It really is the “Higher” Education Act

Imagine living in a society which would rather provide financial assistance for education to a rapist or murderer before someone who was busted with a joint or to someone who sold marijuana to friends at a party. Imagine a society that preaches of its commitment of higher education access for all and then puts unusual barriers in place targeted at the poor and at minorities and that essentially block them from attending an institute of higher learning.

The Higher Education Act was designed to provide the means for those who could not otherwise afford to further their education. However, the Act was amended in 1998 to further punish those who had already been convicted of drug crimes.

Besides being cruel and unusual, the new provisions doubly punish those who have already served their “debt” to society for their supposed wrongdoing.

The miserable and shameful “War on Drugs” was dragged into the very institutions that supposedly, by nature, protect those in the minority and reward any person who was willing to partake with the pearls of enlightenment. Now, this is systematically being denied to those who the conservative majority deems unworthy of its assistance.

This assistance, of course, is taxpayer money. With tortured explanation the U.S. Congress theorized that the “War on Drugs” was a financial drain and, therefore, those who used drugs, no matter how casually or inconsistently, were to blame for this financial loss. These new provisions, in essence, grew out of a conservative frustration with the mounting cost and ineffectiveness of the “War on Drugs”, in general. With desperation Congress decided to limit what it obviously considered a “privilege,” namely, access to higher education.

This “policy” should not only be seen in reference to the drug war, but should also be seen in a wider historical context. Both the 1998 provisions and the war on drugs, in general, are assaults on the poor and those who are non-EuroAmerican. It is just one of a long list of injustices disguised in the cloak of urgent public demand for political reaction.

In reality, the provisions are no different from laws that segregated white America and laws that sought to punish the poor for being poor, derived from religious foundations of an appropriate and universal “work ethic.” So the shock is registered not at the fundamental unfairness of the new provisions, but that the struggle for civil rights is in closer political proximity to 1968 than a young, idealist, white male (like myself) could ever imagine.

The Higher Education Act was designed to provide a path for those who could not afford higher education. If this path can be altered to accommodate only those who a particular Congress finds worthy, or unworthy, than the path itself is fragile and higher education is held in equal contempt. For the sanctity of education is derived through its diversity of opinions and its inner struggle to accommodate all people, no matter what background, error or path has lead the person to its ivory gates.

The belief in education within a society is its belief in its own possibilities of transformation and growth. This has to be extended to everyone willing, otherwise, the very society will shrivel as the dominant paradigm goes forever unquestioned; never adapting and eventually collapsing in its own intellectual stagnancy.

In my opinion, the provisions that altered the Higher Education Act must be immediately reconsidered and eliminated. There is no justification worthy of such prejudice in public education policy in 21st century America.

The limpid excuse, that such provisions are needed to curb drug use is at best disingenuous, and at worst reeks of segregation and political hostility harkening back to the mid-20th century. Most ironic is that these provisions stand in stark contrast to modern political reality; the very highest office in the land being held by a reformed alcoholic and past cocaine user (and Yale graduate), who campaigned against an admitted past marijuana user (who graduated from Harvard).

Please consider the very small effort of e-mailing or, better, handwriting a note to your congressperson demanding a review of these provisions. You will not be alone in your efforts, but they are still desperately and immediately needed (contact for further information).