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Education is the Key to Everything
"Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence."
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MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JANUARY 26, 2021: A stamp printed in USA shows GI Bill, The Servicemen Readjustment Act, 1944, series Celebrate the Century, 1940s, 1999. Courtesy of Shutterstock.
My maternal grandfather told my mother that education was the key to everything. In their Delaware house, my grandfather had a substantial National Geographic collection. Due to floods and fires, that collection is not around. Still, the memory of walking downstairs and seeing that long row of yellow books, each with its own unique set of photos and stories, had an indelible impact on me.
Today, it’s much more common to earn a college degree.
Still, not everyone does.
The rise of a college education and the impact on the labor force has been a major story of our time. It really wasn’t until the G.I. Bill (The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944) when college graduates began to circulate America at a quicker pace than ever.
In Grand Expectations, James T. Patterson writes about the G.I. Bill’s impact on education in America:
The GI Bill indeed promoted an education boom. Colleges and universities were nearly swamped by the change; almost 497,000 Americans (329,000 of them men) received university degrees in the academic year 1949-50, compared to 216,500 in 1940. The influx jolted faculty and administrators, who had to reach out beyond the predominately upper-middle-class young people who they had previously served, to deal with older students, to offer married housing, to accelerate instruction, and to provide a range of more practical, career-oriented courses. The GI Bill was almost certainly worth it economically, helping millions of Americans to acquire skills and technical training, to move ahead in life, and therefore to return in income taxes the money advanced to them by the government.
There is little doubt that the G.I. Bill enabled an unprecedented mobilization in American life. I’m sure many of us today have stories from ancestors who used this law to reenter life after a series of dramatic transformations and traumas.
This sea change would reverberate to the educational institutes themselves and impact generations of Americans to come. Patterson continues by citing how critics responded to the boom:
It was the most significant development in the modern history of American education.
Predictably there were voices that dissented from the chorus of hosannas about educational progress. A few universities swelled to previously unimaginable size: as early as 1948, ten of them enrolled 20,000 students or more. These were no longer “villages and priests” but impersonal and bureaucratic “multi-versities.” Some of the science faculties at leading universities such as MIT and Stanford relied so heavily on military funding that it was fair to speak of them as part of a “military-industrial-academic complex.” Time magazine asked in 1946, “Is the military about to take over U.S. science lock, stock, and barrel, calling the tune for U.S. universities and signing up the best scientists for work fundamentally aimed at military results?”
Higher education was expanding at rates that stunned many. The shifting role America played in global affairs fostered a research boom that would inevitably bleed into universities. They would grow in size and funding. The colleges of yesteryear were now in a postmodern reality where they gained funding, prestige, and resources from forces that would be contested due to rising educational levels, and thus raising awareness.
The flashpoint was seen during the Vietnam War when campuses became hotbeds for protests regarding the way war and militarism were being funneled through university research.
Patterson followed up Grand Expectations with Restless Giant, which continues where he left off. Here he tracks the history of the U.S. from Watergate to Bush v. Gore. In this passage, he describes how Democratic Party politics changed in the latter 20th century:
It was already clear that the tumultuous cultural warfare of the 1960s had left a political mark on many young people who had come of age during those years. Millions of baby boomers, having grown up amid the excitement of the civil rights and women’s rights movements, had developed – and maintained – liberal views on a range of social and cultural issues, such as abortion, affirmative action, and federal governmental responsibility for health and welfare. In part because of the spread of higher education, they were more tolerant than their elders had been of the religions of other people. Affected by the sexual revolution, they were more broad-minded than Americans in the past had been about the private behavior of their friends and neighbors. The beliefs and behavior of Americans such as these portended a central trend of late twentieth-century life in the United States: Liberals, benefitting from the support of younger generations, were to prevail in many hotly contested cultural struggles in the future.
The Fruits of the G.I. Bill
There is a lot of evidence to suggest Democrats are today’s more educated American political party. They show an actual interest in policy-making and constantly allow themselves to stumble on intellectual nuances that many do not understand or (fairly) don’t have the ability or energy to unpack - especially if it doesn’t directly impact their day-to-day lives.
Republicans have very little policy competence these days. They are reeling from a failed president that defaced their party and altered the balance between toxic and positive incentive structures. The party is wedded to a caricature of a person who held the presidency for one-term and caused much damage while doing so. However, this individual understands television and the utilization of shiny objects to distract a yellow press and a bored, yet simultaneously aggrieved, voting base.
The behavior of this party repudiates the aforementioned educational gains.
The G.I. bill and the dreams of many Americans who sought a better life for their children built the nation we have today. It is why someone can attend universities that offer marvelous and in-depth studies on a number of disciplines. In some parts of America, we have an educational culture that is now openly setting students expectations towards graduate studies.
America Must Foster Opportunity for its Young People
Today, there is a staggering student loan crisis.
The rising cost of college has America’s youth and yuppies straddled with debt. This impacts financial futures and does stymie the growth and entrepreneurship of a nation. Democrats need to take their voters seriously in this regard and act upon a structure that is punishing young people who want to go to college. In return, we young people can make this a more salient issue for elected officials by making this a leading message that is hammered over and over again. It is a popular one after all.
Still, we don’t need to slowdown the overall agenda or chastise political allies because this did not make it onto the top of the agenda. It means we as young people need to take the time we have and seriously build a coalitional force that can push this concern even further. So that it isn’t just Senator Elizabeth Warren. So other elected officials can act in their self-interest (as they do) and feel they have a coalitional safety net with a consistent, stable, effective, and aggressive message.
This coalition can only be built by appealing to people who don’t see themselves impacted by student loans because they didn’t go to college. It is not about dividing people into boxes signifying who reached Higher Ed and who did not. It’s about spreading the idea that all different types of education are an aspiration and opportunity that citizens of a developed nation deserve and need.
The country should want its citizens to be best prepared for the world.
After all, education is the key to everything.
Gaining my degree was something that made my paternal grandfather very proud. He was a World War II veteran and utilized the GI Bill to finish his undergraduate years at Howard University. He went on to earn in Master’s Degree at Johns Hopkins University in the early 1960s.
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