Archive for June 1st, 2012

Why It’s Logical To Support The Quebec Student Strike (For Me Anyway)

- June 1st, 2012

child-miners

“There is one thing this measure will do for the poor. It will deteriorate their condition. It will deprive them of their independence and lead them to look up for state supplies when they ought to look to their own industry. It will make them look upon the state instead of themselves.”
— Edward Baines

It’s logical for me to support the current strike by Quebec post-secondary students against the Quebec government’s announced plans to increase tuition fees in the province.

I’ll go even further: It’s logical for me to say that post-secondary tuition fees should not just be frozen but should be eliminated completely — across Canada.

Why?

Because I support public education. It’s that simple.

You either support public education or you don’t.

The 144-character Twitter version of this piece is at the bottom of the page

If you don’t support publicly funded education, that’s fine — but you shouldn’t accept any other publicly funded services either. I’m talking about things like paved roads, clean water and sewage systems that get the crap out of your life — basics now, but all things that weren’t provided by government 150 years ago.

But if you say you support publicly funded education, where on earth is the logic in placing an arbitrary cutoff point on providing full funding?

Where’s the logic in publicly funding teenagers’ education — and demanding, by force of law, that they attend school — and not funding 20-somethings’ post-secondary education?

It’s not a persuasive argument to say “We can’t afford it.”

If saving money is the objective then don’t publicly fund education past Grade 6. You’ll save a hell of a lot more money and still have a citizenry that is capable of spelling their names, tying their shoelaces and serving your lattes.

You either support public education or you don’t. Any position in between is quibbling.

It’s like the (probably fanciful) story about George Bernard Shaw’s dinner discussion with famed modern (well, modern in the 1920s) dancer Isadora Duncan.

Shaw: Madam, would you sleep with me for a million pounds?

Duncan: My goodness. Well, I’d certainly think about it

Shaw: Would you sleep with me for one pound?

Duncan: Certainly not! What kind of woman do you think I am?

Shaw: Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling over price.

In for a penny, in for a pound.

Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes, we need gigantic revolutionary changes. Schools should be palaces. Competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be getting six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge for its citizens, just like national defence. That is my position. I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet.
— Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing

 

I laugh and laugh and laugh when I hear people complain about the Quebec student strikers’ “sense of entitlement.”

As if that’s a bad thing.

As if they’re spoiled brats with no sense of how hard real life is, rotten kids who have the gall to think they are “entitled” to a free — or at least cut-price — education.

Of course they’re “entitled.” They’re citizens of a great, rich, dynamic country. Every waking and sleeping minute, Canadians — except for the most deprived and destitute and desolate — enjoy glorious lives of “entitlement” beyond the wildest dreams of a child in Somalia or an old person in Burma.

So when someone spits out “sense of entitlement” as an insult, I think how wonderful it is that some Canadians — unfortunately, not all Canadians — can feel a sense of empowerment, a sense of entitlement from the very fact that they are Canadian.

If you think getting a degree in microbiology or nano-engineering or medieval history or physiotherapy isn’t hard work, you don’t know what hard work is. Covering the costs of educating those students doesn’t mean they get a free ride. They — or their families — still have to put roofs over their heads, food in their stomaches, clothes on their backs, glasses on their noses and transit passes in their pockets (and hopefully springs in their step).That’s hard enough to pay for without incurring tens of thousands of dollars of tuition debt at the same time.

 

“I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”
— John Adams, second president of the United States

 

What appalls me is the “sense of resentment” I hear every time someone complains of another Canadian’s “sense of entitlement.”

And something I really don’t understand is why every other post-secondary student in Canada hasn’t risen up in protest against the ever higher burden of education costs they are forced to carry — far higher, for most, than the proposed increases that put Quebec students out on the streets for three months and counting.

I think all you post-secondary students in Ontario and Alberta and elsewhere have been brainwashed into thinking you might somehow be bad people for sometimes, occasionally wishing you weren’t going into massive debt for the next decade of your lives just to get a college degree.

Did you feel an overwhelming sense of guilt that you weren’t paying for your own education when you were in Grade 11? What changed in the intervening two or three or four years except that you were subjected to a form of social propaganda that told you everything was now upside down. “Because.”

Because why? “Because I said so” is basically the answer. And because everyone around you tells you that this is the way it is and the way it should be.

I simply can’t believe how smug and self-satisfied otherwise generous and thoughtful people can become when they settle comfortably into the soft sofa of safe, uncritical orthodoxy.

