"Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
Jay Mathews, the Washington Post’s education columnist, writes a blog for the paper’s local section that is mostly about Washington, D.C.-area school news and politics, though he also writes thoughtfully on national education policy questions. Here is his challenge, though: A vital revenue source for the Washington Post Co. is Kaplan Inc., a test-prep company that branched out into owning and running for-profit online colleges. For-profit colleges, as Mathews knows, are a huge rip-off, targeting poor and minority students with deceptive and aggressive marketing, then burying them in loan debt and barely graduating anyone. The for-profit college sector has come under fire from the government for basically being an elaborate scheme to reap government-subsidized loan money, and the industry has responded with a massive, well-funded lobbying and public relations campaign. This post that Mathews published yesterday seems depressingly like a part of that campaign.
It is headlined “5 reasons for-profit colleges will survive,” and it seems like the author isn’t particularly thrilled to be writing it:
Enter Andrew S. Rosen, Kaplan’s chairman and chief executive officer, with a new book called “Change.edu: Rebooting for the new talent economy.” Who does Rosen think he is, extolling the virtues of for-profit schools while his company faces such threats?
I wasn’t sure I wanted to read the book or write about it. As a 40-year employee of The Post, anything bad I say might seem too little too late, and anything good would be taken as trying to protect the company. I was glad Rosen agreed his company had messed up. He did not shake my feeling that profits and teaching are a bad mix, but I did learn things I needed to know.
Despite the industry’s troubles, Rosen convinced me that for-profit educational ventures are here to stay. People who feel as I do will have to adjust to that.
Emphasis mine. Then there are the five reasons, which basically read like they came directly from a Kaplan press release. (“For-profit schools are less of a drain on tax dollars than non-profit or public schools.”) From this specific press release, perhaps.
It’s the tone of a sort of strongly encouraged attitude-adjustment that makes this whole thing even more depressing than the usual defensive for-profit college propaganda that the Post editorial board publishes in the Opinion section. “People like me may want for-profits to disappear,” Mathews writes, “but that is not going to happen.” Well, his bosses certainly hope so!
Bonus sadness: This comment, which comes after a small torrent of anti-Kaplan vitriol:
Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @pareeneMore Alex Pareene.
Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
"Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987
Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)