We are 5th graders being shuffled into the auditorium for a special assembly. Today is the final debate before we all return to our classrooms and scribble our votes for class president onto small pieces of paper that we will fold in half as many times as we can (just for fun) before slipping them through the slit of the wooden ballot box.
Today is the candidates’ last chance to get our attention.
“Pizza Fridays!” The first candidate promises.
“Free pizza Fridays!” Ups the second.
“Free college!” Says the third.
Our eleven-year-old ears perk up. Free college, aye? We like the sound of that.
But I am not eleven. I am 35. So I stand up in this hypothetical assembly and yell out, “Free college is a fucking horrible idea!”
Everyone gasps. Not because I said, “fuck.” Every fifth-grader has at least heard the word, if they haven’t already started saying it themselves. They gasp because free college sounds not only awesome, but necessary and fair.
I have several reasons why I am against free college. Now, I am standing on my soapbox. Can you hear me? Good. Let’s begin.
In no particular order of importance:
1. From what I understand, our public school systems are a fucking disaster.*
Giving away free college is like adding [expensive] rungs to a wooden ladder with termites. Sure, now you can climb higher. But without a good foundation, well, you’re fucked.
Maybe I am wrong. And free college in practice will be conditionally free college. Simply graduating from high school won’t be enough. College tuition tax dollars will be reserved for students with a good foundation. Yes, before you get free college, we the people, will confirm your math, reading, writing and verbal skills.** If you don’t have the skills, you don’t get free college.
But I’m still not convinced that our valuable tax dollars will be put to good use. Ok, how’s this: In order to get free college, you must explain what you desire to study and why. You must articulate how your tax-dollar-funded education will enable you to give back to society. You must prove yourself to be focused, driven and dedicated to something more than beer funnels and toga parties (that’s what college is all about, right?!) You must submit a five-year career plan, illustrating the necessity of an official college degree.
Perhaps when Elizabeth Warren says, “I have a plan for free college,” there is an asterisk at the end of her statement. An asterisk that promises to prioritize our K-12 public school systems. An asterisk that explains the requirements high school graduates will have to meet in order to receive free college. Perhaps Elizabeth Warren isn’t as fucking stupid and fiscally irresponsible as her talking points make her sound. After all, you don’t pronounce an asterisk.
2. We live in the age of free information!
Even the homeless have smartphones. (Don’t get me started on the homeless problem. To the people running San Francisco, you should be ashamed of yourselves.)
Ok, back to why free college is a fucking stupid idea: In 2020, information is not only free, but literally at our fingertips! Gone are the dark ages when you’d have to travel, perhaps for days, perhaps by horseback to visit a library or to engage in an intellectual debate with a mentor or fellow student.
In 2020, a young person who aspires to be a marketing executive (for example) doesn’t say, “If I went to college, I would study marketing. But I can’t afford college, so I guess I’m shit out of luck.”
In 2020, that young person takes out her phone and Google searches until she finds a syllabus for Marketing 101. She screenshots the curriculum for future reference, and gets to work on the first reading assignment. Maybe she will never have an “official” degree. But if she becomes a marketing genius, who the fuck cares!?
“What about the classroom experience?” you say. To that, I respond with chats, forums, FaceTime, MeetUps, Skype, and Facebook Groups. In 2020, if you want a classroom experience, you can create one. Take field trips. Assign readings. Invite guest speakers. Virtual connections can share a classroom across the country. Virtual connections exceed what is possible within the finite walls of a college lecture hall. Why limit yourself to one professor per subject, when you can learn from a world-wide-web of scholars and experts? Take advantage works in the public domain.*** Stop paying for textbooks. In 2020, the internet is free college.
By now, you are probably thinking, “This college-educated chick sounds like a privileged bitch.” This brings me to my third reason why free college is a horrible idea.
3. Free college is like dating a chick who always gives it up at the end of the date. You’re guaranteed to score, so there’s no real incentive to try.
In other words, it’s hard to appreciate something when you know it is a sure thing.
When I was 17, I was neither responsible nor self-aware enough to know what I wanted to be when I grew up, let alone what I should study to achieve that goal. When I was 17, I knew two things: I was a good writer (which is how I managed to keep my high school grades up despite having never completed a single reading assignment, that’s another story) and I liked smoking marijuana.
When it came time to make decisions about my college education, I didn’t. I “chose” the college my high school crush went to (he was a year older), I majored in Religion (to make my parents happy—that’s also another story) and minored in Philosophy (pass the marijuana). Four years later, I graduated with honors and no fucking idea what to do next.
My guaranteed score of a college education aided and abetted my delayed maturation into a responsible, professional adult. I’m not proud to admit this. It makes me sound like a privileged bitch. But if this admission encourages just one person to reconsider the utilitarian good of universal free college, then here’s a stick. My ego piñata is ready for the beating.
4. Free college teaches our youth that college is a prerequisite for success. And that is some fake fucking news.
My boyfriend is a business owner. He is the boss to about ten employees and growing. He has seven vehicles, five work vans distributed amongst his employees, one [very sexy] Ford F150 pickup truck, and one [also sexy] black Mercedes sedan. My boyfriend is a homeowner, owning real estate in one of the most expensive zip codes in America, about one mile from the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. He also has a smart, beautiful, and talented girlfriend.
You know what my boyfriend doesn’t have? A college education.
Plumbing Hacks and Plumbing Professional Discussions is a private Facebook group consisting of 32k plumbers. New members must request to join; only plumbers are approved. Chances are, you’re not a member, so to argue my fourth reason of why free college is a horrible idea, I have included an excerpt from the group’s page. Below is the original post, followed by my boyfriend’s reply. Read both. Then tell me why the fuck we are telling our kids that college is the only path to success.
“How did you guys come across plumbing? Was it a family trade or did you just happen to come across the job? Because I’m sure none of you grew up wanting to be a plumber.😂
I just got out of high school and my buddy from the gym told me how sweet his job was. I called his boss and here I am 2 years later with a house, a kid and 2 vehicles. Best choice I ever made.”
“I chatted with the drain guy that came to my house when I was in high school. After I graduated high school, I saw him where I was working delivering pizzas and he offered me a job. They weren’t even hiring but he was impressed with my work ethic. I started working for him doing drains. After four years, I had enough side work to go out on my own. I learned plumbing by saying yes to jobs that I had no idea how to do. I bought a book at Home Depot and started small with fixtures and simple service jobs. Eventually, I took on more and more. Now I have my contractors license, six guys, five trucks, and office staff. …Not to mention a smart, beautiful and talented girlfriend.” (Ok, I added that last sentence to his post.)
I pause to catch my breath.
“Say fuck again!” One of the fifth graders yells.
“Yeah!” The rest cheer.
Has anyone listened to a single word I’ve said?
*This is not a research paper. I don’t have the desire nor the obligation to include facts and stats to back up this claim. If you’re interested, do some research.
**I am 100% against standardized testing. The idea of being “standardized” is offensive to my core. Luckily for me, I am not a politician promoting free college. I don’t need to identify the solutions. As an American, it is my duty and my right to identify the problems.
***In 2020, all works published in the United States prior to January 1, 1925, are in the public domain. In general, works published after 1977 fall into the public domain 70 years after the death of author. Corporate works, anonymous works, or works for hire, enter the public domain 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever expires first.