive posture. We feel a growing sense of loneliness—quiet desperation in Thoreau’s phrase—that renders us passive and withdrawn at a time when it’s more important than ever to reach out.
Creating stronger, friendlier, more engaged communities is not a sideshow in the urgent cause of saving the planet. It is a central strategy. Because when people connect, roll up their sleeves and get down to work protecting the places they care about, anything is possible. There’s a whole world of people out there ready to dream big and then put it into action.
Jay Walljasper is a writer and speaker who explores how new ideas in urban planning, tourism, community development, sustainability, politics and culture can improve our lives as well as the world.
I just learned that my teacher, mentor, friend and dissertation director has passed. I am deeply saddened by this news. Foster was a kind, gentle man with a brilliant mind and a passion for Renaissance literature.
G. Foster Provost, Jr. — August 16, 1925—April 18, 2015
Western society is not set up to nurture intelligent children and adults, the way it dotes over athletes and sports figures, especially the outstanding ones. While we have the odd notable personality such as Albert Einstein, we also have many extremely intelligent people working in occupations that are considered among the lowliest, as may be attested by a review of the membership lists of Mensa (the club for the top two percent on intelligence scales).
Education systems in countries whose primary interest is in wealth accumulation encourage heroes in movies, war and sports, but not in intellectual development. Super intelligent people manage, but few reach the top of the business or social ladder.
Although it’s definitely a debatable assertion, it’s nonetheless an interesting and controversial idea. What I gather is that the “happiness” the article harps on is grounded on moral values or prioritization that is assigned by society which is implemented and disseminated by the educational system. What society “values” highly: wealth, sports, etc.–are what defines “happiness” or success.
However, is intelligence necessarily antithetical to these values? I think there’s an implicit error here in that the article seems to differentiate or dichotomize between reason (intelligence) and emotion (happiness) when there isn’t necessarily a gap between the two. This is very apparent in thus further excerpt:
Children develop along four streams: intellectual, physical, emotional (psychological) and social. In classrooms, the smartest kids tend to be left out of more activities by other children than they are included in. They are “odd,” they are the geeks, they are social outsiders. In other words, they do not develop socially as well as they may develop intellectually or even physically where opportunities may exist for more progress.
Arguably these four “streams” are really just two: mental and physical. And these two streams are really just one: since the brain is a physical organ, and the mental stream encompasses intellect, emotion, and sociology. However by dividing a person into body and mind and the mental into further compartments, on the one hand it may give insight into human motivations, but on the other hand it may also be an excellent excuse for contradictory behavior.
Consider the following statements:
“Follow your heart instead of your brain.”
“Follow society instead of yourself.”
“Follow the right path, regardless of how you feel.”
“Follow what makes you happy, instead of what makes sense.”
Although these statements imply varying motivations: all these motivations take place in the mind, and are all still the province of reason/rationality. The contradictions and conflicts implied in these statements all exist in the mind.
The heart doesn’t make decisions–it simply pumps blood. It’s the brain that chooses the emotional route instead of the logical one. And arguably, in this case, the emotional route becomes the logical one for the person who chooses it. Society doesn’t choose for an individual, it’s the individual who values society that chooses to follow soceity’s dictates. The social need is still in the mind. Right or moral path vs. emotion is another version of heart vs. brain. In this case by choosing the right path–you are in effect putting morality as part of your logic or reasoning. What was really in conflict are the choices of what morality to value, not a choice between morality and emotion.
So back to happiness–which is an emotion, which is part of the mind. A happy person isn’t happy because he values certain things (e.g. wealth or the body) above intellect. In reality it is his intellect that produces the emotion–his intelligence that values those things. A sad person isn’t unhappy because he chooses intellect above all things–but perhaps those things his intelligence values are lacking in his life.
Maybe the proper question is not a dichotomy between the mind and happiness–but what kind of happiness the mind is looking for.
Finally–this doesn’t touch yet on that other controversial dichotomy: that of the body (which includes the brain and the mind), and the spirit/soul.
