Justin: serious about edumacation - Macleans.ca

Justin: serious about edumacation

Colby Cosh on the Liberal leadership contender’s op-ed


The Liberal Party of Canada held its third leadership debate over the weekend; you probably heard about how it led to an argument about the terrible things Martha said to Justin and what Marc said about what Martha said to Justin and whether or not there is actually anything in what Martha said to Justin… well, the news-cycle hivemind cannot help making things personal.

Something more interesting actually happened immediately before the debate, when Justin Trudeau published an op-ed on federal education policy—a self-evident attempt to deflect Marc Garneau’s criticisms of him for being a policy lightweight with no specific program. But I’m afraid reading the piece had me saying “If only!”

A Liberal Party led by me would make it the highest national economic priority to raise our post-secondary education rate…The Canadian promise, that if you get educated and work hard, you can guarantee a better life for yourself and for your kids, is being seriously questioned. Canadians are rightly concerned that their leaders have lost focus on the policy that is at the heart of this promise: access to affordable, high-quality education. So what should the federal role look like? It should be principled, specific and targeted at the overall goal of raising our participation rate from just over 50 per cent to 70 per cent.

It is impressive how slyly this op-ed transforms an argument for an educated citizenry into an argument for a massive expansion of specific institutions. Were the Justin Trudeaus of 1900, one wonders, calling for more Canadians to be trained as carriagemakers and blacksmiths? Universities, community colleges, and even trade schools are facing an unprecedented threat of electronic disintermediation; as textbooks, scholarly literature, and datasets are liberated by devoted anarchists like the late Aaron Swartz, vipers within the bosoms of the big old-fashioned schools are plotting to sabotage them with schemes for cheap, distributed online education.

Meanwhile, if your life is anything like mine, everywhere you look you see people choosing to pursue self-directed education and private-sector credentials, few of which are supplied by the academy as such. Got any friends boning up for professional accounting exams? Taking Microsoft programming courses? Acquiring CSS or CAD in their spare time? Learning art history or statistics from podcasts? Debating the art of drum-kit miking in an online forum?

I hardly know anybody who isn’t involved in what would have been called “continuing education” 20 years ago, when we still needed a term for it. Not all of these people wriggled past Grade 12 within the System, yet many have already built second careers, profitable avocations, or side businesses on human capital accumulated outside it.

If an educated, economically flexible populace is what we want, it might well be more sensible to reduce the secondary-education “participation rate” to 30% than to raise it to 70%. This is not to knock the spiritual and social benefits of formal education. (Mine got me a soft job making fun of people with political ambitions!) But Mr. Trudeau’s argument is explicitly economic, a matter of return on investment. By that criterion, the case for herding more marginal, otherwise uninterested students into school is questionable. We already have a lot of people, perhaps as many as any country, pursuing non-“STEM” (science, technology, engineering, and math) credentials and not getting much cash back. (Research on social rates of return from education indicates that most undergraduate degrees, STEM or not, are good bargains. But the benefit to additional students enticed by new forms of subsidy isn’t likely to be as great. The law of diminishing returns applies. It always applies.)

A policy to prepare young Canadians for a chaotic future might start with equipping primary schools better to facilitate the “lifelong learning” that has leapt, in a heartbeat, from windbag educator ideal to practical reality of the human condition. That is not, I hasten to add, really Ottawa’s business. Which is probably just as well, judging by troubled, expensive American national efforts to soup up the literacy and quantitative skills of their masses. It’s disturbing to see the near-certain next leader of the Liberal party behaving and thinking as though policymaking were a matter of simple Augustan fiat. We want people to be better-educated? Why, give them more education! Honestly, is this stuff so hard?

Justin’s education op-ed may not actually be unrelated to those awkward questions about his personal background and his preparedness for the leadership of a great political party. Trudeau is a man of leisure who had time and means to acquire two undergraduate degrees, along with bits and bobs of a couple others. It must come to about a decade of his life if you add it all up. Of course he respects formal education; he has guzzled it down as if he had heard they weren’t making any more of it.

But where is the awareness that some kinds of education may yield poor returns, or that 19th-century institutions may not be an ideal venue for teaching 21st-century citizens? Practically anybody—one is tempted to say “any random middle-class person”—could think through and itemize the problems with a “50% must be made 70%” approach. Trudeau didn’t.


Justin: serious about edumacation

  1. Ohhh here we go again…..everybody should be a plumber.

    • No, some can still be obsessive, obnoxious full-time internet commenters.

