July 11, 2009

Economics, Education, and Anomie

author_sally By Sally Raskoff

It’s been really hard not to see the world from a Marxian perspective in recent days.

As my home state, California, implodes financially and other states and the federal government experience instability, I keep hearing Marx whispering in my ear, “Our material conditions and clip_image002productive activities create and maintain all other societal institutions.”

As the economy has faltered, other societal institutions are following suit. Cuts to education have already begun and welfare services seem to be next. As unemployment remains high – and those figures only count those who are actively looking for work – more businesses are failing, storefronts empty out, and more people are on the street selling wares or fruit or holding signs asking for money, shelter, or food.

It may be easy to forget that government exists to distribute our societal resources, those public goods to which we all must have access. To do that, they depend on tax revenues as their funding to then provide services to the people. Services such as education prepare future and current generations for civic life and jobs, public health infrastructure to keep us healthy with clean water and sewage systems, welfare services for those who cannot provide for themselves in the short term or the long term.

The government has less money to spend in these lean times, since their income depends on productive work by businesses and people. Thus government must be as efficient as possible, cut programs, and/or raise tax rates in the efforts to balance budgets.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported on legislators’ discussions to cut programs, regardless of the other two issues. For example, many states are considering or already cutting educational programs and services, such as classes and educational loan forgiveness programs.

At my own college, our trustees voted to cut our second summer session. This doesn’t sound like a huge problem since we still have the first session. However, our first session was designed to be small clip_image004to deal with budget issues in this fiscal year while the second session was to be rather large. We had expected many university students to come to our community college and take lower division courses since their universities had cut those types of classes in their summer sessions. So, cutting the second session leaves us with a tiny summer session and the lack of opportunity for both university students and our own students who had that one last class to take before transferring to the university. We know that more cuts are coming for the fall session too.

Cutting these programs bars people from opportunities, from transferring to universities and from re-training into new jobs. Couple these lack of educational opportunities with the cuts in other social programs, and one might wonder how we will be able to create a functioning economy!

While our economy is in need of some radical re-structuring – I often wonder how the feudalists felt as their economic system was crumbing and capitalism was emerging around them – the institutions tied to it will also require some rebuilding. It will not be easy living through these times but it is quite exciting, sociologically speaking. Such change certainly does not occur quickly, although its does seem that things change more quickly now than they had in the past.

Emile Durkheim would identify the division of labor and interdependence in such a complex society as the social glue to keep us functioning as a society. While computer programmers, nurses, café servers, and teachers all do contribute to society and do depend on each other, what happens when those people lose their jobs? Durkheim also noted that during times of flux like these anomie, or a sense of normlessness can develop, where people don’t feel as connected to one another and are therefore more likely to violate rules and laws.

Returning to a Marxian perspective, we might also ask, “Who benefits from the status quo?” Who may be profiting from maintaining one of the few industrialized nations with limited access to higher education?

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Comments

"Who may be profiting from maintaining one of the few industrialized nations with limited access to higher education?" - it's a great question and I think there are people who benefit from it. Nothing is being done without somebody gaining something from it.

Limited access to higher education makes it more difficult for the mass population to attend universities and obtain degrees, thus making a natural elimination of those who don't want this education badly enough. I believe (based on my personal biography, some people I know, and some people I've read about - quite a lot of people in total when I think about it :) - that struggling for something (like education in our case), eventually grants you a chance to achieve what you've been struggling for despite financial, social, environmental or whatsoever difficulties .

Lack/reduction of scholarships, stimulating school-programs and all kinds of supportive programs to increase the incentive to study will, indeed, make it harder to get a higher education. This will create a more fierce competition for education, thus, as I said, leaving only the upper segment of the population in terms of "strong-will-to-achieve-education" - which is often encompassed with a higher IQ as well.

Education is important. It needs to be of utmost priority to those who hold political office. In my state (Florida), we've had terrible budget cuts effect the education system. Less people admitted into universities, less paper, less pay, cutting essential programs (anthropology).. According to FL.gov the 2008-09 state budget shows a $332.3 million cut for education funding but allots $309 million for new prisons, which is $10 million more then all K-12 construction. The question is, do Florida lawmakers really care about their youngin's? Without proper school funding we may need all those prisons due to lack of education. On the flip side, the Florida Lottery's "Bright Futures Program" gives you free money for college if you maintain above a 3.0 in high school. Sounds good to me!

I am in total agreement with your blog. Education should be one of the governments main priorities. I understand that we are going through tough times and things need to be cut. However, educational funds should be one of the last things to be cut. We need to educate the youth before they are turned loose in the work force. How do we expect people to be great workers and make money to stimulate the economy if they are not properly educated? We need to fund our public schools and universities. We need to give our students choices on where they want to learn and how they want to learn.

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