Coming Soon:

Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."

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Monday, April 1, 2019


Friday night, one of the women who lives in our building in this retirement community passed away peacefully in her sleep.  She was ninety-three.  I knew her very slightly, but liked her enormously because of the wry, wicked smile she wore and her ironic commentary on the passing scene. Yesterday afternoon Susie and I attended the graveside memorial for her at the cemetery of a local synagogue.  Her son and one of her granddaughters spoke at length about her, and for the first time I learned a good deal about her early life.

She was born in New York City in 1925 and attended Hunter College, earning a degree and then for many years teaching Elementary School.  As I listened to the stories of her early life, I reflected once again on how rare it was in those days for anyone, man or woman, actually to earn a college degree.  In 1947, the year she would have graduated, only 4.7% of American women had a Bachelor’s Degree, a number that did not rise very much for decades.  Twenty years later, in 1967, only 7.6% of women had BA’s, and even now, seventy years after she graduated, it is still the case that two-thirds of adult Americans, male or female, have not completed four years of tertiary education.

The recent college admissions scandal, involving among other things a bribed Yale Women’s soccer coach and purchased SAT scores, once again focused our attention on a handful of elite schools, ignoring the other 4,500 college and university campuses in America that award Bachelor’s degrees, and consigning to media oblivion the two-thirds of the population who do not have a degree from any school, however far from elite it may be.  Even Bernie’s call for free college tuition, which so scandalizes TV commentators, does not touch the almost 50% of young men and women who do not so much as enroll in a four year higher educational institution, let alone graduate.

I have cited these statistics many times on this blog, statistics that are readily available and not by any stretch of the imagination concealed from view.  I am repeatedly struck by how little acknowledgement of them there is either on the left or on the right.

Well, enough ranting.  It was a moving funeral service.


s. wallerstein said...

It's good that everyone who has the capacity to benefit from a university education go there, whether he or she has the ability to pay or not. It's tragic when a mind, which with a university education, would have bloomed is denied that rich soil for lack of money. Thus, Bernie's call for free tuition seems just and appropriate.

I have no idea what percentage of the population has the capacity to benefit from a university education, but there are people who would be or who are as out of place in a university classroom as I would be on a football playing field.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

Two proposals from Bernie during the last campaign have the potential, I think, to significantly transform society. I suspect the effects of free college and a $15 minimum wage would have a signifiant transformative effect of African American and other low income communities.

One effect of increased wages would be to dramatically reduce food stamp (SNAP) and other welfare program expenditures. One of the dirty secrets of welfare programs is they socialize the costs of supporting people in poverty while privatizing the benefit in that tax dollars pay food costs for people working at low wages and in so doing allow the corporation to increase profits. (By taxing the people they corporation doesn't pay enough to begin with loads the system with disguised transfer payments and they keep up the disguise by reifying the connection between the working poor's poverty and government action.)

LFC said...

Following on s wallerstein's last point, the goal shd not be to give 100 percent of the pop a 4 yr college education (free or otherwise), b/c not everyone wants to or nec should go to college. What's needed are more pathways to decent jobs, more apprenticeship programs, voc training etc for those so inclined -- pres candidates and other politicians mention this periodically but it remains underemphasized and prob underfunded.

If that sort of thing were emphasized more in the U.S., then the college applicant pool would gradually come to consist more and more of those who want, for intrinsic and not just extrinsic (career) reasons, to get a college education in the traditional 4 yr sense. Even now, though, the majority of undergrad majors are not liberal arts but more career-oriented, I think. So the traditional liberal arts & sciences students are a minority. In sum, need to separate/disaggregate the issues here.

The problem is not, to repeat, the bare fact that two-thirds of the pop have not completed a 4 yr degree, but coupling increased ease of access to higher ed w other pathways to 'good' jobs. (Then there is the separate question of what liberal arts students shd actually be doing in college, in terms of curriculum/requirements and approach etc., a perennial source of controversy in some circles...)

Sonic said...

I'm a 25 year old without a degree. Instead of schooling, I listen to educational things while I'm at my manual labor job. I found your lectures on Youtube last week, and they've been very, very helpful. I loved your stories. For all the questions they answered, they've left me with even more to explore.

“I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” - Steven Jay Gould

Matt said...

It's often hard for people with advanced degrees, many of whom spend most of their time around people with, at a minimum, BA/BS degrees or more, to remember that even now a significant percentage of people don't have a degree at all. It's sometimes hard for me to remember that, even though, in my own family, only two out of five kids (me and one of my sisters) finished college. And yet, it's not at all clear to me that my sister or two brothers who didn't finish college (my older brother didn't go at all) have significantly worse lives than I do, or are less happy. So yes, making college easily available w/o significant debt for all who want it is important, but so is making good lives for those who don't want it.