The National Museum of Industrial Homicide
Posted by Steve Fraser,tomdispatch.com– A week after the election, I folded myself into the front seat of a small rental car and left Washington, D.C., for the highlands of southwestern Virginia. The destination on my GPS device read Radford University, a small public college located an hour’s drive from the West Virginia border. Radford’s picturesque campus is nestled into a double bend of the New River, a north-flowing body of water believed to be older than mankind. The Blue Ridge Mountains loom on the smoky horizon to the east, the Allegheny Mountains to the west.
I’d been invited to Radford to talk about the rising cost of college and why storytelling (of the type published here at TomDispatch) matters in the fight to rebuild a quality, affordable higher education system in America. At stake was the abandonment and hollowing out of public colleges by a generation of anti-government politicians, and the burden borne by young people who need that degree, albeit one with shrinking value in an anemic job market. But the students I met on campus — better-off and poorer, younger and older, some the first in their families to try for a degree — didn’t need to hear my spiel. They lived it every day.
One student told me about enrolling in a private college after high school, then dropping out because he couldn’t pay the tuition. So he joined the Marines and did two tours in Iraq to assure himself of government money for college when he got back, if he got back. Another nodded knowingly when I mentioned the “Himalayan-sized mountains of debt” accrued by so many collegians today. He later said he was already resigned to a near-lifetime effort to pay off his student loans. That was just the way it was, he assured me; others agreed. Afterward he shook my hand, thanked me for visiting, then walked out into the night. The folks at Radford had invited me to share what I’d learned as a journalist covering higher education; yet I absorbed at least as much as the students I was supposed to enlighten about what it is like for those struggling in our underfunded, stretched-thin, public education system. Read more…