      • Some obnoxious online article writers can’t handle criticism. They much prefer the praise they think is their due for having a degree.

        The degree others aren’t allowed to have.

      • Nice work, if you can get it.

    • Responding to an article about the evolution of education you manage to illustrate in one sentence the failure of the old model. Read the entire article and think about what he’s saying… then go ahead and respond to what he actually said.

      • I’ve been through this same argument many times. It always ends with ‘everybody should be a plumber’. I just cut to the chase.

        See, that’s what the new model is all about….critical evaluation in less than months and years.

        • You’ve had the argument “many times” because you’ve only got half a dozen arguments in your entire arsenal. Regardless of what anyone else is talking about, you’ve got your six themes and you will try to force any discussion into one of your boring pigeon-holes no matter how poor the fit.

          We’ve heard all your arguments (endless times) so either come up with some new ones or shut the hell up and just read for a change.

          • People like you and Cosh are very big on the ‘class’ snobbishness you are keen to foist on Justin.

            You’re very keen on your own class, and keeping others out of it. Neither of you are working class plumbers I note. That’s for other….lesser…. people.

            Amazing….your class has none [in the populist sense] when it comes to a counter-argument though….just the usual Con name-calling.

          • Well, I’m hurt now… don’t you remember that my “class” is working class? I’ve had far less education than I wanted and I’d like nothing more than to see all people get as much education as they would like without barriers of finance or class.

            Once again you show your tendency to ignore the plain language in front of you and simply pigeon-hole other people and other ideas. Whatever level of education you may have attained, you are lazy as a reader and sloppy as a thinker. .

          • No, you aren’t working class, so no pretending.

            Once again you show your tendency to name-call and pose rather than think things through.

            Probably comes from trying to hang out with the finest mind in Bon Accord.

          • Well, at least you showed you’re against totally superficial comments and name-calling.

          • Er…actually CC…never mind. I thumbed you up on principle.

          • Awesome.

  2. I think you are being a little unfair. Trudeau is being rather vague – as you point out – but that doesn’t mean his vision can’t include such things as MOOCs and other non-traditional forms of education. Personally, I’d like to see the feds (or the provinces) take a role in delivering huge chunks of what will become the new core curriculum to anyone who wants them at nominal cost, or at no cost, online. Make the information available to all but retain control of certification by means of challenge exams or other requirements.

    You suggest that Trudeau is wedded to the old bricks and mortar style of education but I’d say that is your reading rather than his proposal.

    • I find it interesting Trudeau would weigh in on what is essentially a provincial matter. Aren’t there enough federal issues to tackle?

      • Trudeau specifically cited the provincial jurisdiction at the beginning of his statments, and suggested the role of the federal government is one of enhancement.

        • How much will this “enhancement” cost us? If Trudeau wants to talk education, he should seek the leadership of the Quebec Liberals, not the federal ones. Where else will he be poking his nose in where it doesn’t belong?

          • National standards and national ideals are not meaningless, and the provinces are reknowned for simply taking special funds and drawing them into general revenues. There is a role for the federal government here, whether you understand why or not.

          • Think Ralph and lawn mowers…Chris probably missed that one in Calmar…i was in AB for it though. Nary a word of censure for Ralph cept from responsible ABs as i remember it.

      • Shouldn’t national leaders be involved in national problems….especially since we are moving into the knowledge age….which affects the economy?

        • The less the federal government is involved in my life, the better. They are the least efficient yet costliest level of government we have. If the Feds got involved in education, the only two provinces that would make it in the e-text books are Quebec and Ontario.

          • That kind of bumper sticker remark is a direct result of a poor education.

          • Must you become personally judgmental in your debate? Just how much do you want the government to intrude in your life and at what cost?

          • As much as is needed Chris. Stop being partisan about it and think.

            The question isn’t big v small govt….it’s smart govt….the right size govt

            The govt isn’t ‘intruding’….the govt is us….and we jointly decided we needed the services a decent govt can provide.

          • You seem to have little problem judging the motives of everyone but ABs . The AB victim card has grown worn by now…best throw it away. Get one that says instead…AB,a national leader!

          • Alberta has a very progressive education system. The provincial government will fund students to go to any school their parents decide to send them to. These include Arabic schools, science schools, French schools, Spanish Schools, etc. Or if you chose to home school…..everybody gets the base money and if the option is more money than what if costs for public school, they top it up themselves.

