The Learning Curve – an observation in modern education

(updated May 2013)

Hello friends and faithful readers of my blog – if you’ve read my Media Arts Education – A Report Card, I welcome you to this afterthought … an observation in human nature that is both disturbing and yet enlightening.  Please forgive this more philosophical approach to the ongoing discussion.  I realize that this is more for the discerning reader who might want to take a deeper look.  This overview is on Canadian education as a whole, not focused strictly on media/music/recording and entertainment arts.  I’m looking at the bigger picture here.  I’m looking at all schools in Canada now – in both the private and public sectors.

Welcome to … The Learning Curve


Having been an educator most of my life and having spent the last 4 years studying the Canadian labour market in depth, I am well informed of a growing dilemma here.  Although most schools would have you believe that a qualification is all you need; I feel that education is about way more than “schooling” and that important essentials are missed.  There are a few fundamentals that every new post-secondary student needs to understand up front particularly in this country.

1.  The Canadian education system is a business and like every business there’s a bottom line and it’s all about money.  All post secondary schools (Universities and Colleges) are in “business” to make money – plain and simple.

2.  Most schools in Ontario in particular are myopic and self-serving and fundamentally don’t care about students. Their priority mandate is to maintain and support their comfortable infrastructure so that they (current teachers/professors/administrators and system ensconced bureaucrats) can prosper. What this means, is that enrollment or getting “bums in seats”, makes them money and creates more opportunities for THEM!  As I have learned, this often means manipulating the facts and even out-right lying to achieve that goal.  At most post-secondary schools (PCC colleges in particular) recruiters are pressured to meet a “monthly quota” even if it means registering students for courses where the market is saturated and there are few real job prospects.  None of that really matters.  As a clear example; the market for qualified public sector “teachers” is completely saturated in Canada.  1 out of 3 graduates from teachers colleges are still unemployed – years after finishing school and yet there is an ongoing campaign by teachers colleges to recruit more and more students regardless – why?  because there are security issues to an educational establishment that depends on enrollment.  The University system is a “slam-dunk” because the youth market is massive and most young people are brainwashed into thinking that it’s a diploma or degree that automatically creates employment.  It’s a sit and wait strategy – (coupled with student debt).

3.  There is no accountability and no responsibility on the part of any education system in Canada to find their graduates a real job in their field of study, which means that those having a BA, BSc, Masters or even Ph.D has very little to do with successful integration.

4.  Most students in Universities and Colleges are misinformed because most schools are not educating degree graduates with the most essential skills – that being the development of entrepreneurial spirit, occupation research, skill set marketing and proper ongoing networking.  Young people in the U.S and Canada are led to believe that you go to school – get the degree and then that great job just lands in their laps. Of course that’s not how it works.  There’s so much more to it and the education system in North America doesn’t address that.

5.  Unrealistic expectations – there’s a huge GAP (excuse the pun) between what most young people (and their parents) expect (entering post-secondary education with the goal of integrating into the labour market) and what’s realistic.  Many (if not most) children/teenagers in Canada are coddled/pampered (given too much), addicted to consumption and subsequently damaged (becoming complacent); stripping them from an essential ability to appreciate a sound work ethic.




I received an email from a young lady in London Ontario, which is in my Media Arts Report blog (Q & A) that I think is pertinent here …

Hello Jim – I’m writing to ask your opinion of the Music Recording Arts (MRA) program here in London.  It’s a collaboration between the University of Western Ontario and Fanshawe College (Music Industry Arts) offering a degree over 5 years.  I’ve been thinking of doing the MIA program (2 years), but my parents think it would be better if I had a degree instead of just a diploma.   I’m still researching all the options and would like to know what you think.

Stacy Rollins – London – December 22, 2012

Hi Stacy – yes this is new on the grid and I’ve had a look.  There’s not much information to go on so I’m not sure.  I suspect there’s a combination of efforts between the two schools culminating in a plethora of music theory/performance related courses in combination with the electronic/media related elements at Fanshawe, and I’m questioning the validity (point) of it.   It feels like academic overkill in preparation for a vocation that requires an equal amount of creative entrepreneurial spirit – and a willingness (ability) to think out of the box.  All this (in the box) training won’t teach you that.  I just can’t get my head around doing 5 years of education in music/media arts in London Ontario.   That would be committing/dedicating a big chunk of your life to the formal education process – but to what end?   I suppose the degree is a good thing to have but honestly, in the labour market – it will mean very little in terms of industry integration (finding real meaningful employment) upon graduation – especially there in London.   To me; this comes across as a way for post-secondary institutions in southwestern Ontario to milk more (OSAP) dollars out of one system and launder it in another – to bolster both schools growing infrastructure and ultimately support their priority mandate – which is to make money.   In short, if you’re going to commit 5 years in any education system (and the obvious huge financial investment on your end) just make sure it counts for something and leads you into a lucrative career, or you’ll be paying your massive student loan off (with a job at Starbucks) for the rest of your life when it’s over.  My advice, look at all your options very carefully before deciding – and pick another one – because I think this would work out much better for them, than for you.

