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Scholarship or Sink

On April 24, 1997, the City of Belleville's flagship paper, The Intelligencer, ascended the editorial podium to endorse a message delivered by Mr. Ian Jukes of the Thornburg Centre for Professional Development in San Carlos, California.

Mr Jukes had travelled a wonderful distance to admonish students at our local community college to  become "technologically literate and technologically fluent" - or face a lifetime of marginal employment.

According to our editor, this signalled a long-overdue renaissance in educational thinking - a movement away from the fatuous indulgence of a liberal arts education. What students should have been doing all along - something the current jobless figures make clear - is develop marketable skills, so they will be of interest to employers in the 'New World Order' economy.

By way of corroboration, the Intelligencer quoted Ms. Angela Carmichael, a young woman apparently reaping the whirlwind of a bad decision. She is the ambivalent possessor of a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Ottawa ... which "hasn't prepared me for the workforce."

There is no doubt that people are having a hard time finding employment; and there is no doubt that most significant jobs require sophisticated skills. However, there are worrisome things about carte blanche endorsements of technical training that we should pay attention to.

It it is a sad comment that the only way young people can hope to 'get a life' is to relinquish any significant exposure to the accomplishments of humankind.

The life that they will live may not be nasty, brutish and short, but it will be superficial, unleavened and almost certainly foolish.

What of  music, literature, plays, poetry? Are these riches to be abandoned because politicians have been pandering to corporate agendas?

Of course not. The children of wealthy parents will continue to harvest cultural resources.

However, according to the Intelligencer, they apparently must be abandoned by the hoi polloi.

There is an anti-democratic dimension to this proposed pedagogy. The advice proffered by by Mr. Jukes, and seconded by the Intelligencer, is to be a specialist instead of a generalist. Yet we profess to be living in a democracy - something about ordinary people making decisions about the way their society and economy will operate. The problem is, if educational efforts must now be harnessed to the production of specialists, what are the chances that the resulting voters will have sufficient sense of the world, never mind of history, to make thoughtful choices? Does it not seem likely that dubious agendas will rush into this vacuum?

Indeed, should they somehow become engaged and informed, Mr Jukes' truncated students will be so dependent upon the status quo that it seems unlikely that they would ever be able to say anything save Yes! Yes!... More! More!

Surely, even if we are willing to give up the world's cultural repository in favour of jobs jobs jobs ... , we should still question whether present trajectories and hegemonies are such that we are willing to commit all of our prospects to them.

Make no mistake - this is what abandoning a generalist education amounts to.

A more immediate objection could also be raised. By Mr Jukes' own argument, the world is rapidly changing. Does it not follow that the only sensible stance is to be as generalist as possible, on the premise that any specialism is likely to be soon obsolete?

In other words, we should educate young people so that they can read and write fluently, think critically, assimilate information autonomously... in other words, to have Ms. Carmichael's background.

Whether she recognizes it or not, this young woman is well positioned. All that she has to do is harness her resources to acquiring some specific skill  (perhaps at a community college!) and then present herself as an employee able to grow with any job.

Any employer one would want to work for would be glad to have an employee who would not have to be sent back to an educational factory every six months for upgrading!

Finally, there is 'the moral thing': I was surprised that the Intelligencer sanctioned Mr. Jukes.  On the same page a week earlier, a Toronto Star cartoon by Corrigan depicted the Canadian beaver holding up placards objecting to human rights abuses in Nigeria, Haiti, Burma and S. Africa ... all places of ill-repute wherein (it turns out) Canada has little to gain economically.

The remainder of the cartoon depicted  the same beaver contemplating the profit possibilities attaching to the Canadian - Chinese connection -  a country where human abuse is a matter of public record.

What is being depicted in all of these proceedings is the moral turpitude of a society of specialists.