It is popular to make the claim that Education should be more like Business. A lot of the way we have come to talk about education comes out of a corporate way of thinking about the world. It is common to hear that education should be “more efficient,” that it should be “about choice,” and that education is all about “getting jobs.” It is even assumed by some that schools that people “freely choose” shouldn’t be “regulated” by being held to high curriculum standards.
But all that is simply the wrong way to think about education and why communities choose to provide its younger generations a good education.
Most basically, the purpose of business and the purpose of education are not the same . . . and, in fact, they aren’t even very compatible. Businesses exist to make money. Period. Full Stop. And these days they continue to exist only if they make money fast. Education properly has much more complex goals. Communities take on the responsibility of educating all its young in order to create a new generation of fully functioning citizens. We want new citizens who can pick up the burden of preserving and extending our community. In a democracy that means a good education will provide the new citizen with the tools for making informed decisions about their own governance. That is a tall order. It is a much taller order than the mere ability to be a good employee.
Good employees dig down deep into a relatively narrow area of expertise and get very good at that. They need to learn, in general, not to question the work of others outside their area of expertise and to fit their own efforts into purposes devised by others. That’s fine in its place. But that’s not what we want in a good citizen. We want much more.
Good citizens need to be broadly educated. They need to understand the importance of and the basics of a very broad range of subjects. They need to know how to use those basics as a starting point for new learning whenever their responsibilities call for it. Good citizens understand that it is their responsibility to be a part of devising the purposes and values of their community. They do not automatically accept the expertise of others and are willing and able to examine the evidence for themselves.
That is truly a rigorously high bar.
Businesses should be, and sometimes are, happy to get employees who have the qualities of truly great citizens. But they are not capable of producing them. And communities should not place their faith in business ideals to achieve the education we want to see in the next generation.
The interest of a business in good employees is different from the interest of a community in good citizens. This alone is probably sufficient reason to question using the language of business in our quest to create the citizens we will need in the future. But, beyond language, when we try to implement the sorts of methods that businesses use to maximize making money to create good citizens, we run into many situations where the quality of education suffers. The culture of business life and the culture of education differ, and should differ, in very real and important ways.
Running education like a business results in a poor education.