For me, getting an education has proven to be more useful than the education itself. I didn’t concern myself with earning a degree until I was well into my 40s. The reason was simple: I was getting along fine without one.
When I enrolled at the University of Waterloo, there were a number of subjects that interested me, particularly environmental studies, political science, history, and philosophy. These subjects had a direct bearing — or so I thought — on the advocacy work I was doing.
However, it became apparent that what I was experiencing and learning from the non-academic world and what the university was teaching were profoundly different. The subjects I was initially interested in had little relevance to what I was doing, namely trying to compel governments and industry to adopt policies and practices that would protect the environment and animals, and struggling to make sense of the moral relationship between human and non-human life.
What the university was teaching was academically interesting—and very enjoyable—but had little practical application. Studying poli-sci won’t help anyone defeat a bad politician or elect a good one. History is just another story (historians tend to be authors first and researchers second.) William Shakespeare and Jane Austen are better philosophers, and have more insight into humanity than either Locke or Descartes. And, environmental science is at best a bad “best guess.”
English, it turned out, was most useful to me. Literature is not only founded on intellectual exploration, knowledge and communication, but it also recognizes and embraces ambiguity and lack of precision, two characteristics of all thinking and most subject matters and disciplines, whether acknowledged by their practitioners or not. Knowledge and communication are rhetorical or, in other words, necessary to persuade. And all advocacy is about persuasion. Moreover, all of the subjects I was initially interested in were, it turns out, just another way of telling a story.
So what did I learn from getting an education? Two things. The clearest reality is in fiction. And, to think well, write well.
Bachelor of Arts,
English Language and Literature
University of Waterloo, 2005
Publications & Presentations
God, Culture, and Women— “The Canadian Seal Controversy: Biological, Cultural, and Ethical Considerations,” Centre for Northern Studies and Research, Department of Geography, McGill University, Montreal, 1985.
The Animal Rights Viewpoint—”Native People and Renewable Resource Management,”1986 Symposium of the Alberta Society of Professional Biologists, Edmonton.
Are There No Trap Lines?— “The Use of Northern Wildlife: Animal Rights, Subsistence, and Commercialization: a National Symposium of the North in the 1980’s,” the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee and the Fur Institute of Canada, McGill University, Montreal, 1987.
Toward a New Ethic—”Man’s Relationship with Nature: a Symposium on an Emerging Environmental Ethic,” Concordia University, Montreal, 1988.
Skinned (co-author)—ed. Anne Doncaster, North Falmouth: International Wildlife Coalition, 1988.
Native Trapping and Animal Rights: The Fur is Flying—”1990 Public Interest Law Conference.” Land Air Water, Environmental Research Group, Law Center, University of Oregon, Eugene
Environment and Politics—”Environmental Science Symposium,” University of Guelph, 2002
Saving the Planet to Death—”Wildlife Conservation: In Pursuit of Ecological Sustainability,” University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland, 2004.