University, not kindergarten

Culture of control will impede quality of Queen's education if left unchecked

Queen's Student Constables observe observe a crowd of students at last year's Frosh Week concert.
Queen's Student Constables observe observe a crowd of students at last year's Frosh Week concert.

Why are you at university? Universities exist to foster free, critical thinking and an unwillingness to accept unwarranted or unreasonable directives.

It’s reasonable that the above factors be mitigated by various sets of rules designed to set purposeful goals and preserve students’ safety. I’ll call these rules and the ensuing culture they create “schooling.” Unfortunately, there’s a darker side to schooling that I find deeply concerning.

Consider this year’s frosh concert. Despite being an overall well-executed event, I was dismayed at the way frosh and other concert attendees were treated in select circumstances.

As the concert finished, student constables and volunteers — myself among them — were asked to line up outside the gates in order to block the road in one direction between Clark Hall and the Miller parking lot, in the direction of Union Street.

The idea was to encourage frosh to walk in the general direction of their residences and away from the student houses surrounding Queen’s campus — not to mention all of the other places where students could wander while remaining on campus.

Far from an act of kindness, this line of volunteers was a show of force and authority.

The volunteers should have been instructed to show students the way towards the residencies by spreading volunteers out between Clark Hall and University Avenue by Grant Hall. It’s a route that many first-year students weren’t familiar with, and one that could be particularly difficult to navigate late at night.

A trail of volunteers all the way to University Avenue would have given more certainty to individuals who didn’t know their way back while allowing free adults to wander where they pleased within legal limits.

Instead of instructing volunteers to organize in this fashion, the way we were told to behave created tension between event organizers and students. In fact, one particular person felt threatened enough to shove me as he passed. I would have been upset with him had I not agreed with his sentiment.

Unfortunately, schooling, in the meaning outlined above, has permeated many aspects of our university.

This year’s Frosh Week was the first year alcohol was completely prohibited from Queen’s residences. The ban implicated all first-year students — even those aged 19 or older.

According to Dean of Student Affairs Ann Tierney’s Sept. 16 op-ed in the Journal, the administration believes the alcohol ban contributed to a safer and more positive orientation week experience for students.

But isn’t this just another example of schooling? I would prefer that first years feel safe and comfortable drinking in residence — particularly if they are legally of age to do so — rather than feel the need to sneak around behind the administration’s back.

The ban simply moved first-year alcohol consumption off-campus. Queen’s divorced itself from the real issue at hand and, as such, failed to set the conditions that would allow drinking habits to form more casually in an environment prepared with safeguards like the Campus Observation Room (COR).

Schooling exists at the most basic levels of the education system — and rightly so. In fact, the main focus of education at the preschool and kindergarten levels is schooling.

In kindergarten, the primary goal of playing with blocks, an otherwise educational activity, is that the blocks are meant to be shared. Likewise, the teaching of the alphabet is designed, at least in part, to introduce children not only to basic written English but also to the idea of sitting still, listening to a speaker and following directives from an authority figure.

We accept these notions because it’s understood by educators that young children need a clear set of rules and parameters in order to thrive.

This is not the case with university students. In fact, I would argue that a culture of schooling, when left unchecked, can impede students’ ability to learn and engage critically with their environment.

Increasingly, post-secondary schools are looking a lot more like kindergarten classrooms — and it’s hurting our education.

We are not at schools beyond the secondary level. We are at post-secondary schools. It’s time our educational institutions started post-schooling.

The above opinions are my own and are in no way reflective of the views of ASUS or my commission.

Jesse Waslowski is ASUS Internal Affairs Commissioner.

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