The Clock Ticks Down On Your Father's Idea Of An Education
It looks like the college faculty strike in Ontario is about to be footnoted in the slim tome of Kathleen Wynne’s Managerial Accomplishments.
The premier of Canada’s most populous province has reportedly found a protocol to end this labour impasse after five weeks of college students playing hide the textbook. Students have returned to classes while their teachers and the government have submitted to mediation. Or meditation. Or maybe it’s medication.
Whatever. If that goes as well as the rest of Ms. Wynne’s initiatives we may expect many students to still have to repeat their year at an inflated tuition bill.
We’d get into the bargaining issues of staffing, classroom hours and all that jazz, but frankly, it’s like getting excited about a strike in the 1900 buggy-whip supply chain. The overpriced template for modern post-secondary education— replete with its Pol Pot re-education initiatives (we see you Wilfrid Laurier) and pusillanimous administrators— is about to be mothballed like the horse-drawn carriage.
The process is already underway in various disciplines as education goes online and the traditional ivy-covered bricks-and-mortar financial structure collapses. Students who want the best available professors, the most efficient syllabus and, most of all, the guarantee of no labour disputes, are discovering that they have little need to put their futures at the hands of unionized staff and hack bureaucrats when they go online.
Computers will do the marking, degrees will be issued, and students will get what they most want— an education, not a four-year scold from a warmed-over Marxist fossil from the ‘60s.
And why wouldn’t they? Given your choice between professor Tweedy Pants at Southwest Institute of Apathy or a Nobel winner on your tablet, whom would you pay for? There’d be no need to have 10,000 English 101 or Sociology 100 profs drawing hefty salaries on tenured contracts. You could easily satisfy the market with maybe 50 of the best teachers.
Sure, there’d be a need for schools that actually had medical facilities or engineering labs or clinical facilities. There will still be a place for those choosing the professional vocations. But for the majority of arts & sciences students whose work consists of lectures, papers and exams, forgoing traffic and parking to receive these services is not going to be a big loss.
When I proposed this to my friend Jeff Sammut on SiriusXM Radio Canada Talks, he asked what happens to the student experience if they did not enjoy the pubs and campus life that have come to define the costly postsecondary lifestyle parents demand for their kids. For many, campus life— not intellectual stimulation— is the reason to leave home in September. Appreciation of the classics? Meh.
Jeff has a point. As Tom Nichols points out in his book The Death of Expertise, modern universities are no longer places of education much of the time. Instead of attracting students with their intellectual prowess, schools are instead wooing them with promises of great pizza, hot dorm rooms or party life. They are more customers now than students.
“As a result, many academic departments are boutiques,” writes Nichols, “in which the professors are expected to be something like intellectual valets. This produces nothing but a delusion of intellectual adequacy in children who should be instructed, not catered to.”
This has created a new dynamic where students demand services from teachers, not information, and woe betide the prof or TA who “fails” the young person’s expectations. Teachers describe angry undergrads berating them for giving the callow young things poor marks or questioning their intellectual adequacy.
“You’re supposed to make me smart,” they insist.
Which leads us to the inevitable solution. Since education is no more important to many than your Canada Goose jacket on campus, let those who want learning go online. The rest can be directed by their status-conscious parents to post-secondary spas where they can pantomime the college experience will partying like it’s 1999. Okay, that’s $19,999 a year.
Consider it extended summer camp where they can find mates, meet future business contacts and generally stay out of Mom and Dad’s hair for four years. Now that would be a labour agreement would could accept.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com)