Friday, March 27, 2015

March 27: The University Crisis

I'll start with something that won't make the Irving press because it's not about stores closing or stores opening, or who got charged with spitting on the sidewalk. In fact, it's not even happening just in New Brunswick.

Last week, thousands of Montreal students flooded Montreal streets to protest Quebec cuts to university funding. Well, it's understandable. If Mr. Irving were to flip a dime to a street beggar, it would be page 1. But who cares about thousands of students in Montreal?  Well, this isn't just about Montreal.

Universities are in very serious trouble - trouble that comes in two parts.

One part is that their funding is being cut - with very deep cuts in some provinces. Even as it is, they are really way too expensive for most families. But the economy is doing well only for the very, very rich. Graduates now routinely have to  run up huge debts. In the US, it's so bad that it's common for university debts to continue into retirement.

Other countries, even poorer ones, provide free university education. But I guess that might mean asking our very, very rich to pay taxes. And we don't what them to do that because if they get really, really, really rich then they'll make us rich, too. Or, maybe, not quite so poor. Maybe.

As well, the people who donate money to universities do it for a payback. They want research that will make them money - now. They want research that puts the blame on us rather than them for our economic problems. They don't give a damn about training minds. It's all about profits - for them.

What this means is that universities are becoming an impossible dream for a great many Canadians. And that's bad because you can never tell. It's quite possible that the children of the  poor and the middle class could be almost as smart and and almost as good for us as the children of the very, very rich if they had a chance.

(Oh, I know there are quite a few morons among the very, very rich. But they're a much better class of moron than we peasants are.)

And that's only half of the crisis. The other half is that universities, as educational institutions, have made virtually no progress in the last thousand years or so. In those early days, higher education meant sitting on a rock to listen to a wise man in a cave. There has been no education advance since those days.

Universities are obsessed with the status of research. Teaching doesn't matter. And teaching methods haven't changed since the days of the cave and the rock. For a start, course outlines commonly reflect no understanding or how or why people learn. Of all the courses I took in some nine years of university, I would say the majority, by far, were a waste of time. Universities seem to have no understanding of how to design a curriculum - and they don't care.

For example, understanding how to mark is essential to good teaching. Most university teachers don't even know how to set an exam, much less mark it. Nor do they want to know. That's why students - who know even less than the professors do about examinations - are commonly hired to do the marking.

Many, many professors consider teaching an intrusion on the great thoughts they are pondering. That's where prestige lies. And a system like that produces people so lacking in teaching skills they don't even know how to speak to a class. They assign expensive textbooks that are of almost no educational value. They know nothing of the kind of teaching that produces real learning.

And, oh, the university halls reek of ego and arrogance and pomposity.

The result is a system whose teaching methods are both incompetent and very, very expensive.

And forget the idea of "good" universities. I've taught in four universities on three continents. I've spoken at many others. They're all the same. Usually, the term "good" university is simply a snobbish way of saying rich kids go there. Remember, George Bush Jr., almost certainly the most ignorant president in US history, got a master's degree from a "good" university.

We need the research, of course. We also need the learning. But we aren't getting it. We could get it, and we could get it more cheaply. But egos and snobbery get in the way.

This is a crisis that is coming your way.

The front page headline was annoying. Using the term "grits" to mean Liberals has had no meaning for well over a hundred years. So far as I know, Irving papers are the only ones who still use it.

The story is that the Liberals are looking at cutting the number of teachers in the province as a part of reducing spending. Of course. It's the teachers and students who caused this recession., and they have to pay for it - just like the minimum wage workers and all those other leeches in this province. Never mind that this province has serious educational problems. The important thing is we don't want to give any impression that the very, very rich and their wide-open theft of high profits while others suffer, and they're very expensive demands on government, and their reluctance to pay any taxes at all might have something to do with this.

In the years I have lived here, I have never seen a single line in the Irving press to suggest that the very, very rich might have something to do with our hard times. Even "policy expert" Don Savoie has never suggested it. And if you read "Over a Cliff", you'll note that we are the ones going over a cliff while the Irvings and friends just stand at the edge and wave goodbye to us.

.I am baffled at the urgency given to school bus children sharing a French/English bus. The number of children involved is small, and there seem to have been no complaints. Heck, we had no school buses in Montreal when I was a kid. So I rode on public transport in which I was commonly the only anglo. What's the big deal?

The big story on A8 is that a restaurant in Moncton might be closing. Or it might not. Nobody knows. That was thought worth a story and a big, colour photo.
The deep-thinking editorial  writer gives us an intellectual treat with a long, long editorial about how people shouldn't dump snow where they aren't supposed to. What a privilege to have such a great mind among us!.