          • My wife’s a teacher. She’d agree with you that AB does a good job. She’s particularly impressed with the Edmonton school boards. It’s an odd truism, but it looks like two apparently contradictory systems like ABs and the Finish model can both work.

          • Thank goodness the people who actually have to make these decisions know better than you on this score.

      • That’s a fair point. But just like with health care I think the feds can play a role without being the ultimate service provider. I think that access to education can be, and should be, the new national project. The infrastructure is in place (or very nearly so) we just need to put the information online and let the next generations get as much education as they can absorb without a lot of the financial barriers that currently exist.

        If the feds can provide the backbone (the information and the delivery system) then the provinces can provide the administration (testing, certification, standards.)

        If you believe, as some folks do, that Canada needs a new national project, then wouldn’t an educational revolution be a great one?

        • I’m sorry, but as wonderful as that all sounds, every time the Feds get involved in an area of Provincial jurisdiction, it means duplication, waste and another layer of burocracy. They should not even take tax dollars to send back to provinces for Medicare but let the provinces collect it directly without laundering it through a federal ministry.

          • Been to a hospital outside of Ontario, Quebec or Alberta-during-an-oil- boom? thank Ottawa.

          • Thank Ottawa for setting national standards for the provinces to live up to and then download the service delivery expense to the provinces? They initially funded healthcare 50%. Then they cut, cut, cut their percentage. The Federal Health Department is just another federal money and power grab.

          • Yes, there have been cuts and that is unfortunate.

          • Yes, and you know why that happened?

            Everytime the provinces wanted a windfall, they just upped their “health spending” by a few million and then received an equal amount from the feds, regardless of how wasteful the spending was.

            The federal government had no choice to reduce its percentage to stop this nonesense. Perhaps if the provinces were willing to actually allocate dollars from the federal government as they are intended, that wouldn’t have happened.

          • I’ll sound terribly neoconish here, but I do think things work best when there’s a direct relationship between the taxpayers and the government spending tax money. In the same way that health care has been mismanaged, I’m fearful any additional federal forays into postsecondary arenas would be similarly unhelpful.

          • Actually I mostly agree with you.

            It seems to me the biggest problems in government is both its inability to stop programs once they get started, and the unwillingness of government to research the effectiveness of its programs and make appropriate changes.

            The issue you’re pointing to is a symptom of that I believe. The federal government could more effectively intercede and be seen as having a more direct relationship, if the programs they put forth were better tailored to the specific mandate they have, more visible in nature, and if those programs were subject to review for effectiveness.

            After all, cliche as it is to say, there really is only one taxpayer, and every level of government is essentially in a direct relationship. The issue it seems to me is that federal programs working in provincial jurisdiction are too often hidden, or the monies simply disappear into general revenues, with no accountability. We need to change this because the feds do have a role to play that can’t be handled by the provinces in many cases.

            Some efforts/ideas are meant to be national in scope, and those are appropriately handled by a national government. The trick is putting in place proper safeguards and whatnot.

          • nodding along

          • I don’t think we should let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Certainly government is inefficient and wasteful and prone to corruption, but the remedy for that is better government. If a goal is worth attaining, then the debate is only what is the best way of getting to the goal.

            People are criticizing Trudeau for pulling the 70% target out of some dark recesss – and perhaps they are right about that – but I think the target is worthwhile even if the exact numbers are subject to debate.

            The world continues to get more complex, and various fields of knowledge more specialized. If we all agree that the demand curve for education is going to continue to grow – as it seems to me – then obviously we need to figure how best to satisfy that demand. Many folks here are making the argument that the demand for education is false – a bubble so to speak – and that view deserves consideration.

            In any case, an interesting debate. And that’s what we want to see, right?

    • Exactly right. This article is a total misread of what Trudeau actually said, in my humble opinion.

      • That`s right.
        You guys keep making excuses for this empty suit wanting to be a leader and you will soon see the end of the LPC.

        • To go from discussing the facts of what someone actually said, to inferring that one is “making excuses” by insisting that his words be fairly interpreted, demonstrates only your bias.

          You believe Trudeau is an “empty suit” and then interpret everything through that lens. Yours is a psychological schema seeking to justify an undeniable confirmation bias.

  3. This is too funny, but upon reading the article I was wondering what EmilyOne’s comment would be. And low and behold, I go down to the comment section to take a peek, and here is EmilyOne, first in line to offer up her steadfast reply: Ohhhh here we go again………

    Here is what I think: too many educational options are centered on university training and on acquiring university degrees. Why not step out of that mode and put more emphasis on timely delivery of educational needs. Actually, I think Cosh is thinking in that direction too.

