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Why the Media Hate-On for Quebec Students?

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To say there's a pronounced lack of support for the Quebec student strike among members of the Canadian pundit class is a bit like saying there was a pronounced lack of support for icebergs among the crew of the Titanic. In a rare instance of -- dare I say it? -- solidarity, commentators of the left, right, east, west, up, down, and centre are all pretty much united in revulsion against this children's crusade against rising tuition.

What is it about the strike that troubles them so, you ask? Well, let's start with the word itself.

"Here's a news flash for the students of Quebec," snarks the Ottawa Citizen editorial board. "You're not on strike. You're not performing a service; you're buying one, at a discount of about 87 per cent."

"This is a protest," agrees Barry Wilson at CTV Montreal. In real strikes the general public tends to suffer, says Barry, where as in this thing, the "only ones who will really feel the pain are the students themselves."

Other acceptable words to describe what's going on include "riot" and "uprising," or, if you work for the Ottawa Sun, "whine" and "bitch." But be sure to steer clear of cute, sassy phrases like "Maple Revolution" or "Quebec Spring." Everyone agrees those are the worst semantic crimes of all.

"Egypt this is not and Jean Charest, Quebec's premier, is no Hosni Mubarak," says Patrick Lagace at the Globe and Mail. Rex Murphy backs him up by observing that Jean Charest is not Bashar al-Assad, either. He's super-embarrassed that anyone would ever imply otherwise!

"Let's just hope that no one in Syria has been paying attention," he worries, making perhaps the safest hope in the history of journalism.

In any case, whatever it is these Quebec kids are doing, the press stands firm that they really shouldn't. This point is usually emphasized by generously sprinkling the numbers 325, 17, and 5,000 around, with the three figures representing Premier Charest's dollar-per-year tuition hike, the percentage of education costs Quebec students actually shoulder, and the average rate of yearly tuition in other provinces, respectively. The line "cheapest tuition in Canada" should also appear somewhere, perhaps accompanied by strategically-placed prepositional phrases such as "already is" and "will still be."

Still, it's important not to come off as some right-wing ogre. The Montreal Gazette's Don Macpherson, for instance, takes great pains to emphasize how across-the-board tuition cuts are actually surprisingly regressive from a lefty perspective. The kids don't realize it, he says, but by promoting cheaper university for all, the strikers are basically "defending a position that makes the American right-wing Tea Party's flat tax look like socialism in comparison." If we believe Macpherson, it's Charest who's the true commie here, since much of the Premier's planned tuition grab will wind up being redistributed in form of bursaries for poor kids. Karl Marx is literally quoted.

The right-wing ogres have their points to make too, of course. Good old Margarete Wente declares that the real tuition scandal is all these students blowing wads of cash on degrees in kooky junk like "victim studies" and "arts," all of which are "increasingly worthless in a world that increasingly demands hard skills." Get ready to work in Starbucks, suckers, says Maggie!

In the interests of balance, I should note that there are a few public commentators in Canada who are not dripping with patronizing distain for the strikers, though one has to venture pretty far outside the mainstream media bubble to find 'em.

And don't they know it! Jasmin Mujanović over at Politics Re-Spun (which is a very popular left-wing blog I'm sure you have heard of) takes vicious aim at Canada's "vocal, reactionary minority" who won't stop bashing students for being dumb and spoiled and lazy and smelly and all the rest of it. What you hacks should really be is jealous, Jasmin says.

Quebecers may be spoiled with rock-bottom tuition rates, sure, but that just shows how skilled they've been at learning to "wrest rights and resources away from the state." In Mujanović world this is a vastly more inspiring skill than, say, learning to balance a budget.

In the equally powerful and relevant pages of Maisonneuve magazine, Mike Spry gets particularly steamed at all these "right-wing boomers" with their "anti-student sentiment" and argues the real reason Quebecers are uppity about high tuition is because they're frustrated at the all the frivolous bureaucratic expenses and lavish teacher salaries gobbling up their hard-earned dollars. If you had to deal with "administrators and professors who are spending students' tuition like a drunk eight-year-old at Toys 'R' Us with mummy's credit card," you'd be steamed too.

Speaking past just about everyone, however, were two quiet professors in yesterday's Globe and Mail. Drawing upon that rarest resource in opinions writing (actual evidence), they noted one of the great unspoken truths about post-secondary education in Canada is that the leading variable determining whether kids attend university or not is usually cultural pressure within one's social class -- not cost. This is very much the argument espoused in American sociologist Charles Murray's recent bestseller, Coming Apart, which argues that the real social crisis we should all be worrying about is the widening cultural gulf between our self-centred ruling class of intermarrying university-educated families, and everyone else.

For some reason, asking university-educated journalists to analyze politically active university students rarely yields these sorts of conclusions, however.

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