Norbert has a column on government corruption and irresponsible use of our tax money. Amazingly, he manages to say nothing about it. And the name  Irving doesn't appear even once.

There's really nothing on the commentary page. Alec Bruce has a column on shale gas and how it will make us all rich (despite, as he suggests, that only a fool would would make a prediction on fuel prices.)

Don't worry, Alec. The shale gas companies are in no hurry, not when the price is so low. They can easily wait a year until Gallant gets the report that will tell him there's no problem. And anybody who disagrees will be looking at a line of police with combat rifles.

And, hey, there is no climate change. Don't worry about a thing.
Canada&World opens with "Turmoil in Yemen Grows". They must have bought that story at a used story sale. This is not just a 'turmoil"  This is a full scale land and air invasion - a war. It's backed by the US which, among other things, has two warships closing in. It's also backed by forces from a large number of arab countries, most of which have shown no similar enthusiasm to fight ISIS. With Saudi Arabia in the lead, this can scarcely be a war for justice and freedom and good things. It is more like a serious blow against any hope for stability in the region, an interference in Yemen's internal affairs, and one that looks as if it will spread the chaos to other countries, and maybe even draw in Russia and China. This is the American dream of world conquest gone mad.

American foreign policy has been one disaster after another for a good fifty years. Millions have died - in the name of bringing them peace and freedom - neither of which has actually be given to anybody.

And Harper has committed us to another year of this chaos which is none of our business.

The other big story is that the New Brunswick government consulted community groups on what they think should be in the budget. This, to the Irving press, is a big story.

Come off it.

The real story is that an elected government gets elected (in a democracy) by having a philosophy of the role of government and by presenting its plans. A democratic government does not ask people what to do. The decision of what to do should be made BEFORE the election. That's why we have elections.

And if they must ask somebody, why on earth would they ask random community groups? What the budget should be requires expert advice. For a government to ask people what it should do is like a doctor asking the general public how he should perform brain surgery.

This is an absurd story. It makes New Brunswick look like a hick place. If the Irving press were a real press, it would have an editorial giving the Liberal party hell for not having policy ideas in the first place - instead of today's babble about snowbanks.

However, there was one, good suggestion. Highway tolls. Boy. That'll make the very rich pay their share.  And it will be a big break for the hungry and homeless since they don't have cars.

B3 has a smashing story so special that the reporter gets her colour picture as part of the byline. It's about a woman in Toronto who just loves to breed cats.

B5 has a whole page about the Germanwings crash. I guess nothing else was happening in the world.

Well, they might have touched on Ukraine where the billionaires who are the government in Kiev are fighting each other to bleed the people of that country as much as they can. They might have had something on how the government our side installed in Kiev has impoverished the whole country so they can get their greedy fingers on everything. Funny how that hasn't been mentioned at all.

And we are involved on the side of the billionaires. Harper has decided it is necessary for Canadians to risk their lives to help the billionaires who have robbed that country blind. And he's decided it's worth the risk, even of a nuclear war as a result.

And why is there no story on the massive firings at CBC - the result of deep, government cuts to funding.
Oh, I know, some clown will say why should we fund CBC when we get private channels free? The answer is we don't get private channels free. Everything has to be paid for - and we have to pay it. We pay for those annoying ads on TV whenever we buy a product. There is no such thing as a free ride.

Additionally, private TV and radio (especially radio) do a lousy job of reporting. In particular, radio news staffs are normally way too small (and poorly trained) to cover the news. And private radio and TV both get very touchy about dealing with any news that might affect station ownership or sponsors. ( just like the Irving press.)

I've worked years for both private and CBC on radio and television. Sometimes, CBC annoyed me. And people like Harper work hard to influence it and to destroy it. But for quality of news and commentary, CBC outclasses anything in North America. And Harper is destroying. And he's destroying it BECAUSE it's good.

(Don't trust BBC news, though. It's not as bad yet as Fox is. But it's going in that direction.)



  1. Hi Graeme,

    The consultations on the economy you refer to were not directed at community groups as such. Minister Boudreau and a few other N.B.Liberal politicians traveled to 14 communities and gathered information from any residents that chose to attend and speak to, not what should be in the budget, but what government policies are wasteful and should be eliminated and what could be done to increase revenues, purely from the citizens' point of view. It's called consultation and it wasn't a bad idea.

