23 May 2012

100 Day Student Protest in Quebec

There is a certain force of will required to sustain a unique identity in the midst of a foreign culture. This might just save the students in Quebec.

I'm in Quebec this week. Northern Quebec, actually, but working with folks who mostly live in Montreal and Quebec City. (A typical work schedule might be to work up here in the far north 14 days in a row and then return to Montreal to live - unencumbered by work - for 14 days in a row.)

One thing that seems odd is the absence of English. Signs that in, say, Vancouver would be posted in both English and French (in spite of the paucity of French-speaking people in BC) are posted only in French here. One gets the sense that in some ways, the folks in Quebec are less tolerant of "Anglais" than are the folks in France. But there seems to be a benefit to this sort of defensiveness as well.

As I came off the plane in Montreal, I was met by TV screens announcing riots and arrests. Later I learned that the Quebec students had reached day 100 of their protests against austerity measures that included the rise in tuition fees that now seems universal. These protests have been met by emergency measures that include, (quoted from here, occupytheory.org)

  • Fines of between $1,000 and $5,000 for anyone who prevents someone from entering an educational institution.
  • Steep penalties of  $7,000 and $35,000 for anyone deemed a ‘student leader’ and between $25,000 and $125,000 for unions or student associations. Fines double after the first offense.
  • Plans for public demonstrations involving more than 50 people (originally 8) must be submitted to the police eight hours in advance, and must detail itinerary, duration and time at which they are being held.
  • Offering encouragement, tacitly supporting, or promoting protest at a school, either is subject to punishment.

Tuition fees have soared in recent years in the US. The last time it seemed to me that we were pursuing policies so obviously wrong was when we invaded Iraq.  Globalization has made education more of a necessity, not less. The penalty for making university more expensive is simple: communities will have fewer university graduates and will have less revenue. 

The students in Quebec, protesting even in the face of fines for being protesters, should be lauded. They are making an attempt to stop what certain forces in government are trying to sell as policies for which we have no choice. True progress always results in more options, more choices. Any attempt to go backwards seemingly must start with the excuse that "we have no choice." 

Cutting education in tough economic times is like eating your seed corn during a famine; it does little to mitigate an already bad situation but it guarantees that you'll carry this bad time into the future. 

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