College students in California don’t mind being thought of as “snobs.” They gathered by the thousands at a park in Sacramento on Monday, March 5, and marched on the Capitol to protest tuition hikes and the reduction of class offerings and other student benefits. In addition to students and some of their professors, their ranks were swelled by union members, teacher groups, and others wanting to show solidarity with the students.
The “O word” came into play as some referred to the rally as “Occupy the Capitol.” The next day an article appeared on the front page of “The Sacramento Bee” implying that the object of the gathering was “getting arrested.” But the great majority of those participating would argue with that. One organization, “ReFund California,” has a very specific agenda: to end further discussion of using tuition hikes to fund the state budget shortfall, and support an initiative, the “Millionaire’s Tax,” intended to generate $1.5 billion in revenue to fund colleges and universities instead.
The strength of attendance at this gathering underscores the importance that a college education represents to young people. In spite of the fact that costs for higher education have risen faster than other segments of the economy, and in spite of the fact that debt from school loans has outstripped credit card debt, a college degree is considered mandatory for those who aspire to a solid future.
One can slap a label such as “elitist” on the idea that every potential wage earner needs some type of post-secondary education or training. But it is difficult to think ofa more short-sighted attitude to take in a world where the U.S. is sliding down the list of nations in which the highest proportion of citizens hold college degrees. (Russia is in first place for people between the ages of 25 to 64; the U.S. is in 12th place!)
When John F. Kennedy was president, we, as a nation, were ashamed to be shown up in the space race when Russia successfully launched Sputnik. Khrushchev threatened, “We will bury you.” But the USSR didn’t have the power. To the extent that we allow our system of education to fail, we are doing it to ourselves.
What can you do—you are only one person? True, but you are only “six degrees of separation,” on average, from any other person on Earth. You become powerful when you share information with your friends and ask them to share it with their friends—it becomes a global revolution. As Stephen King suggests in The Long Walk, when these “society-supported sociopaths” come, step aside, and find the strength to run…