Jim Lamarche – December 26, 2012


Expectation Misalignment

What students “expect” and what actually happens are all too often completely different and they become disappointed and discouraged way too soon.  The media has painted a false picture of what’s really going on and young people often become victims (believers) of the lie and some schools perpetuate the lie for profit.  We learn our lessons often times, the hard way.   Live and learn.  Most schools pull them in and churn them out for money. “desire” is something you don’t learn in a class-room.  Some schools inspire real curiosity in its participants, which elevates them into that career path that they have developed a real passion for.  It happens – there are many good schools out there and many student/graduates learn to connect the dots to form a picture – their picture.  Entrepreneurial spirit can be a healthy bi-product in a school system that knows how to inspire it’s students.   Fortunately some do, but most don’t.

That being said, desire and ambition are ultimately aptitudes that cannot be taught at any school.  It’s something you either have or you don’t and it’s difficult to measure as an innocent young person looking out into a deceptive world, full of fantasies and realities and no way to know where the fantasies end and the realities begin.   I think it’s called ‘experience’.   The old guy who looks at you and smiles after you’ve said something – what’s he thinking?




PUBLIC vs. PRIVATE – the debate continues … (passive vs. active pedagogy)

So back to school we go – the biggest problem in the Canadian post-secondary system, is that there are few options for creative people especially, to be able to plan out the best plan of action.

“How do i make this work in the real world?  How do i survive and keep my dream intact”?

Public schools (universities and community colleges) have a generally “passive” approach to education – it’s in the nature of our soft culture and is supported by a union mentality.  If you ever want to experience “hard” culture, spend some time in India.   One returns with a whole different perspective.  We’re so spoiled here in comparison – we “expect” too much.  Even though I prefer public over private schools, i think most public schools are lacking in the ability to inspire the necessary “self-discipline” that’s required for most to make it work. Long programs.  Unnecessary courses – too many “perks”, a 2.0 GPA that can be had in your sleep and not enough real immediate passion – designed to prolong that which could be done in a fraction of the time.  This “lag” in turn stunts a student’s career evolution because it’s all too often slow and filled with lots of “filler”.  The mere extension of a ‘high-school’ frame of mind is limiting, when it comes to assisting students to cope and deal with the real world (successfully integrating into the work-force).

Private schools on the other hand have more fire in their bellies – having a more “active” approach to education.  They’re “businesses” that need to survive and are more in touch with the real world for the most part, so in that sense they better prepare students for the realities of their respective future vocations and sometimes get the job done in half the time only at twice the cost.  Yikes!  Ok, what’s up with that?   Yes, they get to the point quicker and push students out faster by giving them the most important essentials up front but there’s a serious downside.  At most private schools (not all), there’s a “sales” staff that want you to sign up for a commission and often “lie” to get that, (ok – seriously manipulating the truth), not caring about you at all.

Most private schools – are deceptive and self-centered, treat their recruitment staff like trained dogs – more focused on forcing results – in the form of profit.  It can be quite creepy to look at, especially in the bigger schools owned by public American corporations with shareholders – based in New York or Chicago (70+ campuses globally).   Counting their profits and cutting their losses are a daily routine, and those “pulling the strings” know little or nothing about education and only care about how much money comes in.   They tend to take more and “give” less.  You’ve seen their consistent advertising on TV – penetrating a vulnerable market – easy OSAP student loan and …  well you get it.  Ok, all of a sudden public schools are starting to look pretty good again.   It’s a tough call.   Maintaining sanity over stupidity.   I’m still struggling with this one.  Smaller Canadian owned private colleges are better.  Students tend to be treated more like humans rather than a “bar code”.

