February 23, 2022
By: Mary and Steven Swig, Richard Eskow & David Bergeron
Patriot. It’s a simple word, but one that’s too often misunderstood.
Merriam-Webster, the oldest dictionary in the United States, defines a “patriot” as “one who loves and supports his or her country.” People support their country in many different ways. Some wear a uniform. Others drive trucks, work assembly lines, serve meals, or provide medical care. But only one form of support – one kind of “patriotism” – forces people to go deeply into debt in order to serve. They’re the people who continue their educations past high school – in colleges, trade schools, and other post-secondary education programs.
The people who have student debt in this country are patriots. When they continued their education, they’re not just pursuing their own dreams or ambitions. They’re adding to the skill set of an entire society’s future. They may be learning a trade that benefits all of us. They may be adding to our society’s total amount of innovation, knowledge, and wisdom. They may be honing artistic skills that will enrich all of us in this country.
In other words, they’re patriots. To support the country in the ways they’ve chosen, they’ve been forced to borrow. That’s not fair, and it’s time we paid them back – not for the debts they owe, but for the debt we owe them.
We understood how to reward people for their patriotism after World War II. When that war ended, the federal government turned to education to promote opportunities for its citizens and economic growth for all. The G.I. Bill paid educational expenses for eight million people, at all income levels and in all parts of society. That investment helped create a robust middle class and contributed to the vibrant growth economy of the 1950s and 1960s.
The G.I. Bill allowed returning soldiers to keep serving their country, by getting the education that made the entire society wealthier and wiser.
We understood that once, but we lost our way. From the Reagan era onward, our leaders began to act as if education was a selfish act. Our government said, in effect, that if you want to learn a trade or acquire a degree you’ll need to pay for it yourself. Our society increasingly called on students to pay for their own education by taking out enormous loans just to participate in this shared vision of a stronger economy and healthier nation for all.
This is wrong and immoral. Society as a whole should be responsible for investing in our collective wellbeing.
We forgot that educated individuals not only provide sustenance for themselves but also raise the standards and quality of life for everyone. From trade school to medical school, from union worker to post-doctoral fellow, people in each facet of society enrich each other. Each contributes to a harmonious and sustainable whole.
Young Americans sacrifice their time and financial resources to get an education — not just to benefit themselves, but also to give back to their communities. Teachers, nurses, scientists, mathematicians, innovators, philosophers, urban planners, oncologists, filmmakers — you name it — they all make significant contributions to society. There are many names for that kind of effort: Courage. Determination. And yes, patriotism.
It’s time to remember that we are all bound by a social contract that calls on us to march together toward a better future. If we really want to “build back better,” we must invest in everyone that contributes to this shared future – including 47 million student debt holders. Those debt holders are patriots. They may not be defending our democracy overseas, but they are deeply committed to doing whatever it takes to perpetuate our nation’s fundamental values of freedom, unity, and, frankly, economic growth.
Patriotism in America means valuing our collective freedom. If we cancel all student debt, 47 million families will have greater freedom to prosper.
Student debt cancellation is, by its very nature, an act of reimbursing our students for the investments they have made in themselves for all of us. This form of reimbursement is community-building. It reminds us all that we must take responsibility for our nation’s foundational promise of a stronger, collective future. Cancelling student loan debt will reimburse these patriots for their patriotism, helping us all support this country as we work to create a sustainable future.
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