The Learning Curve: an Observation in Modern Education

 a discussion on private verses public post-secondary systems in Canada – (updated for January 01, 2019)

“I look at it this way – if the world’s next Quentin Tarantino, Drake/Avril Lavigne or Trent Reznor/Daniel Lanois is reading this stuff, then none of it will matter one way or the other because information in a blog on the internet won’t change that kind of commitment.  I already know that many MAE readers decide against a career in Media Arts after taking this site in.  I think of it as me doing them a favour and saving them a lot of headaches, only because it requires a 100% commitment.  It’s all or nothing”.  JL

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 may shed some light on the weak links in our education system.  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 8 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.  Here are 10 fundamentals that every new post-secondary student will benefit from – what it looks like under the surface – what you won’t learn in any school:

1.  The Canadian education system is a business and like every business there’s a bottom line and it’s all about money. 
All schools (and the people who run them), are in “business” to make money – plain and simple.  Unlike countries in other parts of the world where education reflects a more balanced relationship with their labour market, post-secondary colleges and universities in North America sell programs based on popularity even though many have little post-grad relevance (due to over-saturation).  Programs such as Fashion Design, Animation/Gaming, Broadcasting/Television/Film and Music/Sound/Recording Technology are a few examples of this.  There are thousands of schools offering hundreds of programs that are popular and appealing, but have low graduation and placement rates (and all because they’re profitable).

2.  Justification.  Schools  ‘justify’ many fringe programs/courses because there are success stories that they can mount front and center – letting the world know that Jason Jones graduated and is working “in the field” now.  The underlying message is that they as a school are  (in fact) delivering, when in reality more than half of those who register/attend (programs above) don’t finish/graduate and 80% (4/5) of those who do graduate end up doing something completely unrelated in the job market after spending/investing $20,000 – $40,000 on an education that they’ll never use professionally (and many years paying off student loans).   That said, you will  see and hear all about the few who “make it” – turned up nice and loud on the school’s websites, implying that this is a common outcome.  It’s called marketing and it’s deceptive.

3.  Most schools are more preoccupied with what they can take rather than give.  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 for post-secondary, is that enrollment, makes them money and creates more opportunities for THEM!  As I have learned, this often means manipulating the facts and sometimes lying outright to achieve that goal.  One example … unionized public sector teachers (elementary) use kids as props/pawns, to hold up signs in picket lines (the kids having no idea what they mean); so as to gain leverage (via propaganda) in their campaign to increase their salaries/benefits while at 10 years of service, earning $90K/year (double that of non-union private sector teachers), working 35hrs/week with 2 months off every summer.  With all these perks in place, they still want more, using rhetoric to convince people that they deserve it.

4.  Bums in Seats.  At most post-secondary schools (PCC colleges in particular) recruiters are pressured to meet a “monthly target quota” (commission sales), 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.  Even though there’s a demand for ‘french immersion’ teachers; 2 out of 3 new graduates from english teachers colleges can’t find work (system is full up) – 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 education system 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 degree that automatically creates employment.  It’s a sit and wait strategy – (coupled with student debt).

5.  Accountability.  There is little 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 and are essentially on their own post grad.  Every registered college has a “career services” department and registrants are reassured that they will be there for them when they finish, but such departments (in most schools) are ‘cosmetic’ and 9 times out of 10 do very little/nothing to assist in a graduate’s integration (beyond help with their resume).  Any media arts school that tells prospectives that there are “lots of jobs” for graduates of their program, are essentially falsifying the facts and schools tell prospective students this every day.



6.  Misinformation. 
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 (labour market) research, skill set marketing and proper ongoing networking – and most schools feed on complacency. Young people in the U.S and Canada are led to believe that you go to school – get the diploma/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, because it’s not in their best interest to do so.

7.  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.  A large percentage of Canadian parents pay for their sons/daughters college/university, including all expenses (a car, clothes/spending money – whatever they “need”), and many of these young people take their post-secondary education for granted.  It’s called “entitlement” and it’s rampant.  Years earlier and leading up to college; this large percentage of children/teenagers 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.

