It’s often said that a great struggle builds character, but I’ve often found that with insufficient self-awareness, struggles can also build bitterness and resent for the future. The March 25th editorial condemns the idea of free college as an entitlement, and glorifies the hard work and suffering past generations no doubt had to endure. But is this a logical argument against the idea that basic college should be free? When you unpack this argument, it quickly becomes absurd.
Here’s an analogy: I’m a computer science major. Computer technology constantly improves, even within generations. I often hear my supposed industry elders complaining about “how easy kids have it these days” and how new students should have to learn to program the same way they did. But should they? Should I really have to do without all my rapid application development tools, simply because my predecessors lacked them? Should I spend hours doing things the hard way to satisfy someone’s cruel, misguided sense of fairness? I call this kind of mentality “Mean World Syndrome.” It’s the belief that the world is cruel and unfair, and that suffering somehow justifies further cruelty.
In my college career, I’ve made a lot of expensive mistakes, faltered, and dropped out because of poverty. Even though it stings that future generations might be able to avoid all that, I wouldn’t wish my suffering upon them. I would rather them be able to focus on getting their education and being the best student possible. Perhaps a measure of compassion is required in understanding why people drop out, rather than simply dismissing failure as apathy.
Finally, can we please do away with the idea that entitlements are inherently negative? The author describes entitlements as “passing the buck,” but I wonder if they would describe SSI, the Earned Income Credit, Medicaid, etc. as negatively. We as society still have the ability to choose what policies we support to encourage certain desired outcomes, and there is nothing inherently lazy or wrong about entitlements. We socialize K-12 school precisely because of the opportunities it provides for children. If economics determine that we need additional free education to remain competitive in the global economy, so be it.