    Germany would be a good example of how to go about that.

    • Actually, Trudeau made a point a saying that his definition of “post-secondary” included all forms of skill enhancement. This article doesn’t capture that at all.

      • Neither does the goal of increasing a definition of “post-secondary participation” that can’t possibly include personal or private skill enhancements.

        • It seemed to me that Trudeau was fairly explicit about what he meant. His main concern seemed to be a desire to emphasize that what he was talking about wasn’t just the typical ‘get a university degree’ mantra we’re so familiar with, but something more inclusive and more reflective of the labour situation in Canada in general, ie. specialized skills for specific industries for example.

          A lot of the personal or private skill enhancements in question are already well covered in terms of the things you reference in your article, so I’m not sure what your expectation really is here.

          I get that your modus operandi generally involves stirring the pot, but it seems to me you’re kind of over-reaching on that point. I will concede my own point was a little open-ended, but I certainly didn’t mean to suggest it was universally inclusive in the way you took it.

  4. Perhaps I’m missing something here, but it seemed to me at the time that Trudeau was advocating for all forms of post-secondary skills enhancement, including college degrees that would alleviate the increasing shortages of skills in all sorts of various industries.

    Based on my work, many if not all manufacturing and resource based industries are currently suffering–and are poised to suffer even more– a shortage of skilled workers who can fill the positions they need filled.

    Maybe the industries themselves should pay for this, that’s certainly an discussion we should have, but nonetheless it’s a very real shortage we need to deal with.

    There seems to be somewhat of a selection bias in Mr. Cosh’s anecdotal reference to all the people he apparently knows who are always “updating their skills”. Seems to me that in a workplace where knowledge and the ability to communicate is the bread and butter of an organization, it would be surprising if that wasn’t the case. Broader still, people naturally relate to those within their own demographic, which in Mr. Cosh’s case appears to be informing his opinion, if I can use that term loosely.

    I get a real defeatist vibe off this article in terms of advocating increasing and ongoing education to the populace, as though those who haven’t already done so, or aren’t already doing so, are a lost cause and not worth our time. Yikes.

    • There is probably at least as much anecdotal stuff out there about the person who tried to upgrade this or that skill online, but decided they’d rather sit in a class room full of real people, if only because they needed the discipline of the actual class room and the feeling of human fellowship it gives many people.

      • Not to mention the anecdotes you don’t hear of.. someone trying to educate themselves off of online courses and forums and either ending up with not enough education in anything to be terribly useful, or worse, ending up with a raft of hooey in their heads and thinking themselves educated for finding it.

  5. A lot of the examples listed are time-honoured requirements from a specialized field which requires university education, pursuit of hobbies, or community college-ish stuff that may as well be, for all people are attacking EmilyOne, pretty plumber-ish. If these bold new opportunities outside of university exist, why is it so hard for us – author and reader both – to come up with examples?

    • Because getting would-be employers to accept skills gained in this less-formal way has been a significant hurdle. In my field bosses wouldn’t think of hiring anyone without a bachelor’s degree although the bosses themselves rose up the same ranks, decades ago, without one.

      But I work for a large organization with typically lumbering HR policies. Sooner or later, I expect smaller employers to acknowledge demonstrable learning acquired via the online likes of Coursera and Udacity in the U.S.., where educators increasingly respect – and resist – them as the serious rival to traditional institutions that they are.

      • That rings true, but no matter how poorly Mr. Cosh understood Trudeau, I don’t think he was saying “let’s scrap qualfiications”

      • A lot of those large organizations with the lumbering HR departments are short changing themselves. Seriously talented people tend to flit about from one type of job to another and one course to another. They often don’t have A-B-C resumes.

        • However, the exact same thing can be said for seriously problematic people as well.

          As it turns out, cream’s not the only thing that floats.

    • How many dot-com millionaires were and are self-educated kids? People who invented their particular areas of expertise and then turned around and educated the world in how to use the tools they invented? It’s happened more than once.

      If you’re focusing solely on formal education, then it’s hard to point at empirical evidence because the field is in it’s infancy. For my part, I have learned an awful lot about history in the past few months courtesy of some online MOOC’s (Massive Online Open Courses). At my age, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever gain any financial advantage from this free education. but money is not the only reason to value education,

      • First paragraph – sure, but let’s not pin the countries hopes of the country on it. For the second paragraph, I am also glad to hear it.

