On Educating Ourselves
- Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d'études canadiennes
- University of Toronto Press
- Volume 27, Number 4, Winter 1992-1993
- pp. 3-4
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On Educating Ourselves In Ontario, the Ministry of Colleges and Universities has recently been replaced by the new "superministry" of Education and Training, combining primary and secondary with higher education and skills training under the same umbrella, and clearly favouring a market-driven approach to education that stresses job skills over the values of a liberal education. Community colleges are unmistakably foregrounded at the expense of universities, despite attempts to generate closer collaboration and articulation programs between colleges and universities. Within this framework, university administrators are increasingly forced to turn to the private sector for funding, in a climate not always responsive to the less directly measureable benefits of research and teaching geared to independence of thought, scholarly rigour, or explorations of our cultural life. One would expect, from a social democrat government worthy of the name, at least a nominal and quiet recognition (when not confronted with the disenchanted unemployed or suspicious denizens of chambers of commerce) that the intellectual community has a role to play in our collective well-being just as important as that of the technocrats who benefit from state support. But the NDP does not seem to have a clear grasp of either its constituency or its platform. While cursed with the privilege of office during a particularly difficult economic period, and as the consequence of a protest vote rather than a genuinely socialist ballot, this government seems bent on alienating everyone except, possibly, trade unions, subway passengers, and the different groups who stand to benefit from low rental housing. Given that a fair measure of support for the NDP originated from college-educated people, and that academics are generally in the forefront of social policy analysis, it would seem at the very least unwise, if not dishonest, to discount the importance of universities to today's society even when they are not involved in designing lucrative space stations. The latest ACS Bulletin consists almost entirely of a dossier devoted to the Stoney Lake Seminar on the future of Canadian studies at all levels of education, but especially focusing on post-secondary education. 1 John Dinsmore of Forum Entreprises-Universites argues that perhaps university administrators need to pay more attention to generating support for innovative, state-of-the-art, integrative programs such as Canadian studies; he also argues that perhaps Canadianists should be Jess reluctant to become administrators.2 Academics are no less susceptible than socialist governments to compromise in the interests of survival, but the reluctance to serve observed by Mr. Dinsmore suggests that perhaps they do not compromise as much or as readily. On the other hand, unlike Jabour, business, and other groups, academics often are reluctant and ineffective lobbyists as well as hesitant to "administer" during a recession. There is less justification for their failure as lobbyists - presumably it is lack of time, and not a misguided sense of somehow being pleasantly above Journal ofCanadian Studies Vol. 27, No. 4 (Hiver 1992-93 Winter) 3 it all (or of its corollory, helpless cynicism) that so restrains them. Critics abound; effective communicators of criticism are all too rare. Ifthe Stoney Lake Seminar is not to linger in our memories as an exercise in futility, it will be because we value and creatively respond to the fact that someone other than ourselves actually recognizes the usefulness of a postsecondary liberal arts education in general, and in particular the need to develop further Canadian studies and its transdisciplinary coalition partners (women's studies, native studies, environmental studies, labour studies, etc.) Universities produce and reproduce knowledge in human subjects - that is undeniably part of their raison d'etre - but above all, unlike other institutions, they not only train young people to think critically but also reward them for doing so. Analysis and synthesis from an informed and contextualized position are at least of as much use on the job market as raw data (memorizing equations linking lasers and "grapple-grommets"), even without factoring in the hidden, valueadded component that transcends the job market: the development of an ability to think and act responsibly in the moral and political realm. Neither information nor analytical tools can be transmitted in a vacuum. Our students need an education of...