Friday, September 07, 2007

Argument in favour of universal post-secondary education suggests renewed emphasis on How To Formulate An Argument should be at top of Uni's agenda

Little Karen Zhou, of the always-hysterical Toronto Star Community Editorial Board, undertakes today to argue that post-secondary education is something along the lines of being a basic human right.

She says:

Being interested in education, a recent newspaper column caught my attention.

It was about there being too many students in our universities. The author's argument was that university is a place reserved for society's "brightest," dismissing as second-class those who would be better off seeking a job in the oil sands.

The latter, the columnist argued, are a waste of time for universities and do not deserve a chance at higher learning, unlike their "brighter" counterparts.

In contrast, I believe the majority of students should be encouraged to go on to higher education because in a knowledge-based economy, a higher education is not a choice but a requirement.

Okay, Karen. Not the most graceful start to an essay, but I think I'm following you. You could've mentioned who this columnist is, what the piece was that she wrote, and where it appeared but ... Well, just go on.

The writer of the column attributed the poor performance of students to some intrinsic distaste for advanced education.

However, she ignored the fact that universities play a critical role in shaping a student's character and experience. How somebody fares has a lot to do with the academic environment and its support structure for students.

Erm ... Hold up there, sweetheart. You seem to have lost the thread a bit. You said a second ago that your position was that "in a knowledge based-economy, a higher education is not a choice but a requirement." Were, uh ... Jeez, this is a little awkward but, uh ... Were you gonna bother substantiating that claim with anything like proof before you skipped on over to this gassy "character and experience" business? (And I trust "character and experience" aren't the best you've got because, you know, everything from the Merchant Marine to proponents of a return to corporal punishment tend to fall back on the same exact justifications.) ... But I interrupted you. No doubt you'll come back to your thesis presently.

It is the university's responsibility to encourage and engage young minds in [sic] big ideas and new ways of thinking about the world. This is true whether one is in the humanities or the sciences. And universities have fulfilled this responsibility well, judging by the large number of students who have done incredibly well in the [sic] intense academic atmosphere.

At the same time, there are also those who become disenchanted with university. It is this latter group that the university has failed in terms of providing a satisfying undergraduate experience. It is regrettable that so many could not take advantage of a unique [??? -ed.] learning opportunity.

Okay, Karen, now you've completely lost me. And as I peruse the remainder of your essay I see that there's no hope of retrieving a single relevant, let alone cogent, point from the lot. I mean, what the hell does all this chit-chat about "satisfying undergraduate experience," the need for "undergraduate mentorship programs," and "informed decisions about academic choices" have to do with the basic point under contention: that a University education either is or isn't an essential component of a healthy, so-called "knowledge-based" economy? (Indeed, given the recurrence of these vapid and jargonistic phrases, one gets the unsettling impression that you gleaned the entire substance of your little essay only from various blurbs on various University brochures ... And did you really end your piece with that platitudinous, rent-an-insight "Learning is a two-way street"? My God, girl, what post-secondary institution did you go to?)

What fearful irony that a defense of the necessity of universal post-secondary education should itself supply some of the worst tendencies to lazy, irrelevant and conspicuously (and relentlessly) contradictory thinking about these days. I should hope anyway, Karen, that your "undergratuate experience" was very "satisfying" and "unique" indeed, to make up for all that time (and money) you couldn't be bothered spending actually learning something.