i've been reading about the protests at auckland university with sadness. given i have a vested interest, particularly as regards the safety of someone close to me, it was pretty alarming to read about police tactics that were unnecessary and possibly not even legal. it's difficult for students to be protesting about this at this time anyway, because exams are about to start and they are under considerable time pressure. but they have been brave enough to stand up for what they believe in, and i applaud their efforts.
while there's a lot to be said on the topic of cutting student allowances for post-grad students, the one argument that really annoys me is the one, most recently used by mr joyce, around the fact that truck drivers and workers at macdonalds shouldn't be having to pay for the post-graduate education of privileged kids. or some other variation on this general theme.
for a start, it nicely sets up one section of society against another and creates the kind of division that is so loved by the national party. we see it in beneficiary-bashing, we saw it with dr brash trying to convince us that maori were somehow getting some kind of special rights unavailable to the rest of us, we saw it with the anti-refugee policy around "boat-people" who are in no way a threat to our country. if we're all busy hating each other, then we aren't so busy seeing through the government spin and the very real and long-term damage those policies will cause.
it also fosters a mentality where we think only of our own personal and direct benefit, without any consideration of how we might benefit others. because we aren't supposed to care about anyone else, we aren't supposed to care about the collective benefits and the overall good, which gives us a better society even though we might not directly and personally benefit from a particular policy.
but more than that, it's just plain stupidly wrong. why should a poor worker pay for someone else's education? simply because that someone else will become a taxpayer of the future, will be able to contribute tax at a higher rate given the access to higher paying jobs that an education provides, and those taxes will help to fund the health, education, and (if needed) the social welfare benefits of other people in society. that's one direct benefit, and it involves a mentality where we realise that we all have to look out for each other, that when we work collectively to support each other, that everybody benefits, in one way or another.
also, that education has more than financial benefits. a better educated society is a society with fewer health problems, fewer social problems, and a society where the people are less likely to be exploited and more likely to engage with democratic institutions. those who are educated are able to increase our understanding of ourselves and find solutions to our problems. they contribute to our body of knowledge, and to innovation. all of these things benefit the truckdrivers and the cleaners and other workers.
and finally, just because someone is working at a job which doesn't require a post-graduate education, whose to say they won't have kids or spouses interested in post-graduate studies? whose to say that someone close to them will directly benefit from the funding that was available, but will no longer be?
it seems to be an increasing right-wing attitude that education is somehow a bad thing. and we write off the well-educated as "not living in the real world" as if they don't live on the same planet and undertake the same basic activities that we all do. or that live in "ivory towers", as if their research doesn't involve going out in the field, talking to all kinds of people. as if their children don't go to school, as if they don't do grocery shopping or interact with the health system, just like everyone else does.
and there's a particular reason for writing off those with academic qualifications: it's so we dismiss the evidence they present us, so we turn our backs on the research that provides us with better options. if there's one thing this government has shown, it's a propensity to dismiss expert advice, particularly in the field of education (national standards, anyone?) but in other fields as well. it's much easier for them to do this when we all have a healthy contempt for anyone who is educated, who spends the majority of their life studying a subject, coming to grips with the issues and looking for the best solutions based on evidence.
so i wish the students good luck with their protests. and urge more of the staff to get involved as well. this is nothing short of a direct attack on our academic institutions, to weaken and undermine them for a specific political purpose. it's appalling.