OSWIECIM, Poland — To visit Auschwitz is to find an unfathomable but strangely familiar place. After so many photographs and movies, books and personal testimonies, it is tempting to think of it as a movie-set death camp, the product of a gruesome cinematic imagination, and not the real thing.
Alas, it is the real thing.
That is why, since its creation in 2009, the foundation that raises money to maintain the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau has had a guiding philosophy: “To preserve authenticity.” The idea is to keep the place intact, exactly as it was when the Nazis retreated before the Soviet Army arrived in January 1945 to liberate the camp, an event that resonates on Holocaust Remembrance Day, on Thursday.
It is a moral stance with specific curatorial challenges. It means restoring the crumbling brick barracks where Jews and some others were interned without rebuilding those barracks, lest they take on the appearance of a historical replica. It means reinforcing the moss-covered pile of rubble that is the gas chamber at Birkenau, the extermination camp a few miles away, a structure that the Nazis blew up in their retreat. It means protecting that rubble from water seeping in from the adjacent ponds where the ashes of the dead were dumped.
And it means deploying conservators to preserve an inventory that includes more than a ton of human hair; 110,000 shoes; 3,800 suitcases; 470 prostheses and orthopedic braces; more than 88 pounds of eyeglasses; hundreds of empty canisters of Zyklon B poison pellets; patented metal piping and showerheads for the gas chambers; hundreds of hairbrushes and toothbrushes; 379 striped uniforms; 246 prayer shawls; more than 12,000 pots and pans carried by Jews who believed that they were simply bound for resettlement; and some 750 feet of SS documents — hygiene records, telegrams, architectural blueprints and other evidence of the bureaucracy of genocide — as well as thousands of memoirs by survivors.
The job can be harrowing and heartbreaking, but it is often performed out of a sense of responsibility.
“We are doing something against the initial idea of the Nazis who built this camp,” said Anna Lopuska, 31, who is overseeing a long-term master plan for the site’s conservation. “They didn’t want it to last. We’re making it last.”
The strategy, she said, is “minimum intervention.” The point is to preserve the objects and buildings, not beautify them. Every year, as more survivors die, the work becomes more important. “Within 20 years, there will be only these objects speaking for this place,” she said.
The conservators are walking a less-trodden path in restoration. “We have more experience preserving a cathedral than the remains of an extermination camp,” said Piotr Cywinski, 43, the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, which runs the site. Auschwitz, he said, “is the last place where you can still effectively take the measure of the spatial organization of the progression of the Shoah.”
Last year, a record 1.5 million people visited to take that measure, more than three times the number in 2001, putting even more strain on the aging buildings.
Between 1940 and 1945, 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz, the largest of the death camps, 90 percent of them Jews. The camp encompasses 500 acres, 155 buildings and 300 ruins.
Over the years, there have been dissenting views about the preservationist approach. “I’m not convinced about the current plans for Auschwitz,” saidJonathan Webber, a former member of the International Auschwitz Council of advisers, who teaches in the European Studies program at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. “If you have a very good memorial, you could achieve that without having to have all this effort on conservation and restoration,” he added.
The preservation lab, with high-end technology, opened in 2003. One afternoon last week, Nel Jastrzebiowska, 37, a paper conservator, was using a rubber eraser to clean a row of papers in files. They were letters on Auschwitz stationery, written in German in rosy prose designed to slip past the censors. “I’m in good health,” one read, adding, “Send me money.”
On a nearby table sat the second horn part to Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien (Op. 45), which had been played by the death camp’s orchestra. Ms. Jastrzebiowska would preserve the page as it was, she said, and keep the smudges showing that the pages had been turned. “The objects must show their own history,” said Jolanta Banas-Maciaszczyk, 36, the leader of the preservation department.
“We can’t stop time,” Ms. Jastrzebiowska said. “But we can slow it down.”