Right now, some people (maybe most people) who are reading this are thinking everything I’m writing is a pile of nonsensical, unrealistic, ruinous bull.

Let’s return to the quote I led this pile of bull with:

“There is one thing this measure will do for the poor. It will deteriorate their condition. It will deprive them of their independence and lead them to look up for state supplies when they ought to look to their own industry. It will make them look upon the state instead of themselves.”

Those were the words of Edward Baines, a British MP and newspaper owner, in 1843. He was speaking in opposition to a government bill to set up publicly funded schools for children working in factories.

childlabourers

That would be children as young as nine who were working 10-hour shifts. After age 13, they worked 12-hour shifts (at least — see below). And that had only been the case for a decade. Before the Factory Act of 1833, there were no limitations on the age of child workers or the hours they could be forced to work. Children as young as five and six were common in mines and textile factories: The little miners could crawl where no adult could go and the little factory workers’ small fingers were better at reaching into fast-moving machinery to straighten out twisted twines.

And many members of the growing 19th Century middle class, even “the labouring classes,” thought that was okay, the way things were supposed to be. In fact, (they said) the children were much better off than they would have been working in the fields instead of factories. And the public purse certainly couldn’t afford to educate them.

Here’s an excerpt from the report of a factory inspector in 1836:

FactoryInspectorReport1836

Why would those kids conceivably need state-financed schooling in the few hours between end of shift and the sleep of the dead? “It will make them look upon the state instead of themselves.”

Oh, those greedy, shiftless little sods with their “sense of entitlement.”

childmillworker

“I am of the opinion that the effect of the measure proposed by the honourable member must necessarily be a fall in the rate of wages, or, what is more probable, that children would cease to be employed at all in manufactories. Now I appeal to the honourable member whether a measure which would prevent children from obtaining any employment in factories would not be more injurious than beneficial to the labouring classes?”

— John Charles Spencer (Lord Althorp), government leader in the British House of Commons, opposes the idea of restricting child labour in factories to 10 hours a day during debate on March 16, 1832.

child-labour

Full publicly financed elementary education wasn’t established in England until 1870 and it was 1918 before compulsory education to age 14 was introduced there.

Of course the lovely Scots had introduced universal publicly financed education for children in 1561. It was probably that tradition of public education, not the boot of English conquerors and the treachery of bought-and-paid-for aristocrats, that led to a few centuries of dismal Scottish oppression.

So now we jump ahead to the present. And the widespread belief that universal publicly funded post-secondary education is unaffordable, wrong-headed and somehow “injurious … to the labouring classes.”

I am quite sure Canadians 50 and 100 years from now will look back on that kind of short-sighted thinking as being massively ignorant and self-defeating, the same way we now look back on the widespread early Victorian mindset that thought the new industrial economy would be dealt a disastrous blow if children went to school at public expense instead of slaving away in factories for 10 and 12 hours a day.

You either support public education or you don’t.

If you do, you don’t just arbitrarily support public education in Grades 1, 3, 7 and 10 and not the rest. So why do we arbitrarily cut off universal publicly funded education three–quarters or two-thirds of the way through the process?

Argentina provides free post-secondary education. So does Brazil. And Denmark. And Finland. And Sweden. And Norway. And good old Scotland. And Morocco and Sri Lanka. And many other countries around the world, both rich and poor.

It can be done. It’s just a matter of choosing to do it.

A matter of priorities. A matter of spending a few billion dollars on education instead of G8 and G20 vanity summits or Arctic icebreakers that can’t move in winter ice or any of the other massive — but optional — spending commitments various levels of government make on a regular basis.

So, yes, logic demands that I support the strike by Quebec post-secondary students. Because I think a system of public education is good for this country.

Of course, the money allocated to education can be better spent. There is waste and extravagance and cheating and bad planning and wrong priorities. In everything.

So let the people who are making $150,000 and $200,000 and $300,000 and $350,000 year-in and year-out in public salaries deal with that hard, real stuff instead of trying to get cheap, empty show victories on the backs of students working minimum-wage jobs to get through college. Just so those students can save your life in hospital or boggle your brain with a new computer programme when they get out of school.

And I think it would be good for all Canadians, once in a while, to get out on the street and bang pots and pans together. It might kindle a worthy and meaningful sense of entitlement in some wastefully resentful hearts.

 

I told you at the top of this long screed that I would compress the whole thing into a 144-character Tweet at the end. Here it is:

If you think 100% free education is bad then 100 years from now you’ll be like Victorians who thought kids should be in a factory not school