As Labour Day came and went, students across the country were herded back into schools like confused cattle into slaughterhouses. Teens from Nova Scotia to Yukon Territory crawled back into classrooms, many wishing (like I did) that they could just play on their high school sports teams without the tedious burden of attending classes. Yet, this fall, things were different for a choice few students. Teens in British Columbia received an extension on their summer because their teachers and their government were too busy arguing to welcome them back into the slaughterhouse classroom. These BC high school students should have been relieved. Yet, for some stupid reasons, they weren’t. Now they’re planning to take action to correct what they see as a major problem (too much fun?).
With a second week of school-less bliss weighing on their minds, students at several high schools in BC’s lower mainland decided that five days off school was already too many. In an effort to make their voices heard, these students are planning walk-ins at their high schools. That’s right; they are going to walk around their high schools—places they hate most of the school year—and then go complain to their local MLAs. Why?
The reason for the protest is somewhat surprising, and not just because these kids are begging to trade their freedom for boredom. They are protesting because they want to get into university. Not because they crave structure, friendship, school clubs, or sports teams. Not because they spend their summers locked in small rooms with their pet owls, longing for the sprawling grounds of their boarding school just a magic train ride away. None of that. They and others are actually upset because not being in school might make it marginally more difficult to apply for their first semester of more school.
Their anxiety is understandable, but not necessarily justified. Grade 12 students feel that the last year of high school will make or break the rest of their lives. Most people older than 17 have been there before: that somewhat narcissistic world in which happiness rests on the illogically important 1% grade increase that one needs to apply successfully to McGill or Queen’s or wherever else young elitists study these days. These high school students, like many across the country, are so lost in the struggle to get a foot on the ladder that they’ve forgotten that the real reason they’re supposed to go to school is for the love of learning. If that sounds hopelessly naïve, consider it par for the course. It’s no sillier than the protesters’ argument.
For the vast majority of students, it might not make sense to attend high school just to attend university. While it’s tempting to feel as though hanging on to the aforementioned ladder elevates you to a life of greater status, privilege, and security, the reality is that it doesn’t. The National Post reports that degree holders have only a marginally higher rate of employment than high school graduates, and CIBC reports that the gap in rate of employment is shrinking rapidly. While university graduates earn more than high school graduates, high school graduates’ average pay rate is increasing faster than that of university graduates, and it is increasing fastest relative to university graduates with advanced graduate degrees. In fact, after accounting for the costs of tuition and loans, some university graduates actually earn less than high school graduates. Furthermore, it appears that university is a hit-or-miss proposition; nearly 20% of Canadian university graduates earn less than half the national median income. That’s bad news.
If a university education isn’t the golden ticket these kids think it is, and if they don’t really care about learning for its own sake, shouldn’t they just enjoy their extended summer? Yeah, probably. Extended summer with everyone in town is all the best parts of high school without any of the crappy bits. So, if all they’re looking for is university admission, these kids should forget about it. Go to the park and throw a ball around. Go swimming in a river. Sleep in and wrestle in the basement. Countless adults and recent university graduates would love to have that kind of freedom.
Additionally, consider that this might be the path to success. After all, with great freedom comes great responsibility. Just look at Premier Clark. She never graduated from university and everyone hates her, yet she has the power to keep kids out of school. She might be doing so to prevent today’s kids from learning about how lousy a Premier she is, but the point is that you can be a big shot without a big degree. Find solace in that.