Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I Almost Agreed With Margaret Wente

... then she reverted back to being a bitch, but almost, I almost agreed with her.

The article in question is her piece in the Globe about Quebec's student protests, the militant CLASSE group, and the "future baristas" of the Canadian job market that apparently make up these protests. Wente is right in the sense that the protests going on in Quebec are pretty much useless, fronts for militantly left-wing students who are protesting against an increase in fees that will take Quebec from being the region with the lowest tuition fees on the continent, to the region with the lowest tuition fees on the continent. Combined with increasing intransigence and in some cases violence, the student protests, and CLASSE in particular, are wasting everyone's time.

And this is from someone who initially supported the protesters, because hey, tuition fees suck, I know.

But then Wente, in her classic style, essentially bombed any student who is currently taking classes in social sciences:
The protesters do not include accounting, science and engineering students, who have better things to do than hurl projectiles at police. They’re the sociology, anthropology, philosophy, arts, and victim-studies students, whose degrees are increasingly worthless in a world that increasingly demands hard skills. The world will not be kind to them. They’re the baristas of tomorrow and they don’t even know it, because the adults in their lives have sheltered them and encouraged their mass flight from reality.
Well thanks, Margaret, for first lumping me, an individual who excels in sociology, anthropology, and other social sciences, with these clowns. Also, thank you for saying the fields which I excel in, will take me nowhere in life, and that this is because of my family, and so on.

Yes, there's a valid point to be made that social science degrees are a dime a dozen right now, and the job markets these degrees are relevant for are increasingly shrinking. That is the sad reality, of course.

But you know, not everyone can get into accounting, science, and engineering. Hell, I'd love to but frankly, my strengths aren't in those fields. My strengths are with history and psychology and anthropology and, yes, politics.

What would Margaret have me do, I wonder? Play my hand badly with degrees that, sure, are probably more in demand right now? Waste my time trying to earn a degree where I don't have strengths in? Brilliant.

Wente is a washed-up hack, and I shouldn't take it personally, I get that, but how ignorant. Hopefully the G&M retires her sooner rather than later.


  1. I continue to wholly support the students in their efforts - not just because tuition fee "suck," not just because the wealthy pay de facto less for the same education (because they don't have to borrow), not just because of what low tuition did for the Francophones in Quebec, not just because ubiquitous education is the only way toward a meritocracy and greater social and economic equality, not just because we desperately need more people to get an education for the future prosperity of everyone, but because almost everything we have as a people and a race was gained by people who took a so-called "flight from reality" and struggled against terrible odds, and usually public opinion and perceived wisdom to do the very things that every 'sober' and 'reasonable' person eschewed or belittled and pushed us into a better future despite ourselves. Vivan los estudiantes!

    1. kirby,

      Very admirable, and I don't necessarily disagree. I follow the Iggy mantra back in the day, "you get the gets, you get to go," because that's only fair. This is from someone who does have the advantage of not having to borrow for my tuition, either.

      But the reality is that someone has to pay, at some time, or else all those things that you mentioned, which are true, are going to be less and less available, because government cannot be relied upon to hold the whole system up. And unfortunately for students, costs are increasing, and if they even want to continue going to university, they'll need to pay more at some point. That's just how it is, and these people need to get that, but they don't.

  2. I have three post secondary degrees in the arts. I have also served my share of coffee and other drinks and taken on all sorts of odd jobs during the course of my life in the arts. Nice of Maggie to look down her nose at me and others like me with such a delightful air of condescension. Glad you stopped short of agreeing with her. But really sad you nearly agreed because the whiff of shared arrogance lingers. I'm sad to hear a Liberal, progressive blogger talk this way. People are more than their jobs. And yet by virtue of necessity we do all sometimes have to "waste our time" doing things that don't pertain to our strengths and interests.

    1. When I said "waste my time," I don't mean in disparagingly - I have a lost of respect for people in the sciences, my family members built their careers and fortunes on having that knowledge and those degrees. I've also got a major interest in astronomy and biology, so I'm not without complete interest.

      However, unless I want to continue to burden my own family while I struggle through some sort of degree I don't have any strength or interest in doing, it wouldn't exactly be smart of me to move into those fields, when I know I can find much more interest and positive success for myself in the social sciences field, would it?

  3. I guess I just wondered about the "clowns" you referred to - those who choose to study philosophy? The student protesters in general?

    At least from the way it's written above, your disagreement with Wente doesn't seem to be with the implicitly inflated value she confers upon the "hard skills" she considers socially viable while sneering at those with other interests who deign to make a little money pulling espressos at the local cafe.

    Wente is hypocritically championing some kind of utility culture. And that is what I find so disagreeable about her article. It's dismaying to see her critics let the issue dangle even in so much as they disagree with her via almost agreeing with her! :-)

    1. The "clowns" you could construe to be the protesters, but I'm referring more to, personally, the leadership of some of the protest groups. I'm not a personal fan of them, and especially CLASSE. It's not just their politics, it's that they're doing what the Occupy movement did - being stubborn and getting nowhere.

      And I do disagree with the notion of the "utility culture," but she is right in that those skills are in much higher demand than the skills I have, by virtue of the economy, and also by virtue of the fact that social science degrees are a dime a dozen these days. In that way, she's right.

      But I think its stupid of her, if not absolutely evil, to consider anyone who goes for these degrees to be somehow disconnected with society, that we're wasting our lives, that our parents raised us wrong, and so on. In no way would I endorse a position like that.

  4. Well, she's only right if you think education is only about getting a job. And she's only right if you can find a way to meaningfully separate out arts and sciences from within the humanities. That's a couple hundred year old project.

    She's wrong. And not just because she thinks your parents raised you wrong. She's wrong because she probably thinks of hard skills in opposition to soft ones. The real question is about the portion of our culture who are ready and willing to be malleable with their skill sets. The best example (although there are other good ones) is the arts. Wente's carpenters and baristas of the future account for what portion of the GDP? Talk about a disconnect.

    1. You make good points, Atsimpleposie.

  5. "my strengths aren't in those fields"
    Clearly, you are a bad person.