Sign Of The Times

Cushing Academy in Massachusetts is will be doing away with its library. It seems, according to them, physical books serve no real practical purpose anymore in the electronic age.

It's an interesting debate. Personally, I think this is unfortunate and raises a couple of important issues. Cushing is opting instead for a "learning center." But how will this learning center be stocked? Think of it. Who will input the 20 000 books the school possesses? I hope Wikipedia doesn't become a main source finding its way to the bibliography pages of a term paper.

In a larger sense, if we go electronic, who will cull humanity's information? Google has volunteered and wishes to index all the world's books on its pages. But that can't be a good thing having one company corner the library market. Right? No?

Of course.


Much has been said about the poor state of education in North America. Standards are set way too low. Low standards and relatively easy access to Universities has filled auditoriums with people who have no business being there. They attend because it's what society tells (even scares) them to do. Many would rather be doing something else. Like open a business perhaps or go to vocational school. But for some reason, here, we frown upon that.

It's better to shove and steer everyone into university like clueless cattle!

How many students I've seen and met who could care less about acquiring knowledge. They laboriously sat in class like lumps with absolute lack of curiosity.

Part of the reason, I surmise, is the low tuitions. If it costs nothing to go to school then it's prety much open to all. Naturally, students want to keep them low but I wonder if it's for the right reasons. Do people want to go to school because they have a specific goal in mind or are they just going with society's flow? Is it worth having people educated for its own sake?

Many seem to believe it's their right to go to school. And so it is. Everyone is free to make that choice.

However, there are limits to rights. And access to low cost education isn't a right. If they want to go, they have to be thinking about it from a young age. Get a scholarship, save money, get a job - all basic stuff. For this to happen, parents and teachers have to change their mindset of how they raise children vis-a-vis education.

I don't know what the statistics show but many students who attend post-secondary education are a bunch of zombies. They come out with their Bachelors in Whatevertosis and then go nowhere.

We have to decide what do we want out of university. What is its role in society? We can leave it as it is - it ain't all that hard to pass university except for disciplines like engineering, law and medicine for obvious reasons - and churn students out where we'll have many people with a degree. Or we can tighten access and aim for excellence and make it for the best and the brightest. Increase tuition, pay for the top teachers and have the best schools on the continent.

It's a choice. Right now, we're happy with the former but how realistic is it to keep it this way over the long run?


  1. As usual your post is multi oriented. I'll try to keep my bearings.
    A) That university closing it's library, should read "Avatars of the Word, from papyrus to cyberspace" by James J. O'Donnell, 1998, Harvard and Cambridge (UK) university press. The book, without excluding the Web, affirms that the printed book is here to stay.
    B) Going to university is not for all, I agree. However I take objection to your limitation of difficullt faculties to law, medecine and business.
    Those student of psychology, social service and, in general, human sciences, who really want to be usefull to mankind do have to work very hard to achieve academic and professional succes...and for very little financial rewards afterward.
    Just ask my three children and my former colleagues.

  2. Oh, I didn't mean to demean those disciplines. My milieu is writing, arts, music, education and psychology. For me the humanities are the most under rated and disrespected of disciplines.

    My point is that you can take some of those courses and still cruise past school. You can't do that with engineering and medicine. Most people who aren't sure what they want to take social sciences and then try and move from there.

  3. At university level that gamble is very risky. It is possible to pull that stunt in CEGEP. After that you risk not being able to switch all that easily. A rotten psychlogist or social worker or teacher can wreak just as much havoc as a bad medical doctor. A bad doctor kills physically and it's over. A bad therapist kills slowly and, in several cases, it ends in suicide for the patient...and in some cases for the therapist.

  4. Absolutely you can get away with it at the CEGEP level but I still think university aren't all that demanding.

  5. Ask my son's students in archaelogy at McGill and his doctoral students in McGill and Oulu (Finland) universities.

  6. Again, I'm not referring to those who go with a sense of purpose - let alone graduate school. I'm referring to students who are there just to be there. I don't know how many there are but I'm sure it's quite a few.

  7. I got lost and I couldn't keep my bearings. I don't know your educational situation enough and my mind is nebulous.

    But, being generic:

    Books are there to stay in my view too, despite the Amazon electronic tool and similar.

    access to low cost education isn't a right

    Low cost and bad education should not exist. Period. For the reasons mentioned by Paul. We should invest more on education, on people, as for both sciences and human sciences. I believe in state GOOD education, as you know, because people of low income should be helped and are a great resource for the country. In the US, if all the money they spent on a foolish war were spent on effectively educating the low-income young people now we'd have a formidable revolution.

    Many students are zombies? It's not their fault. In reality all their minds are so thirsty. A young person has usually great potential. I've been a teacher all my life. There are surely ways of lighting zombies' brains, but it takes good / motivated / careful teachers plus resources. Again, investment on education.

    I didn't quite understand you point, Commentator, but in my view music or psychology etc, if DONE WELL, are no easier than engineering or medicine. Only, as you say, they are under rated.

