How Education Launders Class

Education isn’t a ladder, it’s a wall

The Colors Of Money: Franklin by Ben Steele

My wife, reading Aristotle, told me that the word ‘school’ means leisure. Then it all made sense. Of course it does.

What did I do in university? Smoked weed, hung out with friends, and learned cool shit. I spent four years literally not making money. This was obviously not work. Nor did it prepare me for work, I just took the classes that most interested me. It was fun.

This was leisure.

The idea that school is the route to social mobility is a joke. It’s a set of cruel Zen koans we inflict upon children.

How do I get rich? Do not be poor.
How do I get a job? Do not need a job.

My university cost at least $70,000 all in, and that was cheap. In addition I had to forego four years of (full-time) earning, at least doubling the opportunity cost. Before all that, raising a child in America can easily cost $250,000. To truly join the upper class we’re asking children to put down easily half a million dollars, and we call this a meritocracy.

It’s obviously not. School is like a restaurant that, yes, makes food, but the fried rice costs $3,000. It’s a money laundry.

School launders class.

The Wall

Take me, for example. A product of the system.

How did I get into school at McGill? Well, first I was born in Canada, which had nothing to do with. From my perspective, I just fell out there. I immediately inherited an effective $44,000 credit I could apply against international tuition.

Then my parents moved to a small house in a great American school district where everybody went to university and no one went to jail. Raising a kid here from K-12 here would easily cost $250,000.

Grades, of course, are not enough, you have to make ritual sacrifices at various temples to prove your class bonafides. So I played the clarinet and rowed crew, both things I sucked at, just to pad my application. These things cost money and, of course, take time.

You obviously don’t write the dollar amount on the application, but that’s what the University sees. This kid can row a boat in circles for three years. He must be rich. All of my dumb extra-curriculars must have cost my parents $10,000 over the years, not to mention the time driving me around.

And so I got in. Then I ate poutine, went to whatever classes struck my fancy, got high and basically had a great time for four years. I worked summers but I never worked for a living, I would have foregone at least $80,000 in unearned wages over this time, a huge opportunity cost. I was at leisure.

Then, I put a cap on top of this literal wall of privilege and laundered it all as a degree. Those Latin words are a palimpsest, it’s really a receipt underneath. I can take that to any capitalist employer and show that I’ve already paid the membership fee.

Can you get other degrees, of course. But we all know what the good degrees are — the international brands, the best connections, the most open doors. Can people get loans, of course, creating another class of debt peons superficially similar to but nothing like the true kids of privilege that breeze through, some of them with buildings to their name. Universities like Harvard are investment banks with colleges attached. They’re a front. The whole thing is a front. It’s a money laundry.

How is doing bong hits for four years a proxy for merit in our society? The best poets emerge, untaught, from the ghettos, not English departments. What makes you think other talents are not widely distributed as well? What are we even producing here? It’s certainly not learning or good character. The worst, most globally destructive people come out of the ‘best’ schools. All we are doing is reproducing class.

Filthy lucre comes out as higher learning. Class and wealth are laundered clean. And we all accept this, because of the few exceptions that break the rule. Study hard, they say, get ahead, look at those three scholarship kids. But the poor kids that somehow make it aren’t really getting their class laundered. They’re the detergent. They make class come out all clean, like it’s merit. Look at those kids, they’ll say, while there are more kids from 1% in Ivy Leagues than from the bottom 40% combined.

Just look at what we wear on graduation day. They put a literal mortar board on our heads. We’re all just bricks in the wall.

Further reading:
Ban this book! A review of Daniel Markovits’s “The Meritocracy Trap”

Written by

A writer living in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He/him. Videos: and podcast:

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