        • It’s also a myth that most of what we have is the result of drop-outs inventing stuff in the garage. The old boot-straps stuff.

  6. The bulk of the media in this country are ignoring their resposnibilty to the people of Canada. Trudeau gets far too much positive press for a guy who has done nothing with his life and would not be an MP if his Dad had not been P.M. Look at the example of him a rich guy and his experience compared to Prince Harry and William. They have been taught leadership and responsibilty but only one will assume the greater role.They have been exposed to the problems of the commoner including military service to their country. When I see the media going ga ga over this guy while we have canadiates like Garneau and Hall -Findlay I fear for my country. We have become a country of celebrity appeal like our friends to the south. Look what is happening there from the media pushing a guy without enough on the ball to be a world leader. A social worker to president. Will we have a kindergarten teacher to P.M .? I hope not.

    • The work of a schoolteacher should be held in higher regard than either of the two princes, his work with Kattimavik more involved than their charitable gladhanding.


      • You obviously do not live in B.C or Ontario where the socialist lead unions are a total pain in the butt. When I hear them say it is all about kids that is the biggest lie perpetrated on the public.

    • What social worker became president? Do you mean the civil rights attorney and lecturer in constitutional law who became a Senator and is the current President? Or did I miss a president?

      • You have the right guy Call him what you may but his job in Chicago was high paid social worker. What would you call him.? As for his time in the senate the same bills he denied as a Senator he now as President finds them very attractive. He will soon have his country in the category of the third world., I think your Constitution calls for a budget every year .Seems this constitutional lawyer did not study that part.

        • You can focus all you like on the 3 years Obama spent working at an NGO shortly after he finished his undergraduate degree at Columbia, but it seems terribly disingenuous to just ignore the fact that he then went on to law school at Harvard, and subsequently spent 12 years teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago.

          Your “He was just a social worker” argument ignores everything that Barack Obama did after 1988. One can make ANYONE look unserious by simply ignoring 20 years of their life and accomplishments.

        • I’d call him president. Seriously, your country bumbled through two failed wars and an economic meltdown while led by a rich kid being run by his daddy’s bag man and it’s his replacement’s credentials that you question? I don’t think you need Canada or Chicago if you are looking for examples of policy lightweights, Texas breeds herds of them.

    • Absolutely! The fact that the LPC would take Junior over an actual rocket scientist says far more about their credibility as a national party than it does about anything else.

      • Refresh me on the depth of Harper’s background prior to being a party leader, would you?

        • The Prime Minister worked as a political lobbyist before entering politics directly.

          Before that, I believe his career high was working in a mail-room.

          • Not just any mail room, but the mail-room of a company where his dad was an accountant.

          • Correction. Apparently the PM spent some time working on Imperial Oil’s computer systems after working in their mail room.

        • Seriously? You would compare Harper and Trudeau in terms of quals? Let’s see.

          MP 1993-97
          President NCC
          MP (again) 2002-present
          Co-founder of Reform Party
          Negotiated merger of PC and CA parties
          Leader of the Opposition 2002-2006


          • So basically, nothing in the “real world” at all.

          • You listed a bunch of things Harper did AFTER he became a party leader. I will agree with you that Trudeau cannot cite his experience as party leader in his quest to be elected as party leader.

        • He led a political organization with ~40,000 members, and had previously served as an MP before that.

          The most Junior can claim to have led is a high school drama class.

          • Trudeau chaired Katimavik, worked as a teacher, chaired the youth engagement thingy for the Liberal party, and spearheaded environmental campaigns. I’m not privileging him over Harper, just suggesting the two aren’t too far off in terms of substantive background prior to becoming leader (assuming Trudeau does – I’d go with MHF or Garneau, were I voting). And has Trudeau not served as an MP too? Since you raise that credential, it would be worth noting that he won a riding that was far from an easy victory. One could not seriously make the same claim about Harper.

          • He led a political organization with ~40,000 members, and had previously served as an MP before that.

            The most Junior can claim to have led is a high school drama class.

            I’m pretty sure that Trudaeu is serving as an MP as we speak.

          • Further to that, the ” ~40,000 members” of the NCC were, and are, as inconsequential as 40,000 Facebook friends. The entire functional portion of the NCC could ride comfortably in a mini-van.

          • Yes, everything Harper has ever done is laughable and contemptible. He is a bad person.

