Dr. Dawg

Quebec students and Margaret Wente

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Every time I see the smug, complacent, petty-bourgeois face of Margaret Wente staring out of the op-ed page of the Globe & Mail, I know exactly what to expect, but on occasion I read the damn column anyway, like biting down on a sore tooth.

Wente’s brow has never been furrowed by an original or unconventional thought. But in her banal observations on the subject of education, she at least is frank about her agenda, which, unsurprisingly, is entirely political.

The striking students in Quebec are left-wing. Hence there is something wrong with the education they are getting, and funding it only encourages them and their evil indoctrinators:

Quebec’s students have good reason to be furious. They should be furious at the professors who tell them that their cause is just, and who have deluded them into thinking that social justice can be achieved if only the greedy corporations are brought to heel. They should be even more furious at all the adults in the government and education establishment who have fooled them into thinking that the education they’re getting will equip them to thrive and prosper in the world.

The truth is, the education they’re getting is overpriced at any cost. The protesters do not include accounting, science and engineering students, who have better things to do than hurl projectiles at police. They’re the sociology, anthropology, philosophy, arts, and victim-studies students, whose degrees are increasingly worthless in a world that increasingly demands hard skills. The world will not be kind to them. They’re the baristas of tomorrow and they don’t even know it, because the adults in their lives have sheltered them and encouraged their mass flight from reality.

Everything for Wente and her ilk must be related to dollars and cents. No doubt when she hears the word “culture,” she, too, releases the safety-catch on her Browning, if she managed to slip one into Canada when she waltzed across the border a few years back.

A university degree is no longer an automatic ticket to a decent job and a pleasant living. According to a devastating story by The Associated Press last week, more than 50 per cent of recent university graduates in the United States are either unemployed or working in jobs that don’t require bachelor’s degrees. They’re more likely to work as “waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined.”

Obviously I draw a somewhat different conclusion from this than she does. The hideous waste of human potential that is a hallmark of capitalism is hardly the fault of the folks thrown on the scrap-heap.

There are few immediate monetary benefits accruing to most people who choose to enter the humanities or the social sciences. In her mind, that’s enough to condemn them. But we study them—as Wente did, by the way—because in those disciplines we learn to analyze and synthesize, to weigh evidence, to observe, to grasp, to critique, to understand existing concepts and to generate new ones.

These are not merely matters of personal indulgence; they’re civic virtues. Does a society not benefit from an engaged, inquisitive, critical citizenry? Is university education in the humanities and social sciences not a social investment worth making?

Wente would evidently prefer a country populated by drones and drudges, some slaving away at dead-end, non-union jobs, others doing well in the professions and the sciences so long as they don’t make waves, while still others, like herself—and they’re a dime a dozen these days—produce strings of reassuring bromides in the media telling everyone how lucky they are.

I’d pay good money to watch Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of CLASSE debate Wente in an open forum on the meaning and value of education as a public good. But this is, of course, entirely hypothetical. “As a writer for The Globe and Mail,” her columnist’s profile states, “she provokes heated debate with her views on health care, education, and social issues.”

“Provokes,” certainly, but she never engages. On the Internet we have a word for people like that: trolls. Anyone can be deliberately annoying, but it’s really not much of a feat. The Quebec students on the other hand—engaged, questioning, exercising their rights—are giving the rest of us valuable lessons in the art of citizenship. Those of us not sneering for money in the corporate media would do well to pay heed.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on May 2, 2012 10:00 AM.

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