Monday, April 18, 2011

AEM is over

After much deliberation, I've decided no longer to accept donations
for All Education Matters, Inc., and when it comes time to renew the
incorporation filing, AEM will officially cease to exist.

As most of you are aware, I have done this work - advocating for
student loan debtors - in a variety of locations and contexts.   I
have worked as an advocate in my off hours while employed full time, and full time
while unemployed in the U.S.  AEM was created while I worked as a
teacher in Korea, and I've continued with the mission since I returned
(I am happy to say that I have resumed teaching in the U.S.).   All
along, the goal with AEM was to establish an organization with the
resources to be a permanent voice for change in the way we fund
education in America, while  (perhaps more importantly) advocating for
relief for current debtors who are being brutalized by a ruthless
lending system.  For obvious reasons, one of my aims was to be able to
make a living (i.e., pay rent and put food on the table; my lifestyle
is not lavish, and other than my own loan payments my expenses are
modest) while working as a full-time advocate.  For some reason,
though, despite a complete lack of proof, and in the face of a
mountain of contradictory evidence, the benevolence of my motives has
been questioned almost from the start, and most dishearteningly, this
assault has come from within the student loan reform movement itself.
Specifically, I have been been accused of somehow profiting off of
student debtors.  I don't consider myself obligated to justify myself
to anyone, because all along my actions have spoken for themselves.
But for the record, I have never materially profited off of student
loan debtors, and I have never changed my goals or ideals.  I believe
the student lending problem is massive and complex, and requires that
we consider a range of solutions.  Because of that, I have at times
advocated for (and continue to espouse the potential benefits of) loan
forgiveness, the return of bankruptcy protections that were lost in
2005, progressive programs to get people out from under their debt
more quickly and with better terms, investigations into the lending
industry's fraudulent activities, greater oversight and regulation of
that industry, cleaning up the Department of Education (which is
riddled with industry insiders), and also, more generally, a shift in
the trends in education and educational funding of the past 20-30
years (specifically inveighing against the corporatization of higher
education and the precipitous rise in higher education costs).

The sad reality of any movement for change is that there are always a
variety of opinions about how best to bring about that change, or the
most effective form that change should take.  The student loan reform
movement is no different; I was prepared for this, and I navigated the
pitfalls of it relatively well for 2 years.  But at this point I have
decided that the fractiousness is counterproductive and I'm tired of
expending so much energy fending off attacks from the very people I'm
supposed to be allied with.  Unfortunately, many people in movements
like this one take extreme, hard-line positions, and they prefer to
complain about the lack of change than see any kind of incremental
improvements.  And when there are improvements that don't speak to
these people's specific goals, it would seem they feel threatened. So
they refuse to compromise on anything and spend 90% of their energies
dragging down anyone else in the movement they consider a "traitor."
That way of seeing the world is incomprehensible and, it seems to me,
far more destructive than constructive. But again, movements for
change have always been like this, with a sharp divide between those
who think the first step is to tear everything down, no matter the
cost, and those who think change can be made incrementally. I think
attacking people who ultimately want the same thing as you do because
you disagree with their approach is counterproductive. I have
steadfastly refused to respond to lies and accusations about me and
AEM and, should such attacks continue, I will maintain that policy.
Such engagement is beneath me, AEM, and the student lending reform

Current borrowers have always been and will remain my chief concern,
but AEM will no longer accept donations. Once the paperwork is needed
to file in Delaware again, I will not go through with it. I am deeply
grateful to those who have supported AEM. Without your generosity, it
would never have become a non-profit corporation, and that tells me
why my work, and that of AEM, is so important. My materials have
always been free and accessible to all. My work and research will
remain that way, because I am committed to coming up with viable
solutions to the student loan debt crisis.  I will continue to write
and advocate, but I'll do it from the sidelines.  It's obvious to me
that the fractiousness and toxic atmosphere within the student loan
reform movement make the prospect of full-time advocacy unrealistic,
at least for me (unless I win the lottery, in which case, watch out!),
and it's time to move on professionally.

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