In the Get Paid to Learn series, I share ideas about how you can get paid to learn. In each post in this series, I explore strategies you can use to earn scholarships, internships, and get financial aid as you navigate your college experience. My hope is to help you minimize your college debt, alleviate your financial stress associated with paying for college, and stay focused on your learning. In my ten years as a student in higher education, I earned more than $300,000 of scholarships, internships, research fellowships, and financial support. During my last eight years as a full-time college professor, I have helped many students earn tens of thousands of dollars in scholarship money. Throughout this mentorship process, I’ve develop strategies you can use to get paid to learn. I plan to share these resources and ideas with you so that you can earn scholarship money. In this first post of our series, we explore one idea that underpins all this work on helping you earn scholarship money. That ideas is simple: in the richest nation in the world, you should not have to earn scholarships to pay for your education. Tuition should be free and we should subsidize your living costs while you work to finish your college degree. The Get Paid to Learn Series is designed as a stop-gap measure to help current generations of students while we work to advocate for larger system transformation for the future.
One pernicious tool that powerful, self-interested people use to propagate racist policies is the zero-sum narrative. This zero-sum narrative compels us to imagine competition for limited resources as the central focus of our daily life. In the zero-sum vision of the world, there are finite resources available and our job as individuals is to compete for these resources. People who tell this story also include messages about dangerous groups of “outsiders” whose very existence threatens your well-being. This dark vision of the world claims that giving villainous “others” access to limited resources puts you at a disadvantage.
Powerful people use this zero-sum narrative as a weapon to distract and confuse less-powerful people. Those with lots of power recognize that the democratic organization of U.S. society includes governmental structures that could be used to limit individual power and re-distribute resources equitably among all citizens in our country. If the masses banded together to demand more equitable policies, a very small number of ultra-wealthy white men could loose substantial personal wealth and experience diminished control over US politics.
In our current age of rampant income inequality, wealth inequality, and consolidated corporate power, the ultra-wealthy want to do everything they can to avoid such an outcome. These ultra-wealthy people leverage their substantial resources along with the zero-sum narrative to divide white people and nonwhite people, democrats and republicans, native-born Americans and immigrants, etc. The point of this division is to keep the focus away from mass solidarity and political awakening. If we can be convinced to fight amongst each other, it’s easy for the powerful to maintain a system that benefits the few at the expense of many. If, on the other hand, each of us seeks to get educated, to act in solidarity, and to sustain grass-roots policy activism over long periods of time, we might produce social change that benefits the many at the expense of the ultra-wealthy.
You might be asking yourself: “why am I reading about the zero-sum narrative and wealth inequality in a post that is supposed to teach me how to earn scholarships and minimize my student debt?” That is a great question. Before I answer that question, I pose the following questions back to you: “Why are you having to read about how to get scholarship money to pay for your education? Why do you have to worry about student debt if you are living in the most wealthy nation in the world? Why does our society force you to pay for college as a private good?”
As you mull over those questions, I’ll respond to your original inquiry. The reason that you’re reading about the zero-sum narrative in a post about scholarships is that The Learning Code is designed to do more than just help you succeed in your education. As we discuss in our mission statement, one of our six central themes is to help you “maximize the value you create from your college experience.” Of course, that includes our desire to help you minimize college debt.
However, another of our six central themes is to “empower you to advocate for system transformation for the next generations.” Good advocacy begins with raising your awareness and getting educated about subjects that matter to you. If you’re reading this post about how to get scholarship money, you clearly care a lot about your college degree. Now imagine that you lived in a society where you enjoyed free tuition at any public college and received grant money (not debt) to help you afford rent, food, books, and other living expenses.
We currently live in a society that can afford to pay for these things. But, over the last five decades, multiple generations of policy makers have designed policies that define college as a private good that should be paid for by private individuals. In this model for society, local, state, and national governments spend more on prisons, mass incarceration, tax subsidies for wealthy corporations, and the military than on educating students. This needs to change and we are that change. The zero-sum narrative is one of the tools that ultra-wealthy people and companies use to distract our mind from policy advocacy. As you learn how to earn scholarship money, I implore you to get educated and learn to advocate for system transformation so that future generations of students don’t have to earn scholarships to avoid student debt.