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Washington Post: “Forgive Us Our Student Loan Debt?” No Thanks!

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By Cryn Johannsen on November 28, 2011

The Washington Post, which owns for-profit Kaplan, published an op-ed on Monday in favor of loan forgiveness. This is a company that has profited greatly from student loans.

Naturally, they will push an agenda whose language is not particularly well-received among a large portion of the American public. As soon as individuals, who have either already paid off their loans or never had loans in the first place, see grads demanding “loan forgiveness,” many people begin to groan. They say things like, “It was their damn decision to take out those loans? Now they don’t want to pay them back?” Or, “No one put a gun to their heads to take out that huge loan! Tough shit! Pay up!” Or, “So people who have loans are bitching and whining, when they got to go off to school and party and enjoy college life? And now they want a bailout too?!?”

These are the dismissive remarks that follow any article on student loan debt. That is why redefining the movement is necessary, and that is precisely what #OWS is doing. The language of loan forgiveness is archaic, and why it’s being sloughed off. Those who have promoted this must deal with the fact that we live in very different times now, and that means bolder language is necessary. The 99% are taking responsibility for systems that are corrupted, and that goes for the student lending industry. They are seeking new ways to seize the rhetoric, and they don’t need to be on their knees begging for forgiveness.

Currently, there is an Occupy Student Debt group calling upon people to sign a pledge to refuse paying their loans. [Full disclosure: Although I am a freelance journalist, I am also an advocate for student loan debtors, and I am currently calling for a debtors’ strike. Contrary to the misinformation and lies being circulated about these efforts, there are well-known authors, activists, union organizers, etc. on board with this next move. As an activist, I believe fully in collaboration and do not stick to one particular idea for personal gain. That’s not how this works, especially when you are part of OWS].

The Washington Post piece also inaccurately pits the call for loan forgiveness against the Occupy Student Debt campaign. If read carefully, it is clear that the groups seek similar things. However, using the terms “loan forgiveness” is poor. As I have stated before, it presumes that the borrower is a sinner and they are to blame for this catastrophe. It does not illustrate the problem in an accurate way, and it is easily dismissed or denigrated. On the other hand, Occupy Student Debt is reasserting the power of borrowers, and insisting that something must be done in a more direct action way. Asking policymakers to forgive of us our sins is not needed. Did borrowers who sought higher education do anything wrong? Absolutely not. So why do they need to ask for any sort of forgiveness?

As Mitchel Cohen aptly pointed out:

Thank you for this article. There is no contradiction [my emphasis] in principle between seeking legislation that provides ‘debt forgiveness’ and organizing one million student debtors to sign a pledge that they will refuse to pay their debt. In fact, a million student refuseniks can serve as a very strong base from which to accomplish that legislation. On the other hand, putting one’s faith in Congressional reps ‘morality’ (you’re kidding, right?) alone is, I would argue, delusional.

Do both!

Mitchel Cohen

It is time for a new set of demands and that requires new, innovative language. Loan forgiveness? That’s soooo post-bailout!

Cryn Johannsen is the founder and executive director of All Education Matters (AEM). She is currently writing a book about the student lending crisis and how this mess can be fixed. Read her full HyperVocal archive here, and make sure to follow her on The Twitter @cjohanns.

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