An education bubble

By Laura Marajofsky

“Una burbuja formativa”, Laura Marajofsky, The Project on Student Debt, “British Petroleum “, “BP”, crisis de Grecia, crisis educativa, crisis del paradigma universitario, crisis del paradigma académico, deuda estudiantil, crisis institucional academia, crisis institucional universidades, It’s Complicated: Making Sense of Complexity David Segal The New York Times, Decision-making: Risk school Michael Bond Nature News, Are Too Many Students Going to College? The Chronicle of Higer Education, Placing the Blame as Students Are Buried in Debt Ron Lieber The New York Times, An education bubble, student debt, college debt. Greece crisis, educational crisis, college crisis, college paradigm crisis, institutional crisis of academia, academia crisis, institutional crisis of university, university crisis,

June 25th, 2010. 

Hola Lau :)

Your article deals with quite a few of issues, all very interesting to discuss, so I am glad that you brought them over here. I'll try to share my impressions on this.

Firstly, I'll have to say that I don't agree with highlighting Universities or Banks "responsibility”. They do just what we (as Society) let them do. Instead, I do agree with you in stressing the “role each individual plays, or the cultural background behind a decision” and also the “role played by home environment”. I also strongly agree with you on that “naturalization of certain ideas has its consequences”. In particular, I would like to expand a little this point. Briefly, I would emphasize the role of massive weapons of communication. It is very well known that just by using language in certain way, we can influence (or be influenced) the perception of our reality, or our “cosmovision”. Just for a very simple, plain and mundane example: as I write these lines, Argentina's football is about to play against Mexico in the World Cup 2010. Being an argentinean male, it's rather a rare thing (in a somehow negative sense) that I'm writing about other countries' citizens spending or not money on Universities. Even my father just sent me an SMS with “Vamos todos con fuerza para Argentina” But, is it really rare? Is it something negative “per se”? Or is just an idea, a naturalized (or should I say socially-internalized?) idea, forced by our “national feeling”, which is modulated by our consumer society and habits? Well, let's leave that discussion for other posts...

Naturalization of certain ideas can be so subtle that it can “invade our mind” without any sudden significant signal. I would say that one of these “naturalized ideas” in our western thinking might have been “I need to go to the university if I ever want to achieve something in my life”. You know, have a career, have a hose, a partner, a car, etc. That was (is?) a big naturalized idea (lie?) for, let's say the Western society (consider for example all the different countries you named in your article).

But of course this is not about “who to blame” (I'll be the first in blaming banks!), but this can be a nice opportunity to discuss some potential causes that can be acting right now in our group of friends, in our Academia, in our families...

In my opinion, this issue is not caused by a crisis of Academia (if there's a crisis, it's just an effect) but by the lack of social and cultural awareness of our people. Even under the risk of oversimplifying, let me take the liberty to speak about “the people” referring to the average citizens, at least the citizens which think and act in our Western culture who, in my interpretation, are the subjects of Laura's article. What do I mean by lack of awareness of the people? Well, I mean that we are passive consumers of others' ideas. The problem is no being permeable to ideas (which in general is a great thing). The problem is that these “others” are not our pairs, but huge corporations (private or government-based) which know exactly how we feel and respond to certain stimulus. We as collective thinkers are not aware of this (or at least not in detail), we eat and drink every idea. We passively, uncritically accept that by wearing that cool watch (which looks cool in that cool Alpine Adventure Magazine) we are going to be as cool; we passively, uncritically accept that by having a career we are going to be better prepared for life (and thus be the king of meritocracy); we passively, uncritically accept that the best (and the only?) way to stop the thirst is by drinking that nice-looking bottle coke (by the way, were we thirsty in the first place? Or it was originated by ...??); we accept and agree that beer is great and cool, we give cool connotations to drinking alcohol, we suspect about the guy or girl who doesn't even have a TV and doesn't care much about it... well, this list is endless, you add whatever you like here. How many of our habits (let's forget for a while about our buying habits which are just the materialization of the important ones: our THINKING HABITS). Our thinking habits have their roots, in turn, in what we could name our “perceiving” habits, or simply our perception, which is actively and constantly modulated by the mainstream (I hate this word) media and ideas. I don't care about the “official” versions of anything, and I'm not talking about politics (although it is intimately bond to our view of the world), but about our perception of reality and of ourselves as individuals in a society. Coming back to Laura's article notion about the importance of the home environment, I would like to stress the importance of our view (and our parent's hopes for us) about ourselves, our society I what we purchase then as our future (if we ever do that). We are facing a kind of inter-phase between paradigms. Old paradigm: go to university, get married, get a car, a house, a job, and achieve happiness. This paradigm is clearly decaying. Why? Simply, as many Science Philosophers would say, because it doesn't yield results. It doesn't work. It's a lie. What is the new paradigm. I don't know my friends. Or, I might know somehow the direction, but I am not able to put it in letters, I can not foresee the details.. simply because it is being shaped right now, by thousands of mind, millions of thinkers, and billions of, well.. simple re-transmitters (which are the people without critical or creative thinking, that serve just as amplifiers for others' ideas).

