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An industry in crisis

An industry in crisis cannot care for itself. It inevitably becomes the object of interest for outsiders. Sometimes it’s in the form of government regulation. Other times from related industry who have a vested interest. We have something unusual occurring in the education field. Corporations increasingly lack confidence in education to continue to meet their needs. Last year, I presented during an EDUCAUSE online conference with Mathew Szulik (Red Hat). He made a statement to the effect: “When you [education] are done with students, we have to re-train them to compete in today’s world”. I haven’t quite been able to shake that statement. Perhaps because of the many assumptions it expresses – like that the primary role of education is to prepare people for work. Work preparation is obviously a large aspect of education, but I’m not comfortable with a purely utilitarian approach. Education plays more roles than purely work-based: preparation for living, becoming a contributing member of society, advancing knowledge, etc. Plus, why is it that corporations assume they understand learning and education? Reminds me of many, many days ago when I was in the restaurant industry. I saw many restaurants fail because individuals didn’t respect the complex nuanced nature of the field. “My mother makes a good meatloaf” or “My husband bar-b-ques awesome ribs” was a good enough reason to open a restaurant. End result? Colossal failure. Education is supposed to be tough…and complex. Yes, we can eliminate the complexity by reducing it to skills and metrics, but that’s not education anymore. Then it’s merely skill development. It might meet a corporation’s bottom line, but it doesn’t advance a society. Education is quickly veering into the domains of religion and politics for adherents and debate.
All of this to say, FastCompany has an article on Microsoft (and other corporations) school involvement


  1. Heather wrote:

    I’ve listed to Sir Ken Robinson’s TED (Do Schools Kill Creativity) talk several times recently and he’s correct that everyone wants to talk to you about their education, but also about their children’s education.

    I’ve heard from individuals that they think the movement to increase the self-esteem of our students has gone too far. They mention things like passing students so that they can stay with their friends, which always makes me cringe because I saw things like this at a school I taught at.

    I’m a huge supporter of making our students believe in themselves, but I worry that we have gone too far, leading to those outside of education making comments like “we have to re-train them to compete in today’s world”.

    No, business doesn’t get the complexity of education, but have we forgotten that a major purpose of education is to prepare our students for “the real world”? If we fail, business and government WILL seize control.

    Monday, August 27, 2007 at 3:41 pm | Permalink
  2. Zac Chase wrote:

    I too am concerned with the increasing focus on employment over whole-child education. Whether viewed as the 7 Liberal Arts or as preparation for adult citizenship, I cannot simply focus on building job skills. Our superintendent frequently references Friedman. While I appreciate the need to prepare our students to be competitive in the workplace, I’m oft more concerned with how they treat one another.

    In all our talk about the social aspects of emerging tools, we often lose track of the socialization we must teach, model and help our students practice.

    Monday, August 27, 2007 at 4:37 pm | Permalink
  3. CW wrote:

    At the risk of sounding insensitive I think Mathew Szulik is focused on the wrong thing. If the education system focused on specific skill development it would fail miserable because by the time the curriculum is developed and the learner has gone through it everything in it will be outdated. The expectation of great organizations is that the education system will prepare learners by helping them develop critical thinking skills and basically help them learn how to learn. There will always be a need to train someone to the job they will do in an organization. As a learning professional in a large multi-national corporation I can share what concerns us. Many new hires directly out of major universities still have not learned to learn. They are not inquisitive. This lack of curiousity and desire to identify and solve problems burdens the company and hurts all the mutual beneficiaries, including society. I would love to see more graduates come out with passion around problem solving and continuous improvement of self and the organization that employs them. I don’t believe that “education” owns the market on learning and education. I think this us vs them stance that both you and Mr. Szulik take is unhealthy and a bit selfish. Really the learner/employee is the one that pays in these territorial spats. In the end for either system to be successful requires a complete focus on the development of the individual in the system. Really the only competitive advantage left for most organizations is in the ability to learn and adapt.

    Monday, August 27, 2007 at 6:32 pm | Permalink
  4. I don’t think I fully understood Heather’s post, but one thing that caught my attention was her expression of concern over government “seizing control.” Heather, if anything can ensure (help us regain?) a polis of free people, it is education in areas of history, philosophy, literature, and art.

