Saturday, September 8, 2012

An Embargo On Ideas In The Offing?

One of the pleasures of my retired life is getting together for coffee on a regular basis with my friend Ray, a retired vice-principal and one of the rare 'good-guys' of administration that I encountered in my life as a teacher.

When we meet, we discuss a range of topics, many of them political, but also others that could be classified as philosophical, social, and metaphysical. On our most recent meeting, I told him how much I enjoy our exchanges, providing as they do not only an opportunity for the clarification of my own thoughts, but also an expansion of their scope and range.

In many ways, our discussions are what I used to enjoy most about university, back in the days of small classes, small tutorials, and small seminars. I attribute whatever critical thinking skills I possess largely to that education.

Unfortunately, over the years the notion of a post-secondary education as a means of cultivating one's ability to think has fallen into disfavour, devolving in Ontario to its nadir when that master of division and dissension, Mike Harris was our premier. He floated but never actually implemented the idea of funding universities based on the percentage of people who were able to get jobs six months after graduation, a notion perhaps not surprising coming from the man who showed such disdain for nuanced and complex thought.

While not quite so blatant, the neo-liberal reactionary agenda is again at work in Ontario under Dalton McGuinty's 'leadership.' Glen Murray, the minister of training, colleges and universities has proposed sweeping changes in how the province conducts the business of education, most, it seems to me, prompted by cost-cutting considerations.

Two of the most insidious proposals involve making the basic undergraduate degree a three-year-pursuit, and establishing an online-university that would require no real contact with one's professor and classmates, thereby eliminating the opportunity for the dynamic exchanges that are the key to achieving new ideas and perspectives. The fact that these proposals do not serve the cultivation of critical thinking skills, I can't help but consider in my more paranoid moments, are quite consistent with a corporate agenda that seems to value only compliant, unquestioning employees, not independent thinkers capable of seeing a broader picture.

In any event, Heather Mallick has written a thought-provoking piece in today's Star which suggests that nothing good can come out of these proposed changes.

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