This was a question that came up frequently during the Defending Public Higher Ed Conference at the Graduate Center earlier this month. Let’s linger on it a bit. What does higher education do that is worth defending?
There were many thoughtful answers at the conference, including from scholars like Michelle Fine who advised us to reclaim the idea of education as a public good, something that doesn’t just empower a few individuals to succeed in the new economy, but is part of a collective, democratic endeavor to create a more equitable society.
Sounds great to me. Where do I sign up?
A different kind of answer (though it is really more of a question, which is why it is so brilliant) came from GC Professor Frances Fox Piven who, I have to say, blew my mind a little bit. In remarks that seemed to come off the top of her head, Piven explained how the global economy, which has spawned a new kind of predatory capitalism, has changed her thinking about the role of education in society. “We used to think,” she explained, “the ruling class wanted to use education to reproduce the class structure. Now I’m not sure they’re interested in reproducing anything.” Continue reading