The Russian Model and Student-Loan Debt


In September, about six weeks before the presidential election, Abby Jackson wrote the following short item for Business Insider:

Russian Education and Science Minister Olga Vasilieva called for a return to mandatory farm labor for school children, according to Russian state-operated news agency RIA Novosti via The Moscow Times.

Vasilieva said that students should be placed in “agricultural brigades” and forced to clean schools “like we always used to do.”

It is one of the first signals from Vasilieva, who was appointed by Russian president Vladimir Putin on August 9, on how she aims to govern her post.

Her move to revert back to some Soviet-era schooling policies is, perhaps, unsurprising. Vasilieva reportedly praised Joseph Stalin in a lecture given to Kremlin leaders in 2013, The Moscow Times reported. Her praise of the former Soviet Union leader continues to worry her critics who do not wish to see a return to his ideals permeate the country.

Education under Soviet rule was highly centralized and placed emphasized collectivism and labor for school students.

Japan, too, has a history of using school children to keep buildings clean, NPR reported. In Japan, the practice intends to help students learn to be productive members of society.

I had saved the item because I recalled a previously saved item on the easing of the requirement that college students perform agricultural labor in some of the Turkic republics of Central Asia. So, things seemed to be going in both directions at once in the states that had formerly been part of the Soviet Union.

But now with all of the emphasis on Donald Trump’s admiration for Vladimir Putin and all of the attention on the impact of the Russian interference in our presidential election, perhaps this item is a hint of what the Trump administration may propose as a way to reduce student-loan debt.

The Far Right has for some time been promoting the private funding of college costs by investors who will cover the tuition and fees for individual students, who will then owe the investors some set percentage of their incomes over the first decade or two of their working lives. (These proposals are broadly comparable to entertainers’ issuing stock in themselves, with the investors being paid dividends based on their earnings, though the students are obviously in a much more vulnerable position than the entertainers.)

If Trump cannot convince Congress to fund significant infrastructure spending, he may be able to get corporations to “invest” in rebuilding our road networks by privatizing the public roadways and turning them into toll roads. But other needed infrastructure repairs will not be as readily profitable. So perhaps, instead of college and university students being required to do agricultural work, they will be marshaled into cadres and set to work refurbishing schools, restoring blighted communities, and maintaining public spaces–in some 21st-century, highly corporatized version of the Works Progress Administration and Civil Conservation Corps. For, despite the echoes of the Peace Corps and Americorps, the students would most likely work for corporations who would pay them minimum wage (if at all) while also paying off some small portion of their loan debt. In this way, the lion’s share of this public spending would ultimately become corporate profit.


Postscript: by the way, over the past decade, several Conservative lawmakers have echoed the Japanese practice by proposing that students in poor urban school districts be “employed” in doing much of the needed custodial work at their schools: that is, the students would be taught the value of work while not being paid for their work—and while being shown, very clearly if viscerally, how little they are valued in comparison to their more affluent peers.



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