Education as business? Are you kidding?

CBC offers us a show ludicrously called Type A, described as “a series that celebrates strong personalities who are not afraid to speak their minds.”  Notice that expertise or domain knowledge on a subject appears not to be a requirement for participation.  This is unfortunate, because it is apparent that, sometimes at least, this show spouts the most uneducated nonsense.

Such is the case in a recent episode titled The Business of Education, that starts with the question: “Should a business model be applied to public education?”

The answer is obvious to anyone who’s ever been both in “business” and in academia: NO!

Indeed, this applies to education generally, and not just so-called public education.  It doesn’t matter if you’re teaching kindergarten or university graduate studies – business, and its fundamental tenet of competition – is no way to run education.

The reasons for this are many; here’s a few, any one of which is enough to prevent the notion from moving further (but for the twits who are either too stupid or too ignorant to understand it).

Competition doesn’t improve education, it worsens it.  A direct result of competition in business is that some companies fail and disappear.  Shall we let schools and universities disappear?  Competition pits instructor against instructor – leading to wildly different approaches designed to curry the favour of whoever defines “success.”  Competition pits student against student – so much for learning how to work in teams.  Competition pits one school against another – so much for collegial research, educational exchanges, and shared educational knowledge.

And who shall be the arbiter of the competition?  In business, it’s the market – and it’s certainly not a good arbiter as recent history clearly shows.  In education, what substitutes for the market?  Students.  They’re students for a reason – they lack the skills to make proper decisions.  The human brain doesn’t fully mature until about the ago of 20.  Yet the obvious arbiter of an education market would be exactly those students.  So the schools with the highest graduation rates, the lowest tuition, and the best parties will certainly come to dominate the market.  And educational quality will then summarily go right down the toilet.  There is already the disgusting habit, in some quarters, of referring to students as “customers.”  This is perverse.  Educators don’t sell students anything.  Educators provide to students the clarity of thought, the skills, and the knowledge to be contributing members of society.  Students aren’t buying hamburgers, for chrissakes, they’re learning what they need to live full and meaningful lives.

Education takes time.  Learning takes time.  Different people learn at different rates.  Education simply does not move at the speed of business.  It’s bad enough that we have to tolerate grade inflation, a rampant sense of entitlement among students, and the abomination that is social promotion. No matter how good the teacher, the student will learn only as fast as the student can learn.  Trying to expedite matters for the sake of meeting “business goals” only produces unnecessary stress in educators and in students alike, and poorly educated people.

Competition stymies social development of students. Are we really willing to tell little Johnny that the only way he’ll succeed in life is to memorize his multiplication tables faster than all the other kids?  Are we going to tell university freshmen that teamwork is only some Machiavellian tool to climb the ladder of success?  Are we going to turn academic research into a rat race where ethics takes a back seat to scoring that extra patent or prestigious publication?  That’s what it would be like if educational institutions were run like businesses.  And that would result in generations of people even more self-absorbed and disinterested in the well-being of others than we already have.  If that’s the kind of society we want, then you need to stop the world cuz I want to get off.

Business is about “increasing shareholder value.”  Running education like business means… what?  Selling shares in school boards?  Making universities publicly traded commodities?  Education is how we pass on the knowledge of past generations to future ones.  The only reason the developed world has it as good as it has, is that we are constantly relying on the educational institutions to act as the gatekeepers, generators, and disseminators of knowledge.  In a business world, all that would vanish under a bunch of legal fine print and intellectual property agreements.  And we would all end up living in caves again.

Indeed, I’ll go further and say that business models of competitiveness are the antithesis of what education should be.  Education needs to be collaborative, not competitive.  We, I and my colleagues, form a team – we work together towards a common goal.  It doesn’t matter if we’re at different universities, or in different countries.  Educators all over the world share a single goal: to help make the next generation capable of building on what we’ve done, to make their lives even better than ours.  There is no room for competition there.  We don’t need it; we don’t want it.

So, let me summarize thusly: educators have their responsibilities and we stick to them.  We don’t tell business-people what to do, and we’ll be damned if we let them tell us what to do.

And to those who think that education is just another business: you’re all fucking morons.


4 thoughts on “Education as business? Are you kidding?

  1. I agree about most of this, but there are some things educators can learn from business. First and foremost is the concept of the customer. As a principal, I had lots of customers. The kids, the parents, and the staff were all my customers. It was my job to meet their needs, not the other way around. I also find that there are a lot of books not aimed at educators that we can use. I summarize many of them at http://DrDougGreen.Com. Keep up the good work.

    • Douglas, thanks for the comment.

      However, I still disagree with the concept of the customer. The relationship between principals, teachers, students, and parents is wrongly viewed as one of consumer and provider. It lowers the educational experience to a simple economic-commercial exchange, and opens up the process to the kinds of unscrupulous (and in my opinion, disgusting) behaviours we so often see in business.

      You may feel you are theere to meet the the needs of teachers/students/parents, but that’s not it. You are a gatekeeper, particularly of the ethical model of education – where people work together primarily for the good of society and not for economic purposes. You must be the person to resist, on behalf of your teachers, and for the sake of the betterment of your students, those parents who seek to twist the educational system to the advantage of their children whether they deserve it or not.

  2. Dear Professor Salustri,

    There is no doubt, from your remarks and experience, that you have gone through what is most likely the best and worst of both worlds. In this, I agree contently with every point you have made, but I strongly support your ideas about teamwork versus competition. Students are paying the same tuition as others and deserve the same opportunities and attention from the teaching staff, regardless of how many other students have a higher grade. When students’ averages, or “prestige,” starts to drop below another’s, it just proves that the student is in a justified position to receive help from staff and other peers and, therefore, demonstrates the NEED to have a helping hand. Education in this sense is a necessity and should not be subject to competition.

    I enjoyed reading this, see you in class

    Caden Pereira

    • Caden,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I agree completely with the notion of help being made available to students when they need it.

      I’d like to add two conditions, however.

      First, grades do not necessarily correlate to ability. There are many cases in which a student who performs below average in terms of grades goes on to do significant things later on. While it’s easy (too easy) to blame the educational system for not recognizing that ability. There are too many factors at work, and no one has ever spotted anything remotely like a causal relationship (to the best of my knowledge). I do know that in many cases, graduates ended up doing wonderful things in fields other than the one they studied.

      Second, in the professional programs (engineering, medicine, law, nursing, social work, etc.), there is an expectation that a university degree is a very significant portion of the qualification for getting a license to practice. This means that we must maintain a certain level of “quality assurance” within the program. And, barring some new way to assess student performance, we must depend on grades. So a student that needs a lot of extra help within a professional program could very well end up making mistakes in practise that could literally cost lives. I hope you can see how that rather forces us to draw the line and stick to it.

      It’s not a perfect system, to be sure, but it’s the best we’ve got for now.

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