In the interest of providing fair and balanced coverage of the ongoing Anthropologies-Savage Minds issue on student debt, I contacted Thomas J. Snodgrass to share some of his thoughts with us. Snodgrass is a retired lobbyist (30 years of service), and currently heads up the Public Outreach Department (POD) for the American Education Fund (AEF), which is one of the premier student loan providers in the greater USA. He has an MBA and a PhD in economics from the University of Chicago (1967). His dissertation focused on efficient market models for domestic education and national patrimony. In 1986 he was named to the Ayn Rand Institute’s “Top 100 Loyal Americans” list, an honor which he held for a record 13 straight years. He is currently writing a memoir about his life and career in education reform, “The Spectre of Marxism: My fight to save the soul of higher ed.” His book will be published in early 2015.
I had the opportunity to take a class in anthropology with a young Clifford Geertz when he was at the University of Chicago in the late 1960s. I was nearing the end of my PhD, and I needed a “fun” course to blow off some steam. I picked the right class. Now, while Professor Geertz was indeed witty, frankly, after my rigorous studies in economics, I found anthropology to be slightly on the “soft” side. That’s not to demean the discipline; I have no doubt it has its uses. We all love dinosaurs and cave men, after all. But I wanted to share my experiences to let you know, as readers of this anthropology “weblog,” that I am quite well versed in anthropology (I got a B plus in Mr. Geertz’s class). Because of my deep familiarity with anthropology, I am not at all surprised by the slanted, misinformed, and, frankly, borderline un-American coverage of the student loan opportunity (it’s not a problem, let alone a “crisis”) on this site.
Frankly, back in the late 1960s anthropology was a hotbed of socialistic thinking and brazen anti-American thought. So it’s no surprise to see that trend continue today, although it is disheartening for a lover of America like myself. Only a bunch of Marxists could take the wonderful American institution of the student loan, which has helped generations improve their lives, and turn it into yet another blatant attempt to forgo personal responsibility and demand a free ride from the government. I am here to set the record straight in three easy points that even those of you from the social sciences and humanities should be able to digest.
First point: Student loans are an opportunity. They are not part of a government conspiracy to enslave the entire population. The American government created the student loan program to help Americans pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, to propel future generations forward. This system has worked wonderfully–nay amazingly–for decades. The only problem arises when some individuals attempt to use the student loan opportunity to fund dubious, questionable majors–especially those in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. While degrees in these fields have their place, they are obvious drains to the economic social good of the nation, and therefore would be better as “fun” electives taken along the way while students undertake more vigorous–and socially useful–fields of study. Remember, readers of the Savage Minds “weblog,” it’s not the government’s fault that you decided to study a non-productive, non-lucrative field. It was your choice to take the wonders of the student loan opportunity and waste it, so it’s your job to do the right, moral, American thing and pay your debts. That is what good Americans have always done.
Second point: I see many people, including the “author” who put this “issue” together, complaining about the “lack of consumer protections” for student loans. I will be straightforward here: I was on the front lines during the battle to remove those “protections” from student loans, which we successfully accomplished more than a decade ago. In my view, all of us who worked to create those positive, innovative changes should be thanked, rather than reviled. Our reforms have helped save the American economy, and they have encouraged personal accountability and moral resolve in our student population. Before those reforms, students could take the student loan opportunity and waste it, willy nilly, on degrees and fields of study that undermine America’s place in the world (not to mention here at home). Today–thanks to me and many other hard-working American colleagues–students are held accountable for their fiscal and educational choices. Yes, the transition period (which we are still dealing with) has not been easy, but in the long haul these changes will help propel us back into the limelight as the world’s top economic and educational leader. Those who complain about these changes are simply trying to corrode our hopes for the future.
Third point: Freedom. Rather than pessimistically viewing student debt as a burden, or a “trap” as the “author” Anderson calls it, we have to “turn that frown upside down” and see student loans for what they are: a chance for personal economic freedom. As my former teacher and mentor once told me after class, “Give a socialist freedom and they’ll find a way to turn it into freeloading.” Student loans have saved countless Americans, and they continue to do so this very day. We should embrace these loans, and place faith in trusted, patriotic institutions such as The American Education Fund (AEF) to guide the American people into the prosperous decades of the coming century. Trust me, I work for AEF. At each and every meeting we remind ourselves who we work for, who we love, and who we want to see succeed: it’s you, the American people. We are on your side. Put down the Marxist literature, that pessimistic and warped lens, and help us build a better America.
My namesake, the great Thomas Jefferson, once famously said “To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt.” Jefferson was a great man, and a deep thinker. But what this goes to show is that even great thinkers get it wrong. Jefferson, as you may well know, was a founding father not only for the USA, but also for the budding field of archaeology, which isn’t far from the anthropology that is the focus of this “weblog.” Jefferson did a great many things, and his ideas were often profound. But when it came to debt, he was clearly overstating his argument, if not being an outright alarmist. He was wrong. This makes it understandable how so many in the humanities and social sciences can get it wrong today when it comes to debt. They might have good ideas at times, but when they try to claim that student debt is a problem or a crisis, they are clearly, woefully misinformed. Don’t make the same mistake.
In my experience, debt is only a bad thing when people make bad decisions. People make bad decisions when they don’t take the time to educate themselves to find good information and learn about the wonders of the market system. If only people took the time to educate themselves, they would not end up with dead-end degrees, endlessly complaining about a situation they helped create. The good news is that it’s not too late to turn this ship around. We can take responsibility, America. There is still time to read up and to start making the right decisions that will create a better America. Sometimes change starts with a change of heart, and I implore you, kind reader, to think carefully about your educational choices. Think twice about studying questionable, non-productive fields such as Art History and Anthropology. Use the student loan opportunity to propel yourself–and America–forward. When you do take out loans, do what’s right for America: pay the debts you owe and be grateful. Don’t ask the American taxpayer to pay for your lifestyle–that is a[s] un-American as it gets. Finally, rather than demonizing wonderful institutions such as Sallie Mae (and the American Education Fund), you should be thanking them for handing you a world full of hope and opportunity. If you need help turning your ship around, please feel free to browse The American Education Fund website. We are here to help you be the great American you can be. Thank you.
-Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass II