Al Lehto (they/them/theirs)
I live near the university. The day I write this, all I can hear outside my windows are students returning to campus. This year, I will not be one of them.
I’m taking a break from college for many reasons; A traumatic 2020 dorm experience, fear of in-person classes when the pandemic still persists, and Michael Schill being lap dog for Phil Knight not being the least of the issues that are making me take time for myself to heal. However, there’s another huge reason for my absence from school that has nagged at me even before I went to UO. That ongoing fear that I am in the wrong place.
As the last several years of accumulating global peril have continued to build, universities’ blatant corporate greed has made it difficult to convince myself that I will be more stable, let alone happier, if I put in four years for a degree. I know I’ve been tricked, that the stability capitalism promises anyone who can afford the privilege of college is a lie. COVID taught me that. So why am I still here, planning my four year track?
I follow Insurgent and other student led activism groups on campus because I believe in the empowerment of Education. However, I think that what Education is to Schill, and what Education is to me are entirely different. For me, education is community based direct action, anti-capitalist practices, restorative healing from generational trauma. Education isn’t surface deep. It isn’t an email from Schill in my inbox condemning Racism when it suits him. It’s Students condemning Racism in practice; Anti-Racist Ideals that leave the Zoom room. Even as I pretend to myself and my family that I plan to go back (and I probably will, in some capacity) I’m looking for alternatives. Where can I become educated, where can I feel in the right place.
While this short list is by no means comprehensive or right for everyone, I encourage every reader to look into their own methods of dismantling corporate education. Meanwhile, I have a few ideas that I have tried out for myself and would like to share with you today.
1) Based in California, the Autonomous University for Political Education is a wonderful, free Anti-Capitalist virtual school that bases all of it’s curriculum on the work of Black, Indigenous, and Queer Activists from around the world. All of the curriculum is developed by co-facilitators who team up to facilitate classes and create accessible learning material. I took several of their classes at the very beginning of the pandemic, and was the artist for their Cooperative Economies course material zine. They’re a grassroots program (word-of-mouth), so you won’t find them online. Their work represents the possibility to start free, decentralized education from scratch, without sus connections to NIKE or a business degree.
2) Immersion is one of the best methods of education, which is why any student who has considered a gap year should also consider staying in Cooperative Housing. In a housing cooperative, there are no renters. Dwellers own the property outright, and create their own system for house maintenance and community living completely autonomously, without a shady landlord. The SCA is a local cooperative system that aims to transform housing away from capitalistic roots. SCA is also part of a larger organization, NASCO, that connects student led housing all over North America. You can learn more about SCA at https://eugenesca.com/ and NASCO at https://www.nasco.coop/ .
3) While Community College is still inherently an institution and isn’t suited for everyone, I believe it’s a step in the right direction. Once I have rested from the trauma UO has caused, I will likely enroll at LCC. Many 4 year university students have turned down Community College because prestige based learning (AKA: Capitalism 101) tells you a cheaper school means it is ‘less-than’ quality wise. That is simply not true. Smaller class sizes, good teachers, and cheaper fees are undeniably more connected to student’s needs than bigger profit grab Universities.
Although four year universities are still intrinsically entwined in our society as necessary steps to be ‘successful’, I’d like to begin daydreaming about different ways to be alive, that don’t require people to become fearful and indebted in order to feel safe from houselessness and poverty. I hope these options inspired you like they inspired me, and that we can continue to create more ways to be alive together.