The free market economy has redefined education. Once upon a time, in a world far, far away, one without neoliberal capitalism and a market economy, a person could get a real education. Whether it was an undergraduate degree or a doctoral degree, it reflected a person’s ability to contribute to a field of study with significant research and to develop programs that could improve the state of affairs. Education was considered a state of mind, a lifelong learning process. The educated person’s goal was to make the world a better place for all.
There are a few, but not very many, higher education institutions that have given serious thought to what it might mean to be an educated person in this day and age and then fashioned, as a collegium, a serious integrated, coherent curriculum in response to that analysis. The modern university, with some notable exceptions, has given up trying to define what it means to be an educated person.
– via Education Week – Top Performers
All that went away with a market economy that linked education credentials to income and job promotions. Having a degree now means getting paid more money and not about the learning experience. Students get an education today almost the same way they buy a new car. They see it as a cash investment over time and expect the product to be there regardless of what they do. College student recruiting strategies have changed marketing strategies. While still promoted as a rigorous but rich journey through the realms of existing knowledge toward new and uncharted understandings that expand the mind and develop socially aware individuals, the hidden agenda focuses on skills training to jumpstart a profitable career.
Academia inadvertently contributes to this shift toward commodification by demanding more academic activities from an already overworked faculty. Many faculty positions are advertised with requirements that are so ridiculous, few applicants could meet all of them. While the intent is to promote creativity and quality, the results are fabricated resumés (CVs) and rushed, poor quality publications to portray the image of a qualified professional. It is a sham and is growing daily. Further, faculty who persist in “the way things used to be” are finding themselves being marginalized and pushed out of education like outdated equipment, incapable of meeting “production goals.” They are like Don Quixote, tilting with the windmill of neoliberal capitalistic profit-based education, in a no-win campaign.
Casting Blame or Distracting Attention?
There is a trend to cast disparagements upon online education, but brick-and-mortar institutions are not exempt from the commodification of education. Universities that once had restrictive policies based on test scores and coursework for incoming students now have open enrollment programs to increase cash flow. Instead of having challenging curricula, they develop programs to accommodate unprepared students who feel that the University is there to provide them a service they paid for. Quality in education may still exist in the minds of some educators but it does not exist in the minds of those decision-makers and administrators who continue to expect more for less in a race to increase profit by increasing ratings and percentages of students graduating while maintaining the appearance of quality.
Roots of the Shift
Changes in the education process are inextricably linked to the neoliberal capitalist system that commodifies everything. It is no longer a matter of quality but is an exchange of payment for goods. The roots of the shift from education as an enriching experience to one about career preparation starts early. As a response to demands for a “bigger bang for the buck,” government agencies under pressure from the neoliberal capitalist business power structure have shifted to an assembly line mentality for education by creating a “quality assurance plan” based on passing tests. Teaching is relegated to filling students with facts and behaviors that are both measurable and meet the needs for compliant, non-creative worker bees.
In 1999, the school board in Howard County, Maryland, removed two criteria from its official policy on determining high school students’ grades. You know that neither of them were standardized tests. No, they were, and I quote, “originality” and “initiative.” This school board decided that those two qualities of a student’s work were no longer important. They decided this because, they said, it is “impossible” to measure how hard a student tries or if a student’s work is original. What they were really saying, and what way too many school boards are now saying, is this: If it can’t be measured easily, then we can’t care about it, we can’t teach it, and we certainly can’t determine if a kid has learned it. The solution? Take originality and initiative completely out of your educational goals and just teach to the test.
– via www.ascd.org
Legislation like No Child Left Behind, education vouchers, and charter schools have changed the face of education in the U.S. and increased the profits of those investing in the new education system. While there are many “side benefits” for the privileged, there are also many opportunities for profit. A recent report of charter school fraud confirmed the hundreds of millions of dollars that found its way into the pockets of investors. MSN once hosted a discussion of the best investments and charter schools topped the list.
Perhaps guided by the old adage that you have to spend money to make money, the champions of education “reform” have poured billions into the effort to privatize and profit from America’s schools. Those funds are used on multiple fronts: launching charter schools, underwriting the political campaigns of politicians, and of course, investing in media to propagate the free-market privatization vision.
– via MSN
Some Things Never Change
One thing that hasn’t changed in education is the discriminatory practices of the privileged. For generations, racial inequality has persisted as has many other -isms. The principle of excluding the Other is just disguised as a “more efficient use of resources” a.k.a. “make the elites richer.”
Among the many finding of the 36-page report: More than 500 charter schools suspended black students at a rate that was at least 10 percentage points higher than the rate for white students. And moreover, 1,093 charter schools suspended students with disabilities at a rate that was 10 or more percentage points higher than for students without disabilities.
The most alarming finding, the research points out, is that 235 charter schools suspended more than 50 percent of their enrolled students with disabilities.
– via US News & World Report
When a society shifts its value system, two things are certain. First, other things will eventually change or become obsolete. Because the shift is so gradual, it often goes unnoticed by many and gradually becomes the norm. Second, and most important, the dominant group will always benefit. Thus, changing a value system requires strategy, patience, persistence, and power. It also requires “smoke and mirrors” tactics, giving the appearance of one thing while doing something different. People are so busy working and playing, they take little time — or have little time — to research the real issues. Instead, they look for quick and accessible highlights. Many have a false sense of trust for the news media, finding the source that best meets their dispositions and feeding off of it, never checking the validity of what’s being told to the masses. Those who do sound the danger alert are viewed as conspiracy theorists or negative thinkers. Just remember this when you encounter the fence…
“Cows have a sense of freedom…until they encounter the fence around the pasture.”