When history repeats itself, according to Karl Marx, the first time it's tragedy, the second time it's farce. That was one of Karl's better sayings, and we keep finding situations where it applies. To some baby boomers, the defining moment of the 1960s (besides Woodstock) was the campus protest at Kent State in Ohio, during which national guardsmen, feeling threatened by student anti-war protestors, opened fire and killed four of them. The incident sparked some heated conversations around our dinner table.
That was the tragedy. More recent student protests fall into the other category, for example, the fracas last week at Santa Monica College. The contentious issue is not an unpopular war, but student tuition costs, which keep rising. Since most colleges in California are operating in the red, raising tuition might be seen as a matter of sound fiscal policy. But to young people brought up in culture of entitlement (for which the entire state of California is billions in debt) "sound fiscal policy" are code words for oppression. Or something. First they gathered outside the room where trustees were meeting to discuss the tuition hikes. Then, shouting, "Let us in!" they rushed the college police stationed outside.
A wild scene ensued. The video shows students hounding the police with their monotonous chants until some provocation (or perhaps just frustration) unleashes the pepper spray. Screams and cries and jumpy video follow, during which a girl (at least it looks like a girl) charges an officer, who knocks her down. She screams and kicks her feet like a 2-year-old having a meltdown at Kroger's. A young man can be clearly heard shouting, "We won! We won! They pepper-sprayed us!"
He probably means a public-relations victory, of the kind achieved by students at UC-Davis and other campuses last fall. But it won't last. Short-term publicity may lionize the students as heroes-like Kent State all over again, except that nobody died, and the issue wasn't a possible tour of duty in Vietnam but their right to four years of trying on various trendy majors before settling on "communications." Or business administration, which should have taught them something about the bottom line. This is the fallout of Occupy Wall Street, one tenet of which is that higher education should be free. On what planet?
The kids are not entirely to blame: Many colleges and universities have turned themselves into diploma factories by promising their graduates a higher lifetime income. It's a promise that's become harder to keep, but most students haven't got that message yet. Raising tuition seems to slam the door in their furious faces, and the situation will probably get worse before it gets better.