    HST hikes aside, there were other suggestions, my own two favorites are carbon taxation and requiring the very wealthiest N.B.ers to pay their fair share of taxes. If you check the article you will see the list of recommendations.

    Now, I know this may seem ingenuous to you, but it was a response to the tremendous outrage that was expressed by the public when the previous government refused to "consult" with the public on the shale gas issue. The current government wants, for better or not, to seem to be listening to the common man (and woman).

    They are, as is often the case, damned if they do and damned if they don't. Today's article was just reporting the results of the group discussions. Just wanted to clarify.

  2. Oh, I understand all that. The fact remains that is not the way a democracy should work. This is not an exercise like figuring out why a car won't start. In a real democracy, parties have a position on what society should be like, what is needed, and what is best for the general population. We don't have that. The Green party has a philosophy. The NDP has one - though sadly reduced. But neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have any that I can determine. That is, they have none but trying to win the next election. When I vote, I expect parties to tell me what their general philosophy is, and what measures they plan to take. The idea of electing party then having it ask you what it should do is absurd. In my own political thinking, you don't start with the economy. That is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The CCF was founded on what were essentially religious principles for what society needed. It's not a coincidence that the man who introduced medicare was a Baptist clergyman. You don't have to be religious to think this way. All you need is a sense of morality. The Liberals and conservatives don't have that. They are heavily loaded with power seekers like Brian Mulroney who saw politics as his personal road to wealth and status. And they start not with human need but with economic policies, ones that will win them the favour of the rich to finance their campaigns, and perhaps to let them in on some of the goodies. The time for "consulting" is before and during the elections. That's what elections are for. To consult with random groups after the election is a sop to the public and a fraud. In a real democracy, you consult and you educate to sell your principles and policies. To do it after the election is a cheap fraud, and has no connection with democracy.

  3. Oh, I understand all that. The problem is that we no longer have democratic governments any more. And because of that politicians lie and reverse their stand after the election (and say that that's okay because it's been done in N.B. forever!!) and control government autocratically while they are in office.

    It is absurd to think think that citizens are not going to respond to this kind of injustice by expressing an opinion whether government encourages them to do so or not. The gesture to solicit people's opinions may be utterly shallow and meaningless, but it does address the issue in some small way.

    People can have their say during a government's mandate; that is part of a democracy as well and sometimes if they speak long enough and loud enough the government listens.

    We can be heard in a structured, overly polite setting, or we can get out and demonstrate in great numbers, or we can confront the police or block access to an inherently destructive corporate development using civil disobedience, which although illegal, is generally accepted as an option in a democratic society as well.

    I think you are too rigid in your thinking here. Sure, I understand that in a perfect world, governments would establish their intents and goals and follow through with them. And I thoroughly agree that having a philosophy,
    other than getting elected, is essential, but we all have to ultimately listen to each other's views, both before and after the election. For one thing that's what social justice and social license are all about. But I'd better not go there.

    Even though the Liberals and the P.C.'s have no philosophy, and I agree they don't, doesn't mean that
    they can't be influenced for the better over time. That's just what will end up happening with climate change and pipelines, eventually they will smarten up, well the Liberals might, I see no role for either Republican or Conservative morality in the future. We need to be open to having a dialogue with government at any time.
    Too much cynicism won't help the cause, it will hinder it.

  4. I'm not cynical. I certainly would rather not see what I'm seeing. But it is there, and I can seeing it. The purpose of "consultation" is to stun people into thinking they've been listened to. It doesn't change the minds of big money - and big money is what runs the government. That's as true of Liberals as it is of Conservatives. (I knew the Liberal "bagman" (collector of big money) for the federal Liberals back in the 70s.)
    Somehow, people in this province have to to learn to expect moral purpose in government, and they have to learn to avoid those parties that don't have any.

  5. I'm not cynical. I certainly would rather not see what I'm seeing. But it is there, and I can seeing it. The purpose of "consultation" is to stun people into thinking they've been listened to. It doesn't change the minds of big money - and big money is what runs the government. That's as true of Liberals as it is of Conservatives. (I knew the Liberal "bagman" (collector of big money) for the federal Liberals back in the 70s.)
    Somehow, people in this province have to to learn to expect moral purpose in government, and they have to learn to avoid those parties that don't have any.

    1. Fair enough. Philosophically, I agree with all that you say. It's just how we make sense of and learn to live with all the bad things out there, that create the differences between those of us that can't bear the thought of "business as usual".

  6. And that's fair enough, too. What has been frustrating to me is the way New Brunswickers can be such unthinking sheep. many other parts of the world are far, far more active.