|The Commodification of Ontario Students
The Canada eZine - Education
Tax Cuts Vs. Education
By James Teevan - 2008.
It is logical that when public-funding is cut or decreased for a public utility, the function of that utility decreases. Tax cut-happy Conservatives set up a faulty premise by under funding services and then arguing these stunted and under-funded services will be better and more cost effective if they are privatized. The Conservatives are not selling their policy changes by admitting their constituents will soon be under serviced. Understanding and informing the commons about the end result of this intention is left up to advocates and activists whose position to protect the public good is quite often undermined by the cuts. Cuts to education benefits the Neo-Conservatives want to increase the gap of the have and have-nots and leave the underprivileged undereducated. Progressive Conservative cuts to education in Ontario were implemented by the Harris government in the nineties.
The Liberals are now into their second term and they have not corrected the changes to the funding formula. To protect our rights to be informed through publicly funded education which may lead to, and what the Conservatives must fear, is activism or at very least ensure citizenship. With cuts to public education less services lead directly to a generally under-informed, easily led public. This is how activism gets restricted. The right to a contrary opinion about any social structure will be held only by those who can afford them. Activism becomes a privilege of the entitled whose wealth allows them to avoid suffering in the first place. This means those who need their right to an education protected, need that right protected by people whose rights are already assured.
The choices of those who cannot access the means of education outside of costly bank loans get determined by the need to increase their human capital by education. They must use education as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. They become a product subject to market rules.
These Conservative policies are informed by the economic beliefs of none other than the neo-conservative Bush clans spiritual leader, Milton Friedman. His policies are devoid of social responsibility and they turn people into commodities traded on the free market, and education into the way people increase their value.
Activists seek to inform and offer solutions to problems many people do not realize exist or resist change that could negatively result by new policies. At the heart of activism in a democratic state is dialogue. It is information spread to the masses to generate community in support of a cause. True discussion about the issues is key to rally support for the cause. The education activist Paolo Friere once said "Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world." While Ontario suffers through Milton Friedman inspired education policies which seek to leave people voiceless and limit dialogue. The strategy is to limit dissent by swiftly passing legislation in times of turmoil.
This strategy alone reveals that those in positions of power know that the policies can be extremely profitable for a very few, but are not in the best interest of the majority and therefore antidemocratic. Careful manipulation of democracy is the tool that places them in power. Limiting resources to education will keep them there.
As an activists Naomi Klein has done a great and necessary service in her new book The Shock Doctrine. Lauded for naming names, and of deep journalistic integrity she examines what the results of these ultra right wing belief. Milton Friedman and the neo-cons argue for privatization of almost everything in a belief it will lead to more individual freedom. The actual result of this economic policy has destroyed public institutions and rendered the tenets of democracy, such as equality, useless. With respect to education, Friedman's policies effectively undermine both individual and collective freedoms.
Friedman's policy encourages apathy by limiting dissent and activism, further restricting those already struggling. In 1995 the Premier of Ontario Mike Harris imposed Friedman type policies by cutting funding to services, including education, which was the first step towards privatization. This affected every Ontarian's knowledge base, academic potential, and limited the career choices of every student. These changes need to be rectified. The high cost of tuition commodifies students, making them subject to free market rules and forcing them into restrictive debt, leading to what Naomi Klein refers to as a state of shock or 'convenient apathy.'
Limiting access can be an effective tool for those in power, whether that access is limited economically, unprotected by political regulation, or used strategically to keep the oppressed from revolting. It seems that second class citizenry is a goal for those who hold power. The high cost of tuition is an example of how the system punishes those who are less privileged.
Many people cannot further their academic career because of the high cost. Not everyone qualifies for government loans. Many choose not to go to university or college in the first place to avoid debt and years of servitude to the banks rather than selection by aptitude. While bank loans are available to those who need them, those who borrow pay roughly twice as much for an education as those who don't because of interest rates. Without public funding this cost increases to the individual, thereby limiting his or her choices and either securing more earnings for the banks, or positioning him as a second-class citizen with less individual freedom. This shoves a wedge through the cornerstone of Friedman's philosophy of individual freedom.
Debt to the big banks keeps people aligned within the system and it helps when they are docile or apathetic accepting their role. Dialogue as the form of true education encourages questioning. The more people can question the system the less oppressive the system becomes. Freire suggests, "No oppressive order could permit the oppressed to begin to question: Why?". Activists such as Naomi Klein argue against Friedman's charter schools, while his disciples push for more profit-motivated private schools. These schools, subject to market rule, will naturally charge as much as they can to maximize profit. Assuming Friedman's lack of regulation would be in effect - whereby companies expand in order to take advantage of large purchasing power - oligarchies would eventually form, creating the illusion of choice in our education system where in fact there is only concentrated power and simulated competition. The result would be an increase in bank loans for the privatized schools by families in need.
The struggling family does not benefit from this system, nor are they on the minds of conservative leaders. They want workers. They need cogs in their wheel. The high cost of education dehumanize students and force them into debt. This reinforces the capitalist agenda and in turn leads to a state of apathy and limits activism. Banks and the loan system support the commodification of students. Friedmanites erroneously see 'deregulation' as a means to individual freedoms because these neo-conservative policies attempt to make everything subject to market rules. This design would include competition between schools, between professors and teachers within those schools, and the commodification of students whose stock value is determined by their qualifications. These power designations - be it degree, diploma, ph.d - operate to increase the market value of the student-as-product, once again subjecting them to market rules and competition in the workplace.