For several weeks now University “students” in Montreal, Quebec have been on strike protesting the rise in tuition fees in la belle province. Supported by faculty and lately Ontario’s trade union leadership, they have taken to the streets in thousands, inciting violent clashes with police, disturbing the peace and even disrupting essential services such as the Montreal Metro public subway transit system. At issue is the relatively low cost of tuition in the province which is slated to rise gradually to comparable levels in the rest of Canada which are heavily subsidized by provincial governments and are a far cry from full cost of the services these children are consuming.
Their protestations assume that higher education is something that should be accessible to the masses … I take issue with that. They also assume that somehow witholding their “labour” as students in these institutions is somehow a meaningful form of protest … I take issue with that too. Some elaboration is warranted to justify my views, so here goes….
Education for the masses … I think not.
Access to education is not a right. In fact few things actually are. Rights flow from the fundament of ownership over one’s self, so that we have the right to our bodies, the right to our labour, the right to our thoughts and the right to property (as the fruits of our labour). There is no such thing as the right to food, water, clothing, shelter or education: these are things we are free to acquire by providing service or creating goods to others to earn money with our labour (or by making htese things ourselves as half the world’s populace still does).
Basic education i.e. high school is generally provided to children for three reasons (1) it is helpful to have a literate work force with basic skills and (2) we don’t accept the notion of child labour socially and (3) kids need supervision during the day when Mom and Dad are out earning the means of survival and the luxuries the family chooses to enjoy. That’s the whole reason for public education; it keeps kids busy while we work and they have insufficient skills other than unskilled labour to be productive.
Higher education is an entirely different matter. When a child reaches the age of 19 in Canada they are fully endowed with the many rights and priviledges of adulthood – in law, socially and politically. In other words, you cease to be a child pretty soon after leaving high school, and then you are supposed to get on with your life as an adult. One can choose to work at this point, which is an appropriate choice for many, perhaps most young people. One can enter into an apprenticeship and learn a trade, which is something we actually have a chronic need for more people to do. One can do nothing and live off the bank of Mom and Dad if they are foolish enough to support enabling slothful behaviour in their children. Or one can seek out higher education … if sufficient academic prowess has been demonstrated to gain admission to an institution of higher learning and one has the means to do so.
The latter choice is one that many parents wish their children to pursue, for good reasons: potential to have higher earning power, greater insight into society and culture being among the more recognizeable benefits of higher education. Many young people want to pursue higher education for these reasons as well, and it is a great way to keep the party going for a few more years for many … and I recall the parties were in fact really, really good. These potential benefits to the individual, sought by parenet and student alike are valuable … I repeat: valuable – they have value. They also have cost … very very high cost, on three fronts: lost productive labour of students, lost productive labour of educators and finally the cost of maintaining and equipping the facilities required for learning. Like all valuable costly things, in our world, these resources are scarce and must be rationed. This means that not everyone will, can or should have access to them. Today the proportion of youth that have the opportunity to consume higher education is higher than ever before … which is a drag on the economy, diverting scarce resources from productive investment. Why is this ? Because our government is not accountable for spending, and chooses to engage in “social engineering” funded by a combination of unsupportable debt and resources usurped from the 30% of the population that actually works in the private sector. In my view, this is another case of government run amok, interfering in rational economic investment at hte expense of the working (wo)man.
Who should be paying then ? Parents and students. They are the beneficiaries of the education and there is no reason a kid who goes to work at Ford when he’s 18 should have to subsidize them.
If you are still not convinced, try this on for size: as government subsidizes services they always get more expensive and less accessible. Healthcare costs and education costs are spiralling wildly out of control, rising much faster than economic growth or the growth in the tax base. These are but two examples of a truism – when unlimited spending by government subsidizes a unionized service indsutry costs will escalate without control. Even then students (and here they are quite right) have to carry ever increasing debt loads which are crushing in size in the USA and Canada today. Some students actually will spend most of their productive lives paying back loans for education – which makes no sense at all and is rooted in the invalid notion that higher education is good for all. IT simply isn’t.
Striking students … an effective protest – not.
Now that I hope you appreciate the nonsensical basis for the protest, let’s move on to the tactics. Students on strike means they are (or should be) witholding their labour: that is what a strike is. Unfortunately the labour of a student is utterly worthless to society – it is not productive, in fact it consumes productive resources: the marker, the library, the lecturer, the books, the facilities and so on. So what the heck is a student strike supposed to impact ? Is the fantasy that this is a strike against the government … which is already subsidizing them in the first place ? Can’t see that making much sense, the government can save money by shutting down the schools. Is it a strike against their fellow man ? The civil (and in the case of Montreal the uncivil) disobedience and disturbing of the peace for productive folks this does not make much sense either … most working folks could care less if a student goes to class and frankly does not have much empathy for them in the first place – and disrupting the life of the working man is a sure way to get him pissed off. The new Quebec law banning organized protestations accurately reflects the view of the working public … it is an offence to society to disturb the peace in this manner.
Alas the simple truth is that students in Quebec are on strike against themselves. It would seem they have a lot to learn…………