          • The question, old bean, was about the credentials of Mr. Harper versus the credentials of Mr. Trudeau. Pretend Rick brought up the 40,000 members as if it proved something about Mr. Harper’s previous heavy responsibilites.

            In hindsight, I probably should have compared Harper’s 40,000 ‘members’ with Mr. Trudeaus 12 bazillion Twitter followers to make the same point. Both numbers are pure bullshit, and every thinking person knows it. Harper ran a fan club for a couple of years. His single dubious achievement in that job was to launch a lawsuit against the government -which he lost- in an attempt to overturn election funding laws. Those laws that he failed to get overturned are, interestingly enough, the exact same laws that the CPC was eventually convicted of breaching. Small world, eh?

          • I think he also had a fair bit to do with Preston Manning’s campaigns.

    • If I’m not mistaken, before heading into politics, Stephen Harper’s most impressive career credential was having worked in a mail-room.

  7. One large missing piece of our education system is a course equipping our young with the skill of logical thought. The ancient Greeks developed this process and in turn used it to develop the basis for modern science using only the power of logical thought processes.
    A one semester course could equip each young person with a bulls**t filter which could then be used to protect them from many of the stupid decisions they would other wise make. (Of course they wouldn’t be as useful as consumers of every new trend — and they’d be more difficult to sell political crap to —)

    • In theory, EVERY course should be teaching some of those skills. That said, many universities do indeed now have courses specifically focusing on general “critical thinking” skills and the like, and many programs require students to complete courses such as these as a prerequisite for their degree.

  8. Trudeau: “We should also consider establishing a personal RESP program, to ensure working Canadians can also improve their skills. …We should partner with the private and non-profit sectors to increase the amount Canadian workplaces invest in training their employees.”

    I’m not so much a Trudeau fan, but it seems to me his piece ably accounted for the notions of lifelong learning and non-university/college programs you suggest he’s hopelessly biased against in favour of formal institutions.

    But I do agree with you that the 70% figure is a simplistic goal for a complicated problem. And if memory serves me, the Millennium Scholarship program under the Libs was fodder for Quebec separatist bellyaching. Even if schemes can be developed that avoid pissing off Quebec, there’s still the matter of creating capacity at the postsecondary level (tuition alone does not cover the cost of creating capacity). There’s every reason to expect we’d simply end up funding students that would have gone to university and college anyway, with the 70% figure being unattainable.

    Even if we could realize 70%, there’s the matter of workforce capacity too. Just because 7/10 jobs now require postsecondary credentials (according to Trudeau), that doesn’t mean that 2/10 jobs are going unfilled due to an unqualified workforce. And if we turn university and college degrees into the equivalent of a high school diploma (most everyone has one), then I wouldn’t surprised if 9/10 jobs required postsecondary papers. If education alone levelled the employment playing field, it would be wonderful. But there’s many other factors of social/cultural capital, class, and the like that influence an individual’s chances.

    • Well I wouldn’t take that 70% figure too seriously. Most ideals a person aspires to, go unmet, in fact some would argue that they need to be slightly beyond us in order to ensure continued striving. I doubt the figure is meant as some sort of absolute target that MUST be met or else, or that it’s some sort of panacea to all that ails us.

      That’s a wordy way of saying its merely a target, and even if you only get halfway there you’ve still accomplished something worthwhile.

      Sometimes I wonder if our obsession with perfect detail hasn’t produced a generation of politicians who can’t talk straight for fear of tripping over details that can’t possibly ever be 100% perfect or that they can ever have a complete grasp on in all cases.

      That’s why I prefer politicians who get the ideals and generalities right, and leave the details to experts in the field in question to generate the actual policies. This idea that one person or a cabinet of people can be all things to all people and know everything and produce every bit of policy, without huge amounts of input from the groups in our society dedicated to knowing the intimate details of their field, is seriously misplaced.

      • Agreed with the notion of goals being worthwhile, and that false criteria of perfection can hamstring most any policy. But, I’m not fully convinced that education is the prime limiting factor (at least postsecondary) in enhancing economic and social equality. Given the potential for political minefields and waste inherent in federal involvement in largely provincial mandates, it’s not being a stickler to question the premises of Trudeau’s proposals (no matter how vague).

        • A fair rebuttal indeed. Cheers.

