So, education is becoming a privilege. But it would be simplistic to respond by advocating state education. Our entry into the system of global finance via student debt simply confirms what Ivan Illich has always said about the function of organised schooling (as opposed to education), that it is our induction into wage relations, its hidden curriculum a rehearsal of roles in the productive chain. As Michael Aglietta has argued in his Theory of Capitalist Regulation, debt rests on this division of labour. While in training, we are learning to be in debt, and that being in debt means participating in the current composition of work.
For those able to attend university, the mode of production begins to mirror the speculative operations of global finance. Like theorist Paolo Virno’s service sector virtuosi, student/workers endlessly perform their self-publicity, legions of Nathan Barley-esque ‘self-facilitating media nodes’ betting that frantic networking now will pay off in the future. In this exhausting dance of likeability, only the moderately dissociated (and heavily trust-funded) can survive. And in the differential admission game played by universities, the hot product offered to the student/consumer is precisely the possibility of access to this or that hyped network: the dangling carrot of the internship scheme.
I was too young to be a member of so-called ‘generation x’ (my sister’s age), too old to be a member of generation ‘y’ (or whatever they’ve decided to call the next cohort), but I think I found a generational label big enough to hold all of us:
No, for once, I am not talking about the looming environmental catastrophe, breakdown of transport food chains, looting, resources wars and hoarding wars, that may be on the horizon. Nor am I promoting something like permaculture or primitivism in response. This is about something much different, that everybody who tried to attend ‘higher schooling’ since the 1980s has experience, in ever-intensifying degrees:
Here is a great site on the problem over here in the USA, where the problem is nearly incomprehensible to my European friends, and an excellent article on the topic over at EduFactory, Olde Englande Way. And another quote:
Students, particularly those entering into the illusory promised land of the creative industries, currently experience this temporal mash up first hand. Their education does not entitle them to a future of full time waged employment. Rather the organisational make up of student life – a combination of paid employment in the service sector, unpaid or highly flexible work in the creative sector, bank overdrafts, government loans and ongoing educational initiatives – is likely to extend well beyond the years of formal education. Graduation marks only the additional burden of debt repayment.
This creates a class of cheap and uninterested labourers that do not have identitarian or affective investments in their paid positions and won’t therefore try to unionise or complain. This condition, which has often been the historical experience of the working classes, is now extended to the middle classes. Among their ranks can be heard a splitting in such vernacular assertions of the relationship between free labour and waged employment as: ‘my real work’ and ‘the work I do for money’.
And although it can sometimes seem a little humorous to an American to hear European students complain about not being able to pay off their graduate student educations until they are forty years old (“Horrors!, says the American, who will likely be in debt as long as she lives), we are on the same page, and things are getting worse fast. Education should be a right, it should be free, and it should be autonomous.