May this be anchored in a deficient educational system? Yes. But there's more to the story than this. Educational systems may have the availability of all the conceptual tools and technology to generate this “awareness”. BUT, it is people who run the systems who need to start (administrators, stakeholders, system designers), while users and consumers (students, parents, teachers) need to ask for it for the change to start.

There's also a strong fallacy underlying some of the arguments in the text. This has the following shape: What should I study anything? Knowledge and Science showed to be incapable of giving happiness to the world population. Therefore, I might be able to find my happiness in other ways.. (well, this is of course assuming that the goal of these people is to achieve happiness, whatever it means..).

If I could choose some directions and ideas to explore, I would like to see more humanism principles applied to the education as a system. Respect and understanding to the different, love to every other human being, solidarity.. then after several decades we could start a long path in order to overcome one of the most dangerous symptoms of our age: technological knowledge goes faster and deeper than human knowledge. This is in my opinion the very source of destruction in our world.

How can we overcome this limitation of our knowledge? Well, I propose one small thing: as a group we have to start being aware of the message all around us. Social awareness, but also human awareness, being aware of our perception (and therefore of our thinking and our actions). Then, by discovering and knowing the other, to start loving the other.

What does this have to do with loans in universities? Well, I agree in that this is the tip of the iceberg, but not of a crisis in Academia, as I stated previously. But of a deeper crisis, namely the moral crisis of what we do with our understanding of the surrounding world (especially the human behaviour and motivations). We have the knowledge, but.. what do we do with it?

For those interested, I would like to share with you some thoughts from my blog.

“The parental command is quite clear: going to university, no matter what -a mandate which ends up conditioning adolescents in more than one way” Well, yes it restrain some teenagers because this is not necessarily true for all the children in the family: as money is a limiting factor (even with the loans), sometimes parents have to “choose” the “best fit” son or daughter and he/she will be the one for University. This usually creates differences within brothers-sisters in the family, which in turn originates a lot of competence and insecurity-based “noise” in relationships (which instead doesn't occur in Germany with their two-orientation High Education System), but that's another story...

One last thought: I agree that mere data gathering is useless (it has always been), but by no means I neglect data understanding. Actually, Greece's economy default and British Petroleum probably are not good examples to back up your case. Everyone knows the causes of Greece's default, It is perfectly well understood (and to a certain extent predictable) what happens now in Greece. I repeat, this is not a matter of not having the knowledge, it's a matter of what we (as a figure of course) do or did with that knowledge. Similarly, as fas a I know, British Petroleoum engineers knew exactly how to anticipate and prevent this kind of very predictable and easy-to-think-of accident. The problem, again is what we do with that: the investors, the manager or whoever, didn't make the choice of spending XXX money on the necessary measurements or investments to prevent that. They simply took (or ignored) the risk. But the risk was very clear. It might have never happened, and then they would have saved a lot of money. Therefore, I strongly suggest that we should be always encouraging the search for new knowledge, and we should never give up in this effort. But, we need to concentrate our efforts in a parallel, equally important search: the moral obligation of those who have the knowledge to 1) share it, spread it and make it available if possible, and 2) facilitate and induce the people next to you to discuss and decide what to do with it when possible.
And yes, this can not be learned at the university, simply because it is not hardcore knowledge, but a social attitude based on an intellectual (political if you may) positioning in our reality.