  9. I certainly agree with the notion that we’re artificially pressuring too many students into attending university (though, as others have pointed out, Trudeau was apparently explicitly referring to ALL forms of post-secondary education, not just traditional university or college degrees/diplomas). There are plenty of students in university who either have no intention, or not prospects, of ever working in a field for which the degree they are pursuing is necessary. It’s why so many university graduates end up in college programs after they graduate.

    Now, I don’t think that formal education is ever a “waste”, and the value of a university education shouldn’t (and can’t) simply be measured using a simple dollars and cents / employment rubric, but still. The reason that many programs in the Humanities and Social Sciences so often come under fire for being “useless” degrees has much less to do with the programs themselves than with the students in the program, and their disinterest in actually pursuing a career in the field that they’re studying. Which isn’t to say that every student should have chosen a career path by the age of 16 (when they’re applying for university), but rather that the fact that students end up in jobs and careers requiring different knowledge or skills than the academic program they signed up for at 16 is not actually an indictment of the education they received.

    The problem, imho, is that we’ve taken the fact that people with university degrees tend to have better and higher paying jobs than those without, and warped it into the dual notions that 1) university is about getting you a good job and 2) therefore everyone who wants a good job should go to university. Both of which are both terribly wrong-headed, and counter-productive.

  10. My sister is single mom who work into evenings, I work at home and mind my niece and nephew a few hours a day after school until my sis is done with work. My nephew likes to be outside and doing stuff but my niece is turning into a science/math nerd. Over past two years, I am home schooling them through Khan Academy and online lectures that top US universities put online for free – MIT/Harvard/Berkeley recently launched online venture to educate the world. Public school is superfluous when a better education can be had online.

    Canadian schools are in theory public institutions but have little outreach to public but private and public American universities have huge online presence. My niece and nephew are getting better education online from American sources than what they receive here in Canada. And what about incongruity of having to pay for Canadian education from second and third rate universities when you can be educated by top American professors for free.

    I thought Trudeau’s article was craptacular because he gave no indication at all that he’s actually spent time thinking about future of education.

  11. I also agree with Cosh that university participation should be reduced. I think The State should provide free education for people who want to go into science or math while people who want to study Arts or Humanties have to pay big $$$ for tuition because there are too many people getting university degrees who really don’t need one.

    Elementary and high school should be more demanding, kids should be learning much more in public school and then university should be mostly for scientists, mathematicians, doctors, engineers, lawyers …. etc. We should be finished public school by age 13 or 14, and then work or apprentice or university and school should be done entirely by 20. School is too much a nursery, teenagers should be out learning in real world.

    • Yeah, this being 1770 and all……

    • The State should provide free education for people who want to go into science or math while people who want to study Arts or Humanities have to pay big $$$ for tuition because there are too many people getting university degrees who really don’t need one.

      I think that solution simply punishes those students studying the Arts and Humanities who actually DO want to go in to careers that require a degree in these fields. I don’t think that the problem of there being too many people in History programs vis a vis the number of jobs available for people in the field should be solved by punishing the people who want to make a career of studying history. Besides the fact that a university education is not supposed to be about job training, there surely must be a better way of reducing the over-subscription in programs X and Y without punishing students who actually need a university education in X and Y to pursue their chosen career path.

      • Yes, it has to do with making a university degree a demanding experience.

        Money should never be a barrier to someone seeking a degree. A lack of ability, however, should be a huge barrier.

        Currently, we have that almost reversed.

        And when you think about how most universities are funded.. based on students’ tuition and gov’t funding/student.. this makes perfect sense. If you get your money from having more students, what’s the benefit to forcing students to leave?

        • Exactly.

          And I don’t think the universities are chiefly to blame here. If your funding is based on how many students you have (as you say, it goes beyond tuition – provincial grants are usually assigned on a per-student basis as well) and one of the criteria you’re judged on is “graduation rate” then no matter how much the quality of a student’s education is your focus, there’s a terrible pressure to let more students in, and make sure more students graduate. So, if you’re a university administrator, there’s a great deal of financial pressure to make it easier for students to get in to university, and then to make it easier for them to graduate once they do.

          • Almost like someone intentionally designed it that way. Meanwhile the conventional rhetoric –

            ” By that criterion, the case for herding more marginal, otherwise uninterested students into school is questionable.”

            – is to blame it on uninterested marginal students. And i note CC has managed to suggest Trudeau was only talking about the economic aspect, when it is likely that wasn’t the case at all.

