My employers employer, the University of Otago, has decided to cut staff positions in the humanities. Music is going to be hit the worst. As usual, the justification is money. Its been suggested that maybe the University should ease off on its endless construction drive if it needs to free up some cash. (In twenty years Ive never known the campus be without a big hole in the ground somewhere. Face it, Otago, the Richardson Building is a plug-ugly wodge of concrete and no amount of landscaping around it is going to change that.)
However, this wouldnt fix the bigger problem, which is the governments attitude. Statements from the Ministry make it clear education is for fitting young people for the workforce; anything else is an indulgence. Heres the official position in their Tertiary Education Strategy.
Skilled, knowledgeable individuals are essential to the success of businesses and other organizations. Access to skilled workers allows businesses to increase the value of their products and services and to pay higher wages. In turn, people are better off, healthier and happier, and New Zealand is a more attractive place to live and work.
For most young people, achieving a tertiary qualification is a crucial milestone towards a successful working career. Whether they study at a university, polytechnic, wānanga, private training establishment, or through an apprenticeship, a qualification gives them a concrete record of knowledge learned and skills gained that they can use to move up the employment ladder.
And in the Minister of Educations own words, prefacing that document:
The new Tertiary Education Strategy 201419 has been developed to... contribute to the Governments focus on improving New Zealands economic outcomes. The Building Skilled and Safe Workplaces programme of the Governments Business Growth Agenda aims to materially lift New Zealands long-run productivity growth rate while maintaining our high rate of labour force participation. This requires tertiary education to better equip individuals with the skills and qualifications needed to participate effectively in the labour market and in an innovative and successful New Zealand.
Sure enough, Priority 1 in the Strategy is delivering skills for industry. There is nothing anywhere about developing insight or critical thinking. Public education, to this government, is solely a means of polishing up new cogs to slot into the commercial-industrial machine.
My instinctive response to this is a string of expletives, but thats not the way to build a counter-argument. If you want rational debate, start by taking your opponents concerns seriously. Education costs society money; dont we then have a responsibility to pay that money back? Granted that some people derive personal value from knowing all about, say, the anti-imperial politics encoded in the Book of Revelation or the practice of cannibalism in indigenous South American funerary rites, shouldnt they stump up their own cash for it?