The case for the informed and worldly student - Macleans.ca
 

The case for the informed and worldly student

One of the most important things you can learn at university is that a world, beyond university, exists


 

First off, let me say that I can’t believe there’s a case undermining the value of the informed and worldly student.

Wait, I take that back. Since I know I shouldn’t put words in other people’s mouths, and probably can’t accurately do so, I’ll refrain from trying altogether.

Some of my recent posts have apparently elicited some head-scratching. Why are you talking about provincial budgets? Media ethics? Why does this concern me? What does it have to do with post-secondary education?

Well, my answer is quite simple:

Nothing.

I could make some absurd connection about the effects tobacco lawsuits will have on provincial university grants, but I think students deserve more credit than that. Besides, I’d rather not preface my posts with “you should care about this because…” or “what this means for you as a student is…”

Jeff Rybak makes the point that “student” is an identity. For him, perhaps it is. However, I know lots of students who coast through their university years feeling no connection to their school, student union or peers. True, they’re united in their debt and coffee-addictions, but I think I’ll remain relativistic when it comes to “identity assignment.” Just because we share similar experiences doesn’t mean we all define ourselves the same way. I’ll let the individual define him/herself.

I perceive my “student status” as a temporary one. Yes, I’m a student, and yes, I’m concerned about student issues. But I’m also Canadian, female, pro-choice, anti-cell phone at the dinner table, etc.; it’s my collection of different hats that make me who I am. Right now I’m immersed in a world of academia, somewhat sheltered from the harsh realities of the real world but accelerating quickly towards post-post-secondary life where I can’t complain to my faculty adviser when things don’t go my way. Straddling these two worlds allows me the privilege of time, resources and encouragement to read and learn about the world around me. Students are taught the latest social theories and scientific breakthroughs; why should we think about them only in abstract terms? Why not apply them to what’s going on in the world today?

I have to admit, some of the reactions to my posts got me scratching my head. Wait… doesn’t the University of Toronto Students’ Union have a campaign against water bottles? Didn’t the Canadian Federation of Students BC call for public transit reforms? What do these initiatives have to do with post-secondary education? Sure, I could draw a connection if I really wanted to, but isn’t that beside the point?

Then—I got it. AHA! I’m not blogging about the popular student issues; the ones the “powers that be” have deemed  worthy of student attention. That makes much more sense. After all, the issue of political advertising ethics can’t seduce a crowd quite like “sustainability” written on a poster board.

Back to my earlier point. I’m not trying to suggest that being a student doesn’t mean anything, but just that it doesn’t mean everything. I’m a student, yes, but only for a little while. And during that “little while” I’m fortunate enough to hear lectures about the latest and greatest sociological (and other) theories in my lectures. So I’m going to think about them when I read the paper, and maybe blog about them after. If you don’t like what I write, or find my posts irrelevant, feel free to click over to another blogger.

But perhaps better yet, think about where you come from—your ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, political affiliations, what you’ve learned in class—and debate me on the issues. That’s what the comment section is for, after all. Like I’ve said before, I think one of the most important things you can learn at university is that there exists a world beyond university. So, let’s talk about it.


 

The case for the informed and worldly student

  1. Robyn, my position is quite consistent. I’ve always maintained that student representatives who take their mandate as an excuse to “represent” on every issue under the sun are irresponsible and counter-productive. I believe you’ve indicated similar views at times. Well, the same applies to student journalists. It is just as irresponsible to regard a soapbox you have at your disposal – which is ostensibly yours to write on post-secondary issues – as a personal venue to write on every issue under the sun.

    Much as you regularly maintain the pose that you are attacked for your political views (sort of a preemptive ad hominem defense) the point that I am advancing is apolitical. I am merely suggesting that there is a time and a place for everything, and that we forget this at our peril. When student unions forget that they are there to represent students rather than address geo-political topics they do so at a cost to their credibility and relevance. And when student journalists do the same – well, you get the point.

    This is not merely a difference of style. Time and again you can easily see the consequences in every venue. When institutions that have resources and individuals who have authority are held accountable to their stated missions then we have, at least, the potential for responsibility. When those missions become “everything” there is no potential for accountability at all.

    In a vacuum of accountability, we have merely personality. The people with the loudest voices and the biggest egos dominate. And it’s wrong. The people with the best ideas aren’t always the loud talkers, and those ideas can’t get on the table when the agenda is swamped by every topic all at once.

    Robyn, I do agree with your criticism of student unions that run away with their mandates. But you can’t effectively counter them by running away with yours. Then we simply have ideologues backed into their respective corners shouting at each other across an impossible distance. That may qualify as punditry, perhaps, but I can’t call it effective either as journalism or as advocacy.

    You may not care about this, as I do, and I can’t make you. But Macleans Oncampus loses the moral authority to hold the CFS or any student advocacy group accountable to their stated goals if we can’t adhere to our own. We can’t criticize the CFS for their runaway agenda if we have the same thing occurring here.

  2. Robyn,
    If you want to write about just any topic, I believe that Blogger and WordPress offer free hosting for personal blogs. You are of course entitled to your opinions, but this is a website devoted to post-secondary education issues, and that’s what I expect to see, rather than personal political polemics. This strikes me as a reasonable expectation. As an aside, there seems to be an over-estimation on the part of contributors and editors here that people are actually interested in student politics re: articles on the CFS.

  3. I check MacLeans OnCampus every day. The articles about the CFS and school unions bore me to tears. I would much rather read about current events and their ties to the mindset of a university student, and I think Robyn does a great job of this. I think its absurd to put up barriers saying what is and is not or what should or should not be allowed on this site. Where are Macleans OnCampus goals stated? Because as a reader, I see the blogger and their opinion as the tie to the OnCampus life – not necessarily the content. I am a college and university graduate, as well as an educational administrator, and the blogs I forward on to colleagues and students are more often the ones that stem from ideas that think outside the box and challenge status quo, or ones that are just plain fun and take a turn from the negativity of most posts. Isn’t that what post secondary education is about?

  4. Hi Jeff,

    I want to make clear that my mandate was never to speak for anyone else. I’m doing exactly what I indicated I would do in my introductory blog post. If you feel I am compromising the “moral authority” of Maclean’s Oncampus or making irresponsible use of this supposed “soapbox,” I can do little more than offer an apology for your discontent. I will continue to cover the range of topics I have been covering, and I am fully entitled to do so.

    To Josh: There are 20 other blogs on this site. Pick one. There are those (like Anna) who might want to read something different.

  5. The problem has been that your articles, so far, have been neither worldly nor informed. They are not discussions about anything, but merely partisan hackery and tabloid-style ideological hysterics. And they reflect an astonishing degree of self-absorption and removal from the real world – yes, the actual world outside of the upper-class narcissist sphere of influence in which you seem to reside. Leave the mall, turn of Fox News, and go see it sometime.

    And so it seems rather hypocritical for you to suggest for an worldy and informed student, since you appear not be be one yourself. And if, as you suggest, anything goes, then what is this site about? If it’s about everything, it’s ultimately about nothing.

  6. I like to read about the CFS, and also the other stuff Robyn writes about.

    The CFS de-federation campaign fascinates me, but I read Robyn’s stuff because I agree with her, and I like the way she writes. When she writes about the CFS: Bonus!