    The world is getting vile but the tendency can be reversed.


    (Teachers' Power)


  8. It's my fault I've not expressed myself well.

    First, I agree with every point put forth by both of you - my wife is a teacher by the way and loved by her students so I know how important that can be.

    Music IS every bit as challenging. I merely selected those disciplines possibly in haste. But my overall point is this:

    Students are funneled into a post-secondary system even though a) it's against their interests b) they don't want to be there and c)it's inexpensive and the thing to do.

    Most of them end up in courses - and this is where my social sciences comment came in. It had nothing to do with degrading it but is a fact - where they can get away with basic levels of studying that they would otherwise not get away with in disciplines like medicine and engineering. You can't "find" yourself in those subjects. You know what you want there.

    Again, I'm speaking about those who are unsure.

    Like I was. I was taking all sorts of electives without thought because I didn't know what I wanted. I'm sort of paying a price for it but that's another story. The good thing is that it truly enhanced my knowledge (because I cared) and which, in the long run, has led me to this blog.

    Which, in turn, is why you all love me so much.


    Takes a Ricola.

  9. OK! Elective courses will not take you very far, CORE courses are the key to something. Some of those "electives" are called "bonbons" because they are so undemanding but you still have to go through cores to amount to anything.
    But these last clarifications do make you more sympathetic to me...and very admiring of your wife.

  10. She's definitely more liked than me!

    Elective/core courses make a difference indeed. But it still concerns me the issue of steering kids into university when they should consider other options.

  11. Definitely technics and trades need to be revalued. We seem to forget that many aging luminaries aroung Montreal came out of the famous École du Meuble de Montréal and l'École des Beaux Arts, affectionately called "LE ZARZA" Les arts appliqués. Both schools have been gutted by the 1970s reforms.
    Near where I live we have l'École des métiers professionnels Pierre-Dupuy. It is well frequented and trains in construction trades. Those schools need more recognition and the workers they churn out more respect.
    I know, I know, they need a Union clean up.

  12. Tomorrow I'll come back. I had things to do. You know I love you both, Canadians.

  13. Commentator, it is interesting you telling about yourself and what brought you to your blog. I felt sympathetic too. Canada and Italy are different, but there are similarities.

    The utopian 70s had created here a tendency towards both egalitarianism and the creation of 'universal minds' (which proved unrealistic: the model for all here was Liceo Classico, a good model but only for the 'très haute' class ), which weakened technical and trade schools. Despite these schools remaining not so bad (they were not 'gutted') people were though allowed from there to access universities, something not possible earlier. So we ended up with mass universities with a lower quality.

    The result was loads of people (and tons of drop-outs) with very high intellectual and social expectations who ended up doing something they were not proud of: policeman, trader, salesman, shopkeeper etc.

    I know that feeling. I myself have felt a social misfit - disadattato - for quite a while. Being a teacher in the Roman slums was not exactly what I had expected, or what people had expected around me.

    But then life and necessity teach you, in a way or another. Plus I was lucky to gradually fall in love with teaching - although I was not tough enough not to feel totally superior to the subtle contempt that followed my profession.

    So we get back to where we started. A nation that doesn't have respect for, and doesn't invest on teachers is a nation about to decline.

  14. I was not tough enough not to feel = I was not tough enough to feel totally superior

    Pls correct if u can.

  15. Well said and you covered much of what I was trying to conveyed.

    Sounds like Canada and Italy are experiencing similar issues. Although my perception here is that trade schools was still important in Europe - at least more so than here.

    When you spoke of the "Roman slums" it reminded me of the movie 'Ciao Professore!'

    Was it based on you by any chance? Oh wait, it took place in Napoli. Sorry. Heh.

  16. Yes there was a time when people said that when someone could not do anything else they went to teacher school. Then the unions, in the 70s, campaingned with the slogan (marxist inspired): "Teachers are workers like all the others". They then negociated conditions like for a doughnut shop.
    Many teachers then stopped doing extra curricular activities and the decline began.

  17. What? Unions hasten decline? Noooo!

  18. Comm: Sounds like Canada and Italy are experiencing similar issues.

    Paul: Then the unions, in the 70s, campaigned with the slogan (marxist inspired): "Teachers are workers like all the others".

    It is amazing how the two countries followed similar tracks, it must be the zeitgeist, l'ésprit du temps - nations influence one another. [Maybe Italy and Canada are closer than Italy and the US are.]

    We called it: 'proletarizzazione dei professori' di scuola, of the school professors, who became just 'insegnanti', simple workers. Earlier the salary was meager but at least there was like an aura that helped to be mentor of the students. With marxist egalitarianism they became just workers (no aura and salary still meagre or even worse). No wonder those who could fled away. So, as Paul says, the decline began.

    Historically Unions have protected the weak and did the right thing, how can one deny it. Institutions have the role of protecting the weak, but they must be watched when they do not evolve enough and when they produce damage. Here our Unions' thirst of power hides itself behind abstract (and putdated) social ideas.


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