8.2.06

A STACK OF BOOKS ABOUT THE UNIVERSITY. Carnegie-Mellon's Jeffrey J. Williams read a bunch and reviewed them as "The Post-Welfare State University" for American Literary History. The historical perspective is instructive. His policy prescriptions will provoke some debate. Here's his conclusion.
There is a maxim, attributed to Dostoyevsky, that you can judge the state of a civilization from its prisons. You can also judge the state of a civilization from its educational institutions and how it treats its young and those entering fully franchised adult life. The practice of encumbering our young with mortgages on their futures is a return to the draconian practice of debtors' prisons. One lesson of the GI Bill is that it created conditions that far exceeded the expectations of those who conceived it. It exceeded their expectations not only in the number of people who took advantage of it, but in the social and economic return.
Two quibbles. First, a student loan offers far more freedom of action than an indentured servantship or an apprenticeship, historical analogues more accurate than the debtors' prison or the workhouse. Second, I sometimes wonder about the true effectiveness of the GI Bill. Consider any of the other victorious powers in World War II. Would any of those powers have achieved the same sort of prosperity the U.S. saw simply by providing a college voucher to veterans? The foundations for the middle-class society of the 1950s were laid as early as the 1880s with the flooring in place by the mid-1920s. There's more to dig into in the essay, but not tonight.

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