John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

What If?

February 2, 2011John N. GardnerInsights0

I am just back with my wife from a business trip to South Africa. And I am finding the most difficult part of my reorientation is that I have left one country, not my own, and returned to another, my own, and find the one I left appears to be more publicly committed to social justice and equality of opportunity than the one I returned to. This is very painful for me. So I find myself engaging in a universal human mental pastime: “What if?”

Simultaneous with my return has been the upheaval in Tunisia followed by the even more portentous protests in Egypt. There is much commentary on the uses of social media to move people to actions for political purposes. We are also aware that in the aftermath of social media being used in the Iranian protests of last year, that government has been using the electronic trails of such media to track down, arrest, and who knows do what to the users.

But I can’t help but wondering: what if American college students used social media not for the original purpose that the founder of FaceBook ostensibly described that purpose (to help college students get hooked up together) but instead to organize themselves for political action to challenge the many things that aren’t going well for college students these days, such as:

1. Federal financial aid policy not keeping up with real costs for higher education
2. Cuts in state appropriations for public higher education and state subsidies in the form of tuition grants
3. Corporations sitting on the largest cache of cash in their history instead of using it to create jobs for new college graduates
4. Efforts by Republican politicians to roll back Obamacare, which college students should regard as one further step towards universal health care, an ultimate single payer system, the only thing that will save many future college graduates from being bankrupted by health care cost

I could go on, but won’t. What if we could produce another generation of activist students?

-John Gardner

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