8.  Trying it on.  Most who embark on a post-secondary education have no idea what they’re doing and are following the advice of people (parents/relatives/teachers, admissions counsellors etc.), who don’t really know where their son’s/daughter’s/student’s strengths/talents fundamentally lie.  Ungrounded “ideas” absent of real passion/desire, make for a routine procedure and a luke warm reception (withdrawl).  Traditional career exploration (for the most part) is like trying on a new suit or a new pair of jeans (to see how it fits).   More often than not, the ‘fit’ isn’t right (returning it to the rack) OR, they end up wearing something that is uncomfortable for the rest of their lives.   Moral of the story:  you don’t try media/music arts (in particular) on to see if it fits.  It’s something one does because it’s their calling (purpose/mission).

9.  Commitment.  Young people almost always say that they are 100% committed to their future, (when there’s nothing to measure it against).   The game “pin the tail on the donkey” comes to mind.  All said and done, their commitment is measured in successful (post-grad) integration, making their living (in their field) and rising to the occasion.   There is a low integration rate in media arts, and in audio/music (in particular) overall statistics show that less than 1/10 who register/attend any such program ever get to that place (and what that place looks like is almost always very different from what they thought it would look like going in).

10.  Private Career Colleges are also called “for profit” schools, which is misleading,  because it implies that public post-secondary is non-profit.   Community Colleges and Universities are  money hungry regardless and so-called ‘surpluses’ from highly successful (popular) programs, are absorbed/assimilated into the system seamlessly (and quietly) so technically, there are ‘non-profit’ and ‘for-profit’ schools out there but in reality, there isn’t that much of a difference in their motivation.  Both private and public post-secondary (colleges/universities) want their classes filled to capacity (because it means higher salaries/bigger budgets and more room for expansion).


Expectation Misalignment

What students “expect” and what actually happens are all too often completely different and they become disappointed and discouraged way too soon.  Our so called ‘benevolent’ influences, (media and even education systems themselves) have 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 unionized sensibility.  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 (in this country), I believe that most public schools are lacking in the ability to inspire the necessary “self-discipline” that’s required for most to make it work right.  Long programs.  Unnecessary courses – too many “perks”.  Get that 2.0 GPA in a ‘meet the basic requirement’ agenda and not enough real immediate passion/minimal imagination – 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 (without government funding) 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 (competing with each other) that want you to sign up for a commission and often “lie” to nail down the registration, (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 (behind closed doors) – 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”.

and now … The Good News

It is important at this point to re-iterate that there are some excellent post-secondary options out there.  Outside of music/media, I have seen hundreds of graduates from both private and public post-secondary Canadian colleges go on to do amazing things in their careers because they went to good schools and there are lots of good schools out there.  It’s really important to shop carefully and ask the right questions, knowing that the answers one gets are open to interpretation.  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.

I look at it this way – if the world’s next Quentin Tarantino, Avril Lavigne, Drake or Trent Reznor/Daniel Lanois is reading this, then none of this will matter one way or the other.  They’ll just use this information to assist in their navigation.  I already know that many MAE readers decide against a career in Media Arts after taking this site in.   I think of it as me doing them a favour and saving them a lot of headaches, only because it requires a 100% commitment.   It’s all or nothing.

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 60 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.  Ultimately success hinges on one’s ability to find their own natural ‘rhythm’ in the din of distraction (balancing).  Education is a parachute – that opens when it’s supposed to and buffers the impact of landing.  Education is 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 misinformation, 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 10 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. That realization is that all too often the ‘give and take’ part of the equation is (extremely) lop sided.  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.



Relevant articles – A Heap of Money – by Jeremy Johnson – graduate, Metalworks Institute (2009)

More Letters to the Editor in the Forum

The Learning Curve – Erase and Rewind – Introducing the Open Loop/Non-Linear Post Secondary model

The Learning Curve – Let it Happen – Hackschooling and the Anatomy of Entrepreneurial Spirit

Black Hole Syndrome – the unspoken agenda in post secondary education

Jim Lamarche – Journal:  the human condition, gender politics, spiritual isolation, hypocrisy in modern society, renewed faith, redemption in expression