Where Does Your Homework Go? Students in Capitalism Part One

For many people, protesting students are a huge contradiction. Doesn’t it seem like that? When those pesky student protesters block streets asking for free education – what’s that about? They got themselves into that position, didn’t they? What more were they asking for? They claim that being a student is an oppression, and here they willing applying for the university themselves? Hypocrites!

There are some points to be made that make sense, to be sure. The universities are places where the future war advisors, state officials, lawyers, managers, and financiers come from. In fact, it’s why anyone goes to the universities at all (well, for many, not trying to generalize). Though this itself would be another conversation entirely, no matter what excuse you can make, universities are an integral point to perpetuate and maintain the political State. But there’s something more missing in viewing the students even more basic: where does their work go?

According to USA today, students spend around 17 hours a week studying for classes, apparently in surprise to the writer who wrote the article.

Remember, this is work outside of the tuition they are forced to buy, expenses that the student assumes are an investment for higher wages for the future (also we are talking about California universities, I’m pretty sure rates are different in other states, and in the negative if your State cares in the least about you). If we take in mind this for the students at SFSU, then the amount spent on say a minimum wage of $12 (San Francisco’s legal requirement is 13, but let’s not add it for shock value). This would amount to around 4k a semester that would have been earned working, not studying. That’s not to include the amount of money added up for the actual class time spent working. That’s also not including the amount spent for the actual recommended study time for each unit out of the class; this is just the average.

Now, ignore the time spent wasted that is unwaged – in fact, its work paid for by the students themselves! Wouldn’t it at least, the very least, more efficient to use that work, of students, to be put to use in the communities they think they’ll be improving, leading? Wouldn’t it be more comforting to offer hundreds of hours studying to be put to use by the municipality, for non-profits or whatnot? Where critiques of students and the world are put to active use, where their work becomes the center for community coordination?

Academia is the dustbin of ideas. Literally, and digitally. I had emailed one of my professors to ask if there was a better heaven for our papers that I didn’t know about (sorry, secret source… Or rather don’t want to embarrass them to tie them to the blog yet). But his response was… well, they just stay in limbo. Forever. “It’s still not the best fate for things that people worked really hard on, I agree!”.

Such work by the students is wasted in the horror of work inefficiency by universities. Unless you get that lucrative job at that one firm or start-up, those hours of stress and dehumanization at the hands of that research paper, are literally hours wasted. Perhaps those lost hours can be made up by higher wages; perhaps the university degree does show a way out of economic poverty. Perhaps it does.

Even if it did, the state of universities in the United States is a scam to the students. The industries of publishers that are selling the latest editions are such a pain to the low-income populations in the students. The bundle scams, where teachers’ courses are actually all digital, force the students to buy access to the book – and it virtually makes it impossible to get a cheaper copy because all the homework is due there as well. The banks? Yea, need I say more with the student debt bubble?

Perhaps we reached enough political will to have changed them the way we want them too, or at least the ways described here. Perhaps universities are a source of good for communities, where ideas flourish, where students’ ideas are put to the maximum use.

The problem with this vision is that it is impossible unless there’s a similar breakdown in all aspects of society, in the economic and the social. Not that it is impossible per se – but it is unprofitable. And what’s profits demand, is law and order for a country like the US. A free rider problem would ensue, whereby the cities benefit from the free work of students, but no one would like to be a student unless there was a big enough exchange to convince them otherwise. If there is no other breakdown in the economic exchange regarding food, housing, etc., then simply having students produce work without their input would be tantamount to slavery. Not that academic slavery hasn’t been a part of capitalism at all – it has. And to this day, many academic or research egos depend on the work of those under them. It’s shameful really. A quick look at Thomas Edison’s prolific use of the patent shows how much intellectual and information control is at heart of the current system. To monopolize it, to profit from it – and yet at the lowest levels, the students are integral to this component.

In the meantime, it seems hard for students to deal with their role in a system that uses their mind (at the same that it doesn’t). Their position in relation to the State is rooted in contradiction; “revolutionary” movements that aim to ingrain themselves in the community eventually find their departments under control by university directors that would love to get some extra STEM infrastructure, but after gutting the Ethnic Studies College. It puts radicals and activists in the defensive at all times – hardly a time comes when, after academic integration into the institution (though it did happen for the strategic planning of students and teachers at City College of San Francisco, where it will free for all soon; Well done). 

Ideally, departments of places of learning can be put to democratic control and input, but is such the case for a place that is so vital to the function of the State? Should students organize outside of it, or within it? Can there be methods to essentially lock the State out of community research and information? What would that even mean?

Organized students may indeed have an impact, but it seems that the students, who are no doubt by extension community members under the desperation to come a higher waged worker, loose all ability for change when that is their focus. When their worries turn to the debt that must be paid after the short grace period (but wait, you can eliminate it if you work for the State!). From past history, movements end with integration in the system (e.g. the Experimental College that once thrived in San Francisco State University).
Regardless of your judgement to the student question, these questions need fast answers as individuals like Betsy Devos do their thing. And these questions will most likely be answered by those pesky youth blocking your car to work right about now… the students.

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