I view the commodification of education as one of the greatest modern threats to learning. The messaging of the purpose of education as a means to an end, a good to be bought and sold, has completely obscured the value of learning in the process. In K-12 it’s to go to college, in college it’s to get a job, after formal education, well, what’s the purpose? What good is learning, anyway? What is perhaps even more frustrating is the pervasiveness of this message. Industries demand it through creating credential barriers to gainful employment. Government reinforces it by defining measures of quality tied to funding and public exposure (see the US Department of Education’s College Scorecard or many a state’s performance based funding metrics). Educational institutions buy-in by mimicking competitive business models in their marketing of their after-college “product.” And these aren’t the only ones – students (and the general public) have bought into this as well. It’s possibly a natural outcome of the rising costs to attend higher education, which is possibly a natural outcome of the public disinvestment in education, but somewhere along the way students stopped seeking education for learning.
Sir Ken Robinson, Ellen Langer, and Michael Wesch find the disconnect between education and learning springs from many sources. Robinson speaks of mechanizing education – something I see in direct relation to commodification as an efficiency to increase production. The image of a degree factory comes to mind, producing a passive, predictable, standardized product. Langer talks about shifting away from a focus on evaluation of certain knowledge to the development of conditional knowing. This certainly won’t produce a predictable product. Wesch focuses on fighting against the machine that has created sterilized, standardized environments by tasking the teachers with anti-teaching. They all reference the culture of education as a central issue (see this recent interesting post on HuffPost for some thoughts on why this prevails). All of these efforts serve to engage student interests and natural curiosity – to draw them back into what sadly has only become the value-added aspect of education – learning.
I would make one addition to these perspectives. Each challenged the system and those who operate within it to make change; however, the students weren’t called to this challenge in the same way. I understand that students are often situated with or convinced of their limited power to influence the system, but I can’t let them off the hook. Many students have bought into the college-to-job pipeline idea, jumping the hoops without understanding what they’re getting for their investment. In order for a true learning revolution to occur at our institutions, students need to be a critical part of the investment in calling for change, doing things differently, and connecting to learning. I agree that it’s hard to learn about something with little interest, but I also agree that we all have the individual capabilities to seek interest in all things – after all, that’s a component of mindful education worth noting. It would be difficult to embrace Wesch’s call to anti-teaching without the students embracing the opportunity, after all. Co-creation of learning requires it.
So my call is to make sure students understand that they can get so much more than a degree from their education, and it is within them to make the investment in seeking actual learning, challenging their professors to promote it, and continuing to seek it after graduation. They don’t have to wait on us, though hopefully we’ll come along and help take down some of the barriers on the way. A central tenant of my educational philosophy is to help students understand their agency. Where does this fit for you?