Wednesday, 21 June 2017

In Defense of Millennials

Millennials get blamed for all kinds of stuff. Just do a search for "Millennials are..." and you will learn they are lazy, they are "the worst", and they are killing everything from golf to paper napkins to department stores to big banks to call centres to fabric softener to the diamond industry to packaged vacations.

In the recent UK elections, pollsters were stunned by the huge turnout of youth voters. Exit polls say a full two thirds of young voters supported Labour. The same polls found that the vast majority of older voters, those 65 and up, supported the Conservatives.

Here in Alberta, UCP hopeful Jason Kenney finds millennials disconcerting. After his own federal Conservative Party was trounced in Canada's 2015 election, and the now-less-than-progressive Conservative Party he leads were decimated in Alberta's election in May of that same year, he ponders why young people do not support his ideology.

Once again, millennials are blamed for killing something. This time it is conservatism.

Mr. Kenney suggests that today's youth are ignorant and entitled. He suggests because they did not live through the "catastrophic failure of socialism in the last century" they have no idea what it is and are therefore voting for it. He says that because they were "born into the highest standard of living in all of human history" they do not know adversity and think money flows freely from an ATM. He says they are foolish to support an increased minimum wage or a tuition freeze. Because that's bad for the economy.

Maybe if Mr. Kenney had attended public school in Alberta instead of private school in Saskatchewan, he would have learned something about ideologies. Maybe he would know the meaning of the word "socialism". Maybe he would know the difference between the scientific socialism of Karl Marx and the communism of Soviet Russia, the socialist market economy of China and the social democracy practiced in much of Europe, including Nordic nations which consistently rank highest for both happiness and freedom. Maybe then he could be more specific when he talks about the "catastrophic failure" of an ideology that he clearly does not understand.

Perhaps if Mr. Kenney had developed some critical thinking skills in school, he would use facts to support his position instead of erroneous assumptions.

Kenney was born not long after me. When I went to school, tuition at the U of A was $600 a year. I rented a 3 bedroom house for $415 a month. My parents estimated that a year of university, tuition, food and housing was about $3000. I made $8.50/hr at my summer job. Every single person I knew got a job when they graduated. I was offered jobs I hadn't even applied for. 

My youngest kid just completed his university education at the U of A- where one year in tuition and mandatory fees and books is now $9600. His shared apartment (on a year lease) was $600/month. Dorms and meals at Lister Hall are a mandatory minimum of $9300 for an 8 month term. His summer student income was $17/hr. In other words, the cost of that 8 month term at university is more than 6 times what it was when I went to school, while the typical student summer wage has just doubled.

My own millennial kids would tell those who seek to blame them for the death of diamonds and golf and vacations that they can't afford those things and they don't anticipate a future where that will change. They might also say they have a healthy respect for the environment which makes them consume less. And they would also tell him that after years of living on noodles and chickpeas in shared housing without owning vehicles or taking vacations, they clearly do understand what financial management is.

Millennials understand adversity. Not only did my kids live on poverty level wages while obtaining their education, they lived with the constant stress of not knowing if they would get work when they were done. Recent studies show that young people entering the workforce today earn far less than their parents did at the same age. In fact, it is believed millennials will be the first generation in history to earn less than the generation before them.  All of this adds up to a great deal of stress  According to some studies, 44% of millennials suffer from depression and suicide is one of the leading causes of death in this age category.

The real truth, when it comes to millennials is that the people of my generation and Mr. Kenney's generation implemented decades of austerity which have hurt today's young people, all with the idea "I can't afford to pay more taxes".  Is it any wonder they consider another approach?

By the next provincial election, millennials will make up 39 % of the electorate. Kenney and co. need to start offering them viable alternatives for their future if they want their vote instead of criticizing them and their legitimate worldview.

Monday, 12 June 2017

The Land that Sustains Us

Social Studies Lessons for Kenney Part 3

Shortly after my husband and I married, we backpacked throughout Southeast Asia. I relished seeing the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon and the Golden Temple in Bangkok. I loved travelling by boat over the Chao Phraya and seeing the Irrawaddy flow through the rice paddiies of Burma, as it was called back them. I was careful not to touch the monks in their saffron robes. 

Pagan, Burma
Part of my excitement stemmed from the teaching of my grade eight teacher Ydella Dulcetta. Daughter of an Australian who came to Canada to teach school, Ydella loved the classics and bitterly complained that her parents had forbidden her from studying in Rome. Her revenge was to learn and teach Latin and marry Joe, an Italian she had met on vacation. Her teaching style was based on rote learning and personal stories. She told stories about the characters from history and about her own life. At the beginning of every class a student would give a 10 question quiz on the course content. Whoever had the highest mark created the quiz for the next day. Today I can recite the names of the largest 5 islands of Indonesia in order of size and the religions, capital cities and principal rivers and chief exports of SE Asia. And I know more about the Dulcetta's home life than I probably have a right to.
On the Chao Phraya
In grade 9 Wayne Mould was my Social Studies teacher. We spent weeks designing the ultimate city. I loved his class. I felt deeply connected to the lands we studied.

Long before I was born, departments of education in much of Canada decided that Social Studies should be an interdisciplinary subject encompassing history, geography, law, politics, economics and the social sciences. Geography, sadly, has taken a back seat in our issues-focused Social Studies culture. It's unfortunate because I think everything begins with the land. The land sustains us. The land provides us with an economic base. The land shapes culture and interactions. 

Today, we think about "the land" especially in regard to our relationship to it. How closely are we tied to a particular piece of land? How do we treat it? Is it possible to "own" it? Why do treaties about the land matter? Who decides what activities should occur on it? Who cleans it up? What happens to all of humanity if it is damaged? We talk about it as something of particular significance to our First Nations brothers and sisters, but really, it is a tangible living thing that impacts us all. No matter what kind of "relationship" we have with the land, without it, we are nothing.

Near Fawcett, Alberta
When my daughter was in kindergarten, she came home crying one day. "What's the matter, Missy?"  I asked.  "Mademoiselle Cantin says we are killing the earth. And I love the earth!" A case of overkill for my over-sensitive daughter. But a lesson that cannot be taught often enough. 

Everything starts with the land.