By Robert M. Nelson
Editors' Note: In the increasingly tight and bitter contest for the Democratic Party's nomination for president, candidate Bernie Sanders has gained critical and enthusiastic support from young people in part because of his stirring call for free public college education -- no surprise given that student college debt has passed the $1.3-trillion mark. Critics, including Sanders' opponent Hillary Clinton, say he is proposing an unaffordable fantasy, though his plan sensibly calls for funding the idea with a tax on speculative stock and bond trading. In reality though, Sanders' idea of free college (which is offered in most of Europe) is hardly a new idea in the US. Indeed, it's the way things used to be here as recently as the 1960s -- a point voters in upcoming primaries like the ones to be held in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware next Tuesday should bear in mind. As Robert M. Nelson (CCNY '66) is a Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, recalls in the following article, free college was actually taken away by the country's ruling elite not that long ago. As Nelson writes:
In 1837, a remarkable politician, Horace Mann, became Massachusetts' Secretary of Education. He argued successfully that universal, public, nonsectarian education in culturally diverse common schools was imperative for our new nation. Mann's idea spread like wildfire. The free common school concept was adopted in every state in the union.
After the Civil War, the free tuition principle was expanded to include higher education. It worked brilliantly for a century for millions of Americans, including me.
A Pathway for Immigrant and Working Class Children
In 1966 I finished college. I joined my sister as the first generation of our family to cross the divide. My father was an immigrant; my mother was the daughter of immigrants. The family had little wealth to show despite their life of hard work.
How could low-paid immigrant families and ordinary dirt-poor working-class families send their kids to college? It was simple. I graduated from the City College of New York. My sister graduated from Brooklyn College. Both schools were tuition-free.
Free higher education was not limited to New York, either. The idea spread nationwide from there.
What went wrong?
In 1958, Ivy-Leaguer Nelson Rockefeller (Dartmouth, '30), scion of the billionaire robber baron John D. Rockefeller of the Standard Oil Trust, became the governor of New York. In the early 1960s he proposed that CCNY start charging tuition in return for receiving its state aid. That same year...
For the rest of this article written by ROBERT M. NELSON for ThisCantBeHappening!, the uncompromised, collectively-run, five-time Project Censored Award-winning online news site, please go to: www.thiscantbehappening.net/node/3134