Student Debt: Inspiration from a Freedom Fighter
I received a wonderful email from my dear friend and fellow teacher Joan Browning that made my day. I hope you find her perspective as inspiring as I did. Joan was one of the original Freedom Riders of 1961. She’s been an activist her whole life and knows a good cause when she sees one.
I first met Joan when doing research on African American history in Appalachia. I was so happy when she accepted my offer to come to Marshall University and share her experiences and perspectives on the civil rights movement with our students and the community. We had a fantastic audience, and Joan left all of us wanting to learn more. This led to her appointment as a part-time instructor at Marshall, where we have team-taught two courses on the Civil Rights Movement.
The result has been numerous conversations about the meaning of the movement, the connection between education and activism, and ways to reach students where they live. It also led to an enduring friendship between the two of us—dozens of conversations about the meaning of education and community. I’m not ready for the semester to be over! I have become a better teacher because of her.
Here’s how she sees the struggle for today’s students:
“Students today are not ‘free’ enough to do what we did in the 60’s, mainly because they are so deeply in debt. Nobody thought to loan us any money, so we could drop out, take subsistence jobs, and express our deepest values about how society ought to be organized. Students today can’t. It is not the Selective Service or the opposition that will get them; it’s the debt collectors. Anything that reduces that obscene amount of debt, such as affordable textbooks, is a step toward freeing students to think and maybe even to do. So thank you.”
If you are interested in learning a bit more about Joan’s experiences, there is a chapter about her life in this book: Deep in Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement.