Students forced to trade freedom of thought
by Lorenzo Petrin
Democracies are designed to allow for a multiplicity of interests. Typically these “interests” organize into groups to fully leverage and advocate their political power. As political parties need votes to win, they can’t be faulted for catering to those groups that speak the loudest.
Canadian democracy tends to be dominated by groups such as taxpayer associations, corporations, unions, lobbyists etc.
Canadian students are nowhere near as organized and capitalized as these other forces. They have a meek political voice and subsequently little impact on society.
Why is this relevant?
In a democracy, the more voices the better. Increased points of view and their corresponding checks and balances have social and economic dividends.
Secondly, the student constituency is a unique and leveraged voice. Often it is students that are most open to new ideas, and more importantly, the the risk-taking attitude to implement them.
Innovation is laden with risk taking, as one has to depart from the efficiencies, pressures and conformity of “the norm.” This process requires time and more importantly, attitude, to explore freedom of thought. Post-secondary education should provide this environment.
However, competing interest groups, by right, have implicitly forced their agenda on students, stealthily converting them from academic thinkers into engineered components of a “workforce.”
Society’s political composition reflects this development, as public policy is often dominated by individuals who used to be students: the worker, the parent, the taxpayer, the corporation, etc. Together they’re gearing policy to what they feel will serve their interests. These views are important and valid, but can become too dominant. The freest thinking often occurs before the workplace and worries about mortgages, pensions, families and profits kick in.
Access to authentic education has become diminished through high tuition costs and, more insidiously, the need to work while attending school. Most students work — many full-time — while attaining a post-secondary education.
Working to gain income, versus paying money to learn, represent dramatically different psychologies. One is largely based on fear (no money, no livelihood), the other based on risk (forgo money to increase knowledge).
By working while attending school, the learning psyche is constantly challenged and influenced by the worker psyche. This results in less time, less focus and less energy to learn and more focus on careering.
While work and consumption are certainly merited and necessary for a healthy economy, if too narrow a focus, creativity and innovation suffer: innovation that’s needed to create jobs, productivity and an economic base for all of society’s constituents. We are a less-competitive nation without it.
Students have unknowingly outsourced their right to freedom of thought. Freedom of thought, the right of all rights, the humanizing result of a fierce and centuries-old battle.
Socially groomed to get an education strictly for the purpose of work. Constant pressure to think like a worker, act like a worker, at the expense of resources needed for free thought. No time and energy, to ensure you have time and energy.
Lorenzo Petrin teaches Globalization at Mount Royal University.