Free(dom) Education

It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.
— Assata Shakur

Education should be emancipatory. Why are we are shackling "the future of the world" with crippling debt? Why are we preparing students to be "efficient workers" rather than critical, compassionate thinkers?  Simply put: the more people have access to [critical] education, the more people will be prepared to truly tackle the world's social, environmental, and economic crises. Unfortunately, education is a privilege mediated by money. Money is mediated through social constructs such as race, gender, country of origin, etc. And of course, all human life rests on the biophysical fabric of planet Earth, whose life-preserving cycles might be abruptly and irreversibly disrupted if we continue to exceed its natural thresholds with our present-day consumption patterns. All of our struggles are demonstrably connected, and students that have applied their critical thinking skills to their own surroundings know how to connect the dots. 

Through history, students have typically catalysed the tipping point that brings about systemic revision of our institutions. Divestment campaigns have been a common tactic to get universities and other institutions to remove financial support from ethically-questionable activities, such as tobacco advertising, use of land mines, and sweatshop labor.   The most famous example of divestment campaigns took place in the 70's and 80' in response of South Africa's apartheid. Students divestment campaigns are often credited with influencing retirement funds, mutual funds, and investment institutions across the US to sell off the stocks of companies that did business in South Africa. More importantly than the economic effect that these measures had,  divestment greatly increased the visibility of the injustices taking place in South Africa. Increased global public awareness certainly played a part in the dismantling  of apartheid.

 Across the globe students are demanding that the right to an education be fulfilled. In South Africa, students demand that #FeesMustFall because access to education is still tied to racial and economic differences, even after the end of apartheid. The woes of students in South Africa resonate with those of students across the UK, where people have taken to the streets to protest government cuts to education in favor of loans: #GrantsNotDebt. Considering the immense economic, social, and environmental benefits that education brings to society, if we truly valued education we would remove its price tag. 

Despite the attempts of silencing students through force, the ongoing movements on university campuses and beyond are unstoppable. They are part of a wider revolution of the heart and of the mind, and which is disputed in every day spaces like college campuses. For example, South Africa's push to decolonize education is related to more than just abolishing student fees:

The protests against fee increases were started by poorer black people who could not afford the charges required to study. But ideas related to further decolonisation to curricula and workers’ policy were fired up by the radical Rhodes Must Fall movement at the University of Cape Town, which began the dialogue of decolonisation at tertiary institutions by demanding the removal of a statue of Cecil John Rhodes that cast a reminding shadow over the campus grounds.

Across universities, students are taking ownership of their alma mater and helping it evolve.  The ongoing revolution is rooted in taking care of ourselves, each other, and our environment. This is manifested in many ways, from contextualising university buildings and monuments to recognise legacies of oppression,  to hunger strikers and football teams taking a stand against racism on campus, to getting universities to divest from fossil fuels, to getting universities to invest in organic, local food systems. This wider revolution recognises that our differences are superficial while our commonalities are fundamental. We are one people. We are one planet. It is a revolution that counters hate and division with love and unity. 

We have much to learn from these students and stand by them in solidarity. Perhaps a university's ranking should be gauged on how many student-led initiatives are taken up by administration and the community as a whole. It would prove that universities are good at making students...think.