Casualties in marketing madness.  Desperation – failure.  Some private career colleges close down and leave students strangling.  Shit happens.  Oops bad decision

Control issues – rampant egos – power players and office politics come standard equipment with most private career colleges.  It’s sad.  Sales staff are often in cages and poked at with a stick – to produce results or else.  The hidden agenda that so few know about. Beautiful websites with pictures of happy, beautiful young students up front on hybrid flash websites with pretend yet convincing smiles – all part of a marketing strategy;  this months “free laptop promotion” that is something different each month  – images of that … “I’m going for the gold” look in their fake “I’m successful now” faces.   Ok folks, the monthly sales quota is written in stone and some lose … it’s a revolving door.   News flash:  it’s a dog eat dog world.  Tragic especially, when the student loses and it’s common.  A lot of people are ripped off on student government loans.   Welcome to the real world.  Real survival can be difficult.

It is important at this point to re-iterate that there are some excellent private career colleges out there (entertainment/media arts). My original Report Card Post has them listed – top shelf.  There are also some superb public schools (universities and community colleges) in Canada too.  Some students do better going to a private school, others in public schools.  It depends on the person and the time-line.  Yes – priorities.   Shop carefully.  Good apples and rotten ones (that look good).  Every school has it’s own unique personality above and beyond that – compatibility takes research.  It really, ultimately comes down to the individuals in play and their willingness to take the leap – into the unknown – making the necessary sacrifices – abandoning “creature comforts”, trusting our intuition – embracing change.  Exploring the risk factor …




Peripheral Vision

What has become most obvious to me now at 56 and still in the education business, particularly in the “public versus private” debate,  is that FORCING results doesn’t work.  Whether it be in business, education, world politics, art, relationships and life in general – force is counter-productive and stressful.  Education is much more than “schooling” and has immeasurable ramifications.  Being open to all the options and opportunities, knowing when to surrender and when to act, taking a stand and making a firm decision is in our intrinsic nature and yet we have no idea what that looks like until later, when we can look back – reflecting in our later-life retrospective.   Revelations and regrets.  Bottom-line … we either “want” it or we don’t.  What-ever that is and what it looks or feels like.

Progress is all about making the necessary “sacrifices” and most aren’t willing to make enough.  Education is a parachute – that opens when it’s supposed to and buffers the impact of landing.  Education is just the broom in the all Canadian game of curling – those allies in life who share the same vision – networking and working it, sweeping our effort into a favorable position. Win-win is an idea that works sometimes and you only live once.  Good education is all about knowing when and how to listen – encouragement and support over profit and personal gain.  Planting a strong seed on the front end, is what makes it work on the back end – then comes the consistent care and attention and yes a little help from our friends.

Ultimately, we throw the rock – and it’s all in our focused conviction that we can produce the desired result.  Krazy karma plays a key role and is often out of our control.   We live, we do stuff and we die.   That’s a given.  There is “intellectual” maturity and there is “emotional” maturity.  All too often there is chaos, harassment, intimidation and abuse.  Sometimes we roll the dice and hope for the best.  No easy answers.  We are dealt a hand of cards and it’s all about how we play it.

Life forces us to make decisions that we all too often aren’t ready to make and yet forces us to move forward – because sometimes,  we need a kick in the ass.  So yeah, i guess force has it’s place – when it’s implemented with care (compassion and humility).  Real progress comes from inspired ambition – not disciplined submission.  Many in power don’t get it.  It’s a delicate balance that sometimes takes a lifetime to achieve, greed prevails – mistakes are abundant.  Speaking of …

On a closing note – when i was in India 4 years ago.  I saw hundreds of loaded rickety wooden carts being led by donkeys/mules and old horses.  The guy behind, holding the reins is standing with a whip that stings, constantly thrashing the animal that is frail, tired, hungry and obedient – pulling hundreds of bags of rice.  I’m getting something profound in that dusty moment, window rolled down in the late model SUV that is my ride, because we just happen to be higher in the food chain and i’m just tagging along.  This Kodak moment – wow – realizing that beating the animal is just slowing it down, only its master “thinks” it’s making him go faster!  If the animal collapses, there’s another to replace it – animal labour comes cheap.  I’m having a Zen moment – it is in blind ambition that we sometimes lose sight of what’s really going on.  The blinders that we have on block our peripheral vision – but it’s a requirement … with the intent to stay focused, only forward movement is allowed.  Only some of us lose our perception.




A momentary lapse of reason, consumed by something that was there all along

only we couldn’t see it.

Real educators see the whole – the real – the bigger picture (private and/or public) and carry their wisdom forward to the next generation.

There is no magic plan – it’s just what is.  School is just the beginning.

Trusting your intuition – timing is everything.  Good luck friends.

Thank you for reading – I welcome your comments, post a comment below or email me with your thoughts.







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