Here in Quebec, amidst the nightly demonstrations against the tuition increases and Bill 78, the bill that gave the movement oxygen, we hear a constant drumbeat from media sources that the kids are “spoiled,” or have a sense of “entitlement,” and are perhaps communists. Seriously. It’s tiresome.

Students protest in the downtown streets of Montreal against tuition hikes on May 16, 2012 (AFP Photo/Rogerio Barbosa)
Students protest in the downtown streets of Montreal against tuition hikes on May 16, 2012 (AFP Photo/Rogerio Barbosa)

Erica Shaker of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has written a terrific piece about this “scapegoating” of the kids involved and begins by asking a question that should be the starting point for any discussion about the issues at the center of the protests:

Why is it still, for some, a newsflash that reality for today’s youth is a solar system away from the world of just 25 or 30 years ago?

She then outlines what she calls the “toxic socioeconomic brew” that led here: Wages stagnating since the late ’80’s, the infamous 1995 Paul Martin budget which oversaw massive cuts to and restructuring of social programs, and the reduction of transfer payments which has reinforced the trend to greater income inequality.

Now, add to that…

…the fallout from declining levels of government support for higher education in Canada which has resulted in a number of new realities: over the past 30 years, government grants as a share of university operating revenue plummeted from 84% to 58%, and the share funded by tuition fees rose from 12% to 35%.

Suddenly a University education in Canada is a lot more expensive than people appreciate and students get saddled with more debt on the way out the door than their parents ever knew ($37,000 on average – somewhat less in Quebec), and there are less good employment opportunities. Remember, unpaid internships are all the rage.

More to the point, Ms. Shaker reminds us of the benefits of education to all of us:

We know the vast benefits of accessible higher education—and not just physical accessibility. Societies that make this a priority tend to be healthier, have a more politically-active citizenry, enjoy greater levels of community and family involvement, and have more social mobility. There are economic returns as well, all of which means that the demand for public education—or public health care, or public child care—is not a request for “free” anything, or even not wanting to pay one’s “fair share.”

For wanting more and easier access to education the student protestors have been vilified endlessly by the media. This of itself is simply sad but it illustrates the lack of understanding and the unwillingness of the supposed adults to engage in a constructive dialogue. But it’s not the name calling she wants to bring our attention to in all of this:

To be clear, I don’t think what we’re experiencing is so much an attack on youth, though it often feels that way, as it is an attack on progress.

Attacks on progress are something we’ve seen far too much of in this transitional era – one that seems to be marked by greed and stupidity. It’s time to try and put a stop to it by not giving in to media propaganda and opinion writers who regularly make a habit of not only being wrong but of always siding with the corporations, the banks and other arms of the establishment. Maybe we could all try and do what we’re always telling our kids to do, think for yourselves.

Go read the entire piece here for yourself, form you own opinion and just try not to be that guy or gal yelling at the kids to get off your lawn!

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