Friday, October 9, 2009

An International Education

I have high hopes for my class time here at LSE. Already, I have engaged in an unprecedented level of debate and critical thinking in class, and it's only the second day. The reason for this, I think, is that it is not a given that most of the students agree on things that I had perceived as relatively straightforward subjects or issues. The international composition of the student body encourages this wonderful spectrum of ideas and experiences in the classroom; something that was completely lacking at Trinity, for example (Oh god, seminars at Trin were painful. I specifically remember a seminar in my sophomore year where we all basically agreed with each other on most points throughout the entire year. Agreement? The very idea is anathema to academia. We're supposed to be tearing each other's arguments to shreds, no matter the validity or logic [a joke, but unfortunately, not a joke in Congress and other venues]! But, Trinity was mostly upper class white kids. We had gone through basically the same experiences, read the same newspapers, and seen the same TV shows. Sure there were [some] conservatives and liberals, but the "arguments" were predictable and shallow. Think Crossfire without the bowties or the bald guys. Been there, seen that).

International schools must be the best source of education available. They challenge you, the student, to analyze some of your most comfortable assumptions and come to grips with opposing assumptions, and perhaps most importantly, realize that "the answers" are rarely in black and white. In fact, "the answers" are rarely answers at all, but convenient expressions of power over the weaker.

Is there a solution then to the "New England Rich White American" system of education, where we are rarely ever challenged to really tear into supposedly concrete issues? Well, what about forced integration? Eh, "forced" is never a good PR word. "Encouraged integration"? Isn't that just another way of saying Affirmative Action? Kind of. Maybe that's why I was never a militant anti-AA person.

How about "Encouraged International Representation"? Subsidized tuition for students from sort of second and third tier technological nations (whatever that means) to encourage real debate and analysis, to challenge base assumptions, and to take students outside of their comfort zone, in US universities. I'm sure this already exists, but it should be better publicized.

And one final thought: After talking to all my Europe-born buddies here, I do realize that the US education system is insane, in terms of cost. Higher education could solve an infinite number of problems (crime, poverty, obesity, etc.) in the US, but most never have access to it due to the cost. Furthermore, why should a kid from a lower class family bust his/her ass in high school when there is no prospect of a college education? Dropping out seems like a logical solution when there is no hope.

I retorted to my EU buds that given the population of the US, subsidized education costs would be a mammoth expense on the population. Educating 80 million Germans on the cheap is doable, but 380 million Americans? That's a whole different ballgame. I hope my convenient answer is wrong. The touche to my retort is to increase taxes to a EU comparable level, and that can pay the costs. That will never happen. The myth of "hard work will make you a millionaire in America" is too strong.

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