Ms. Jastrzebiowska’s husband, Andrzej Jastrzebiowski, 38, is a metal conservator. He spent three months cleaning all the eyeglasses in a vitrine, preserving their distressed state but trying to prevent them from corroding further. “When I saw the eyeglasses in the exhibition, I saw it as one big pile,” he said. But in the lab, he began to examine them one by one. One had a screw replaced by a bent needle; another had a repaired temple. “And then this enormous mass of glasses started becoming people,” Mr. Jastrzebiowski said. This “search for the individual,” he said, helps ensure that the work does not become too routine.
In 2009, the infamous metal sign reading “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work makes you free,” which hangs over the entrance gate, was stolen. It was found several days later elsewhere in Poland, cut into three parts. (A Swede with neo-Nazi ties and two Poles were later charged with the crime.) Mr. Jastrzebiowski helped weld the sign back into one piece. But the scars from the welding told the story of the sign’s theft more than of its long history, and so the museum decided it would be more authentic to replace the damaged sign with a substitute.
The conservators have an easy camaraderie, but sometimes their task can become too much to bear. “Working with shoes probably is one of the most difficult parts of working here,” Ms. Banas-Maciaszczyk said. Everyone here has emotional moments. For her, it was a day when she was cleaning a little girl’s wooden sandal. She could see the small footprint inside. “This is something hard to describe,” she said. From 1940 to 1945, between 150,000 and 200,000 children died here.
Ms. Banas-Maciaszczyk said her mother thought she was crazy to come work at Auschwitz. “There are moments when I think, What am I doing here?” she acknowledged. But then she thinks of the bigger picture. “Everyone who works here must feel this importance,” she said. “If we didn’t feel that, no force would make us stay here.”
Kamil Bedkowski, 33, worked as an art conservator in Britain for eight years, even restoring ceiling frescoes at Windsor Castle. Now he is on the team shoring up the crumbling brick barracks of Birkenau where thousands slept at a time, crammed into decaying three-level wooden bunks. “This is the most challenging project I’ve ever worked on,” he said.
Almost all the conservators here are Polish and studied conservation at Polish universities — this is, after all, a Polish state museum, which employs some 287 people, plus 264 guides who operate in some 18 languages.
Most conservators are under 40, young enough not to feel any sense of responsibility for the Second World War — “It’s not our fault that the camp was built here,” Mr. Jastrzebiowski said — but old enough to have heard stories from their parents and grandparents. Few have any regular contact with Jews who aren’t survivors or visitors.
Despite the spirit of freezing the site in time, some exhibits have been redesigned in recent years — the Russian Federation’s tells the story of Russian political prisoners here; those of the Netherlands and France and Belgium talk about the fate of their Jews; the exhibit dedicated to the Sinti and Roma present the often-neglected story of those peoples murdered here. The Polish exhibit is colored by the country’s Communist past.
The new Jewish pavilion opened in 2013. It was designed by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. It shows black-and-white films of Jewish life in Europe before the war, then of Hitler’s rallies. In one room, the Israeli artist Michal Rovner has copied children’s drawings from the camp onto the wall. In another, all the names of the six million Holocaust dead are printed on a long row of pages, their edges yellowing from human touch.
The permanent exhibitions here will be updated over the next decade to include more evidence focusing bearing on the perpetrators, not just their victims. In the collection’s storage is a box with neat rows of red-handled rubber SS stamps conserved in acid-free boxes. These will eventually go on view. This is part of the long-term plan by the museum, aided by the foundation, which has raised nearly 120 million euros, or about $130 million, about half of it donated by Germany, to ensure conservation in perpetuity.
The museum has decided not to conserve one thing: the mass of human hair that fills a vast vitrine. Over the years, the hair has lost its individual colors and has begun to gray. Out of respect for the dead, it cannot be photographed. Several years ago, the International Auschwitz Council of advisers had an agonizing debate about the hair. Some suggested burying it. Others wanted to conserve it. But one adviser raised a point: How can we know if its original owners are dead or alive? Who are we to determine its fate?
It was decided to let the hair decay, on its own, in the vitrine, until it turns to dust.