          • I guess I would just say that I’m not sure that Cosh is “blaming students” there exactly. To my mind, when he suggests that maybe we shouldn’t be herding more marginal, otherwise uninterested students into school, he’s not blaming the sheep, he’s blaming the shepherds. (And I don’t even mean “sheep” in a particularly pejorative manner. I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest that maybe we exert too much unhelpful pressure on 16 year olds to choose the right educational path to shape the rest of their lives. That they follow societal and parental pressures is entirely understandable, imho.)

          • Fair enough. Although i think it’s more a question of paying the shepherds by the number of sheep they shear, rather than paying more attention to whether some of the sheep are bright enough to pursue a higher education.[ do you have the feeling this is getting just a little weird? Who’s the wolf at the door then?]

        • “what’s the benefit to forcing students to leave?”

          A lack of space dictates the number of students who are able to attend each university. In Canada we seem to have more students applying than spaces therefore what you are saying should happen IS happening. Students are culled by grades. If space is tight, the minimum grade entrance requirements rise. The trend is that when the economy is in the dumper, more people go to university. The competition to get in is stiffer.

          • Please read the question again.
            While your answer may be a good response to “What’s the benefit of not allowing in absolutely anybody,” it’s no response at all to the actual question which was posed.

            Increasing entrance requirements due to full capacity in no way translates to the degree programs themselves being demanding. If anything, it works in reverse because the number of students they have at entry is all they’ve got. If they kick out a good chunk of those before they move up, they’ve reduced the numbers at the higher level without increasing their student numbers at the lower levels at all.

  12. “By that criterion, the case for herding more marginal, otherwise uninterested students into school is questionable.”

    Fair enough [although they still seem to keep on coming] But i find the value of an education [particularly in N America] to be a frustrating one to define. Most reasonable people would agree that there is more than one way up a mountain, even if they all have different perils and advantages. When i first came t this counry in the late 70s the model seemed to be…keep it cheap and crowd em all in. [the egalitarian model lets say] Now it seems to be a form of crowd em in but front load them with onerous debt even if they haven’t much of a hope of getting the right kind of employment to get out of debt before the trump of doom.
    One thing seems to have been more or less constant…get em in there. But here are still models where for instance secondary education is or was more or less “free”[ put the little buggers there so CC could keep his BP levels at optimal level]…like Finland or Germany or the UK before that cow Thatcher taught us that consumerism and debt is a public good, even if there is no society to be good for.
    But we never seem to look at the other end of that dreadful socialstic confiscatory bit of cummunism…you have to keep the marks required to even get in the door high.Weed em out! Egalitarian or populist it isn’t. But it works. Invest in the best [at least for higher education] with appropriate bursaries, scholarships and whatever endowments apply to drive equality of opportunity. The rest of us need to think about what it will take to best put bread on the table.[ maybe we can take those educatory good stuff online somewhere after wielding class?] As for high tuition driving research or bringing the best or brightest in to teach our little buggers to think…i don’t see German or Finish unis going bankrupt, nor do i see their educational standards languishing around the bottom of the international totem pole either.

  13. Ah, yes but Trudeau is concerned that they need more fodder for the educational academic complex. Students are starting to drop out and not go because this higher education is just leaving big debts and no jobs. What are all those Liberal and NDP profs going to do if nobody shows up for their classes?

    • Job market is overrun by those from the education and humanities departments. If you are going to go to university take an option that provides a career after you are done

      • You’re just proving Emily right. Not easy. Or admirable.

      • Brian, you might find it surprising that even university programs that provide a career at the end….like nursing….require their students take options in humanities as well as sciences. What you want to graduate is a a well-rounded individual who has both scientific knowledge and a “big picture” view of the world. This new graduate is going to encounter people from all different cultures with different practices than they have been raised with. Some of these new graduates will be very young…22 years old and will encounter things that they would never have imagined existed except that they were introduced to it in a university sociology class. You want these graduates to be empathetic and non-judgmental. An introduction to the world through university study helps achieve that.

  14. I fail to see why anyone is taking JT’s comments on education seriously. It’s just electoral fluff, like his frequent statements in support of the “middle class” – meaningless, feel-good motherhood statements that are intended to make the candidate seem to be forward-thinking and visionary. I am sure that all the semi-specific proposals he put forth as items to be studied were supplied by his team – there’s no real substance behind any of them.

    It’s painfully clear that he himself hasn’t given the issue any real thought, and doesn’t have any real plan – he’s just trying to say something on a safe issue (after all, who’s going to *attack* the idea that we should promote education?) to make himself look good.

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