My Students Don’t Live in Their Parents Basement

Stephen Poloz, of the Bank of Canada, had a rather tone deaf line the other day:

“If your parents are letting you live in the basement, you might as well go out and do something for free to put the experience on your CV.”

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That’s great for people who can do that, but most of my students live on their own, often with kids, and have been doing so for years.

I understand where he’s coming from, and who he’s talking to, but it betrays a bias that he needs to get over. By saying things like this he’s ignoring the huge number of students who are barely getting by through their education, and are only going to school because they know it’s the route to a job that doesn’t pay minimum wage.

Education can be a great equalizer. But the people for whom it will help the most don’t have the ability to take two years after university to do volunteer work. They need to move into the work force. And if that means taking jobs below their education level they will – even if it isn’t getting them the “right” kind of experience.

I had a great discussion with one of my more promising students yesterday. He wants to go into economics. He’s currently getting his Adult Graduation Diploma and he’s brilliant. His math scores are higher than I could ever achieve. He is at school an hour before class without fail. Part of that is because he refuses to miss a single moment of class time. And part of that is because we run a breakfast program, and it makes sure he gets a meal every day.  I may have forgotten to mention that this student is homeless.  He’s in a shelter currently. But when he graduates this year we’re working on getting him into a school with a great economics program and a residence hall. That is if we can get him onto band funding and help him to access the scholarships and bursaries that will help him through his university time.

That student will probably become a great banker, or economist, or investment advisor. But what he won’t be able to do is stay in his parents basement and do volunteer work. For him education is the gateway to a new life. A life that he is driven enough, talented enough, and dedicated enough to achieve. What he isn’t is privileged enough to take two years to volunteer his time before landing a paying job.

And that is what Mr. Poloz is saying. That it’s not enough to be smart, it’s not enough to be talented, it’s not enough to be driven, it’s that you have the privilege of being able to not be paid for two years. I don’t agree with that Mr. Poloz. If there is work enough in your industry that you need volunteers to help with it, why isn’t there work enough for you to pay those young people to do it?

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