Jesus Was An Entrepreneur

Okay, so that was a cheap attention grab. Jesus was not an entrepreneur. Or perhaps he was some sort of “social entrepreneur.” But he certainly wasn’t running around trying to figure out how to reinvigorate capitalism. If he was here today, that would be what it would take for him to be considered a Saviour.

I’ve been considering whether “Entrepreneurship Saves,” because of this seems to me an emerging zeitgeist (kind of a social mood) that ought to attract our scrutiny. In my home digs of Alberta, the “entrepreneurial spirit” has been touted as a provincial virtue. In 2011, our public education system, in keeping with this message, launched a curriculum framework that aspires to “Competencies for Engaged Thinkers and Ethical Citizens with an Entrepreneurial Spirit.”

So if our education systems are supposed to produce an “entrepreneurial spirit,” what is it? Continue reading

Who is Teaching Your University Classes?

Cliche image of a professor. Why are they always dudes with beards writing on chalkboards? And why is it always math?

Cliche image of a professor. Why are they always dudes with beards writing on chalkboards? And why is it always math?

I’ve spent much of my summer researching university recruitment literature. I want to see how the rhetoric of university life compares to the reality, particularly for “first generation” students — those whose parents didn’t attend post-secondary education.

Through this exercise, I’ve had to sit down hard on my own cynicism at times, particularly when it comes to the portrayal of teaching, and of university professors. There’s some over-the-top material here. Take this institution, which promises, “Our award-winning professors are brilliant minds who will engage, motivate and inspire you.” Or this one, which echoes, “You will learn from nationally and internationally renowned teachers and researchers.”

This is, frankly, bald rhetoric. And there are a number of reasons why parents and students alike should be sitting up, and taking notice.

Reason Number One: Research is Over-rated. Seriously.

First, we should be cautious about buying in to the “academic rockstar” discourse. Continue reading

The Maclean’s University Rankings: Celebrating 20 Years of Pointless Competition

The 2015 edition of the Maclean’s University Rankings marks the 20th anniversary of the publication. Although it is subject to derision by the institutions it features, most of these protests have subsided into occasional whimpers. Really, there’s not much the universities can do. As Maclean’s states in the methodology for the study, the data they pull is publicly available, or generated through their own research; they don’t rely on the universities to get it.

The Maclean’s University Rankings drive me crazy — in part because they are so very, very badly done, and more deeply because they play a significant part in generating and legitimizing a toxic culture of pointless competition in our higher education system. Yet the damn things continue to fly off the shelves. Why do we buy in? Continue reading

Why Grad School is Kind of Like Lego

Worst Idea LegoOne thing that drives me nuts about higher education is that it provides no assurance that people will learn to think. It is remarkably easy to acquire vocabulary and ideas, and then unwittingly abuse them because you don’t actually understand the key ideas you are trying to work with.

So this got me thinking, that grad school is kind of like building with Lego. I always sucked at Lego. I was playing with my friend’s kid a few weeks ago, and looked at the bazillion different blocks on the floor around me, and thought “I got nuthin.”

“You could follow the instructions,” my young friend suggested helpfully.

And then I thought of The Lego Movie. The neat thing about the movie is its premise on the well understood fact that the real fun and creativity of Lego is going off script and making your own stuff. Unless, like me, you really suck, and then you just make things that aren’t really things: Continue reading

Jumping on the Co-Op Bandwagon

Last week’s media offerings included a couple of stories on co-op education. First was this BC story about private college health sciences students placed in co-op experiences in fast food restaurants. This might be cool if building tacos and poutine helpings required some form of post-secondary credential but… well come on. Clearly not all co-ops are created equal. There is a “buyer beware” element at play here, and these poor suckers in their matching uniforms were caught up in it.

On the heels of this piece, which rightly expressed concern that students were being exploited, was this Globe and Mail article arguing that a co-op program makes your university education “worthwhile.” Here, author Andrew d’Souza takes a supply-side perspective,[1] arguing that co-ops are a great way for students to learn if their formal education and skill sets will actually be in valued in the labour market.

In either case, it appears that co-op placements, widely in demand by students, are the next evolving story in learning “market,” in which the student free-agent had better read the signs and signals well or else. Continue reading

Quebec’s Student Protests and Cheap (Or Free!) University Tuitions

As Quebec’s student protests show no signs of slowing down, it seems a good time to weigh in on the fundamental issue driving them: a fair and financially feasible policy stance on post-secondary tuition fees. Policy may not be as sexy as a mass demonstration, but it’s really the heart of the matter here.

Let me start out by saying I am not without sympathy for the Quebec student protesters. No Canadians know how to throw a protest like our Quebecois, bless ‘em. And the post-secondary affordability issue in la belle Provence has crystallized the problem of spiralling tuition fees on behalf of students (and parents) in other provinces across Canada who have been unable to pull together and make their voices heard. [1]

However, if the problem of high tuition fees has been highlighted, its solutions are far from clear. Students and their supporters have a pretty straightforward proposal: lower or eliminate tuition fees. In fact, this blog is a response to this position, taken in a recent circulation by the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, aptly title Five Reasons Why You Should Support a Move to Lower Tuition Fees in Canada. Here’s the author’s case, with my responses:

1. Making university education affordable would allow more Canadians to access this key tool for social mobility.

This is an appealing argument because it speaks to social justice. But it’s not supported by research. Continue reading

Johnny Can’t Read (Because You’re Not Accommodating His Learning Style)

In my last blog, I wrote about a school work experience coordinator who was a self-confessed under-achiever in high school. My own adult kid recently mused that she didn’t apply herself in the slightest in school, either. Neither spoke of these experiences with any recrimination of others. They just weren’t into the whole going to class and studying thing.

This doesn’t lead me to a conclusion that schools are always blameless when students don’t fare well. Both Jack and my kid have offered some pretty cogent critiques of public education. But their comments also carry a good measure of something that is, in my humble opinion, far too rare in recriminations of education systems: an accounting of personal responsibility on the part of the student.

Failure to Teach? Failure to Learn?

A few teachers out there may relate to this story once recounted to me by an elementary school teacher: Little Johnny (he never gets old) is working beneath his potential and making a royal attention-hogging pain in the ass of himself in the classroom while he’s at it. When Johnny is confronted about his behaviour, he tells his teacher: “You’re not teaching to my learning style.” Seems Johnny is a “kinaesthetic” or hands-on learner, and long division practice in math class isn’t doing it for him [1].

So my question is this: To what extent should Johnny’s failure to learn be recast as his teacher’s “failure to teach?”  This might sound like I’m out to defend the status quo in terms of how children are taught in schools, Keep reading…