I cross-posted this from my personal blog, elparquenuez.com. Thought it could be of some use here.
Many people have drawn allusions between business operation and education reform. “Schools should run like businesses” These people say. “Businesses work. They maximize profit and treat employees with a greater professional respect. Why not try to emulate this model in schools?”
I’ve always dismissed this recommendation out of hand, giving it nothing more than a passing thought. “If only that school was run like a business” someone might say. “It is!” I return. “It’s just…run like a failing one.” (zing!) There are indeed many corrupt, seriously greedy, and downright failing businesses. It is nothing about the business world that guarantees “success” in and of itself. It’s just included companies that’ve found successes through designing their interaction with the people who buy their things.
Despite my qualms with business, I recently realized I had a bit of cognitive dissonance regarding the subject.
Certainly, I sometimes think with a business brain. I’m a huge fan of the marketing process. I consider this creative process a part of my own professional responsibility as a teacher. In fact, I think I learned more watching and reflecting about the show “Mad Men” than I did in a year of Master’s Work. I also regard gaming as a focal part of my approach to learning. Games are of course fun, but the development of these games has become a major enterprise. Finally, social networking is central to how my students learn, and how I communicate with ideas/people around the globe. Haven’t successful social media campaigns not forced businesses to rethink how they interact with their consumers?
So consider the parallels. Old business sets the market up in a singular direction. Businesses market a product people don’t know they want yet. They create the product, then ship to faceless people. It’s fashionable to cite “old media” as an example of such practice. While “old media” still pulls in profits, the model is shifting under its feet. The world is changing, while businesses are struggling to keep the world the same. In other words, the world changes without the permission of institutions.
So isn’t the same thing happening in schools?
The capital (human and otherwise) spent to “improve schools” only seeks to improve a model that is already decaying. As with “old media”, reformers seek to improve their interaction with the market (kids) so that the market can produce greater results.
I don’t think this has to be the case.
Why can’t we be more like the disruptions on old ways of doing business. Take risks, and slowly change the nature of learning without the permission of the institutions that previously enabled this learning to take place. As with other industries, we don’t need their permission anymore.
So, what are we going to be? More like the businesses that will either be completely different 10 years from now anyway (or die), or more like the ones that will have value 20 years from now?
P.S. I’m glad I was able to get past my hesitations, and think through this analogy. Special thanks to @johntspencer for leading me to be more humble as I think about reform.