Monday, May 14, 2012

the rot

I got started late and had other lives before university, so I'm a decade or more older than most of students in Quebec. But that makes little difference as I share the same debt burden and the rising costs education. I cannot see the day when I will be free of student loans and I will be still be paying interest long after my tuition tax credits run out. That pisses me off.

I fully support the marches in Quebec and wish some of the student groups in my provinces had the moxy to take it to the streets beyond their well meaning but symbolic "Day of Action" and the occassional meeting with the minister.

I am angry. I'm angry at the cost of education, sure. But I'm even angrier at the attitudes of non-students toward students.

It is bad enough to hear friends and colleagues in increasingly rare university teaching positions whinge endlessly about the apparently ever decreasing quality of students they are paid teach.

"They can't spell. They can't figure out mark percentages. 
They can't write an essay. 
It's because they're lazy. They don't care anyway.
They think they're entitled to As.
They should have learned it in high school. 
It isn't my responsibility to teach them 
what they should have learned before they got here."

Yes, I've graded papers and even taught a few classes here and there. I've groaned at the poor quality of student work and fielded the assinine questions. But I've also graded excellent work, and observed students who struggle with the material make leaps and bounds with a little more encourgement and a little less condescension from teaching staff. I'm amazed at how fast new professors and the sessional army, only a short time from their own student years, absorb departmental cultures and seem to forget how hard it was for them and how much students pay for their time. If I am paying you thousands to teach me, then my god, you had better teach me. I am not entirely sure which one of us is being ungrateful. The subject of what is happening to academics themselves is another post.

Now I'm watching as a good many of the Canadian public attack students for daring to challenge the conditions of the situation.

"Lazy and ungrateful. 
Culture of entitlement."

I now hear the same lines from the public and media opinionists as I hear from teaching staff at universities about the protesting students. At least the teaching staff do not openly advocate corporal punishment on their charges. Who speaks for the students? Apparently not many of their faculty, and not large swaths of the voting public who are also the mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings of most of the students in the streets.

I'm half surprised someone hasn't yet called for increased tuition fees as a punitive measure for those daring to speak out.

There's something wrong here that I think is particularly Canadian. I've been trying to put my finger on it for a while. Years ago when I was backpacking around the world I got talking to the Australian farmers whose fruit and vegetables I picked. The award rate at the time for agricultural work was something like $11.90/hour. Much of it was piece-rate like treeplanting here and I could do very well in a day. Farmers often paid me more than that and did so cheerfully as they understood the backbreaking stoop labour. Wage policy mandated something like a living wage for agricultural workers. There's talk about higher cost of living in Australia and correspondingly inflated wages, but had little trouble saving money there. I tried the same work when I got back to Canada a couple of years later and found I did worse than break even. It makes sense. Canada does not have the Aussie cultural narrative of a 'fair-go'. As much as we talk about the rewards of hard work here, we're not actually all that keen on rewarding it. Yes, your pay-raise or tuition freeze has to come from somewhere, but just not me or the government I pay taxes to. Why else would we have guest worker programs for some of the most physically demanding work out there, and propose that the underpaid workers for the global South who come here ought to be paid even less than Canadian minimums?

This isn't an absolute, but there's a vicious countryclub mentality in this country that has been allowed to flourish under Harper. 

But I'm babbling too politely. Montreal Simon on the other hand, nails it to the fucking door.


Steve said...

well said. To over generalize, Aus workers in the resource industry are pulling in half the cost of a nice house in a year. In Canada, the government wants to hire third world desperates for less than minimum wage.

Harper believe he can lead the country to have everyone pull someone down into the hole they are in, instead of offering a hand up.

Do not be jealous if other people make a decent living , demand the same.

Tomcat said...

Why, when *I* was a kid... Actually, I think that, in a some ways, students today have a harder time of it than when I went to university 45 years ago, years before heavy manufacturing was hollowed out in North America. Many of us back then, perhaps most, were able to find very good-paying Summer jobs _ steel mills, printing plants, heck, I knew guys who got Summer gigs working the Lakes carriers_ that allowed us to graduate without ever having given a thought to getting a student loan. Then, come the last term of our last year, when, literally, dozens of companies from across the country would send their recruiters to the campuses, our main worry wasn't whether we would get a job offer but, rather, which one we would accept. (Everyone tried especially hard to get some "bling", as you kids today call it, from the recruiters from El Paso Natural Gas.)

My buddy and I think that, when the revolution comes, you kids should just put all of us old farts out on ice floes as payback for how we and our parents have screwed up the planet for the following generations.