    CW, your post was spot on. THANK YOU!

    Equally, if not more important, than the actual subject matter of these disciplines are the habits and skills one develops in the course of study: CRITICAL THINKING, inquisitiveness, effective written communication, rational argument, sensitive to beauty in the world and compassion for others…and maybe, just maybe, find their true vocation/calling.

    Let’s keep in mind that the goal of incorporating wired technology into the classroom is to enhance the experience of learning–not to develop job skills.

    My background is in liberal arts and communication studies. Lately, I’ve been helping out a small company in Chicago called EctoLearning. …Basically what they have developed is an social networking environment designed for classroom use and course management–it is integrated with an LMS and is based on an open library of learning items lesson plans. It surpasses Elgg in functionality and makes Blackboard look quite 20th century, IMHO.

    They also have an enterprise version, called EctoConnect, that enables corporations and organization to harness social capital and deliver training in a social network.

    This may seem like a tangent but I really think Ecto is a great example of how you can design an online learning environment from the ground up with the concerns of this post in mind. It’s a tool that takes the students’ Web 2.0 competencies and uses them to fuel inquisitiveness, collaboration, and life-long learning.

    Tuesday, August 28, 2007 at 12:09 pm | Permalink
  5. For those who are curious to find out more, here’s a link to a brief video that describes EctoLearning.

    I’d love to know the thoughts of this group.

    Tuesday, August 28, 2007 at 12:12 pm | Permalink
  6. Hi Heather – I also have some difficulty with the notion that education should bend solely to the needs and interests of children. And that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying instead, that education should prepare these learners for life beyond corporations, namely to be critical/creative thinkers…and contributors to a healthy society. I don’t think education’s key mandate is to react to society’s trends (which is a message I’m increasingly seeing in edubloggers). Our key mandate is to be a transformative agent – sometimes moving learners to higher ideals and other times adjusting our methods to their language. It’s obviously more complex than that…but I just wanted to clarify that my stance was not one of reducing academic standards, but rather increasing the solidity of the foundation on which we are building.

    Tuesday, August 28, 2007 at 9:00 pm | Permalink
  7. Hi Zac – exactly. Our intent is one of a “higher calling”. Instead of simply teaching to the fads of an age, we should be developing our learners to function in the society they will inherent. In chaotic times, we don’t know what that might look like. But we have some indications – increased uncertainty, growing complexity, diversity, etc. To develop students to function in corporate environments is one aspect of education. I personally think it’s one of the smaller aspects. We need capable citizens first. “Good” employees come through a society that fosters deep, critical, creative thinking…from members with integrated/complex understanding of the world. Good members of society do not necessarily come through having good employees. Maybe I’m moving too close to issues of ethics…

    Tuesday, August 28, 2007 at 9:04 pm | Permalink
  8. Hi CW – I agree that “learning to learn”, being inquisitive, having passion, etc. are vital. Good points.

    After your statement that I was generating a territorial dispute, I had to re-read my post as its certainly not what I intended to say. And, on re-reading it, I think you may have read a different post :) . I mentioned quite explicitly that work preparation is a part of education. My concern is in making it the primary or whole function.

    You are quite right to emphasis the learner/employee in the process, btw.

    Tuesday, August 28, 2007 at 9:12 pm | Permalink
  9. Heather wrote:

    Let me clarify my comment.

    George I agree that we need to be preparing students to be critical/creative thinkers. Whether business realizes it or not, that is exactly what they need their future employees to be. I don’t think that you were advocating relaxing standards.

    Stephen, I also agree with you about teaching literature, art, etc. As George said, we need to teach them to be creative and critical.

    My comment, which was apparently not clear, is about the growing (from I’ve personally seen) attitude about allowing assignments to be completed whenever and not being as critical about the quality of our students work because we don’t want them to feel like they’ve failed. It’s those areas that I think business should be, and may be, the most freaked out about.

    Tuesday, August 28, 2007 at 9:16 pm | Permalink