In all, I'm also asking for us to “break the mould and swim against the tide” :)


pd. Argentina 3 - Mexico 1

Hypokampito, 27/06/2010 17:18
Registered: 30/05/2010
Comments: 6
Estoy de acuerdo con Hypokampito, sobre todo en su entendimiento de los casos de Grecia y BP, y también en que la comprensión del mundo no es algo que se enseñe en la Universidad. También creo que hay que empezar a posicionarse ante la realidad y no quedarse en opiniones pasivas sino generar, dentro de nuestras posibilidades, una vía de cambio.  
Lady, 29/06/2010 09:50
Registered: 25/05/2010
Comments: 1
Hola Rodrigo, qué tal?

Bueno, quería tratar algunos puntos que considero clave en tu planteo… por ejemplo, cuando hablás de las ideas que internalizamos y te referís a la cuestión del “sentir nacional”, me parece que atribuirle al tema del consumo o los medios de comunicación la principal responsabilidad es perder de vista las variables culturales subyacentes. Honestamente no creo que el sentimiento nacionalista se explique por el hecho de que vivamos en una sociedad de consumo, creo que existen variables más complejas que tienen que ver en todo caso con cómo se piensa la propia identidad en relación a la nacionalidad o las costumbres de un lugar, qué tipo de identificación existe con determinadas figuras populares, la necesidad de pertenencia, etc...

Por otro lado no me queda claro que la naturalización del tema universitario se encuentre sólo en la cultura occidental como vos planteás, creo que sucede también en muchos otros lugares que no nombré en mi artículo (por lo que tengo entendido China por ejemplo tiene una tradición bastante rígida al respecto), precisamente porque es considerado un factor indispensable para la formación y la realización personal.

Luego intentando ahondar en los motivos por los cuales muchos no se replantean ciertas cosas retomás con toda la idea del consumo, y tengo que decirte que no creo que éste sea el mayor de los inconvenientes –si comprar o no un reloj o una gaseosa, o si somos inducidos o no a comprarlos. En todo caso me preocupa más la aceptación acrítica y pasiva, como vos bien reconocés, de muchas ideas heredadas. Creo que caer en un discurso en donde se le hecha la culpa a la TV o lo que sea, es algo que le queda simplemente grande al moldeado de cuestiones más sutiles, profundas e individuales como todo lo que concierne a las decisiones de vida. Además según este discurso siempre es “alguien” o “algo”, un ente externo con intenciones maquiavélicas, lo que está condicionándonos, y me parece que hay que hacerse cargo de las nociones y modelos que acuñamos o adoptamos para vivir.

Por último vale aclarar Rodrigo que yo no planteé en ningún momento que la ciencia y el conocimiento son cosas inútiles, simplemente señalé que creo que hoy en día dada la complejidad de los tiempos que nos tocan vivir hay toda otra serie de habilidades que favorecer y desarrollar (que probablemente están subutilizadas o son totalmente ignoradas). El mundo cambia a un paso veloz, y es razonable que muchas disciplinas tradicionales se estén quedando atrás, lo que yo pretendía marcar es que también está tornándose obsoleto un esquema de pensamiento respecto de lo que constituye estar “preparado” para enfrentar determinadas problemáticas presentes. Por otro lado, yo jamás metí el tema de la felicidad en la ecuación, estamos hablando en todo caso de la visibilidad y efectividad de estrategias formativas.

Cuando hablo de comprensión de la información me refería a que no basta con leer un texto y entenderlo, sino que también se hace necesario vincularlo con otras cosas -con el contexto cultural por ejemplo- poder reflexionar críticamente sobre el mismo, generar contrapropuestas, etc… De nuevo lo que mencionaba arriba, hablo de otro “set” de herramientas, pero sin desmerecer algunas básicas que claro que deben estar.

Finalmente, me pregunto si como proponés vos se trate de aplicar más principios humanistas –tengo mis dudas respecto de que la gente empiece a pensar ciertas cuestiones en la medida en la que nos respetemos o amemos más– , o incluso si se trate de esperar a que aquellos a cargo de la educación tomen conciencia y cambien algo –a este paso vamos a esperar un buen rato.

Me parece que si vamos a pedir “acción” como decía Lady, esperar a que otros vengan a resolver el problema no califica como opción –aunque tampoco me queda claro a qué tipo de acciones o motivaciones específicas se refería Lady. Creo que una primera acción se constituye en armarse de un marco anímico y conceptual en donde uno sea el que se pone en el centro de la creación y la propuesta, sin estar esperando la beca/préstamo/ayuda/o lo que sea.

Un saludo
Lau, 29/06/2010 17:12
Registered: 18/11/2005
Comments: 316
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