Why do we treat Education as an industry?

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June 3, 2010 by Willy Cardoso

I think there’s always a time in life when you’ll rebel against your own beliefs. You can quickly supress that feeling and get back to the form, which is evidently the easiest thing to do, or you can benefit from being just a homo sapien and reconsider those beliefs and decide if you’ll stick to them or not. In the worst case scenario, you’ll have learnt something.

If you know me personally or if you read my last post, you can see that I’m at this moment of reflection as regards education, teaching and learning. In order to take another leap in my professional and personal life, I feel the urgent need to put my concepts into check and open a big space for new ideas to flow in.

The motivation for this post comes from a blog post  I read today, How to evaluate teachers? and its relation to the book I’m reading this week Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich. Moreover, when following education related #hashtags on Twitter, I see many similar questions and debates, and assessment is one of the hottest potatoes.

On the post I mentioned above Andrew Barras (aka Crudbasher), says “In every industry, there has to be a way to evaluate if the desired results are being achieved (…) It makes sense. Education becomes a standardized product. (…) This is the type of revolution Ken Robinson is talking about I think.”  (Bear in mind that these are three loose sentences from the article, so I really suggest you read the whole thing before criticizing it)

I think that at one time or another many people shared these same views, that (to make our jobs easier) we need to create standards and accurate methods of evaluation, or in order to give opportunities for all we need to massify education and build as many schools as we can.

This is a major doubt I have now. I don’t think we should treat Education as an industry. And I doubt that a revolution is coming up, even less that this is what Ken Robinson meant, actually everything he said was against stardardized schooling, as far as I could understand.

industry the aggregate of manufacturing or technically productive enterprises in a particular field, often named after its principal product: the automobile industry; the steel industry.

Word History: A clear indication of the way in which human effort has been harnessed as a force for the commercial production of goods and services is the change in meaning of the word industry. Coming from the Latin word industria,meaning “diligent activity directed to some purpose,” and its descendant, Old French industrie, with the senses “activity,” “ability,” and “a trade or occupation,” our word (first recorded in 1475) originally meant “skill,” “a device,” and “diligence” as well as “a trade.” Over the course of the Industrial Revolution, as more and more human effort became involved in producing goods and services for sale, the last sense of industry as well as the slightly newer sense “systematic work or habitual employment” grew in importance, to a large extent taking over the word. We can even speak now of the Shakespeare industry, rather like the garment industry.  The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

Just like I said, I’ve been revisiting many concepts, so I can’t clearly formulate a counter-argument right now. But I really wanted to mention it here and raise the discussion.

I’d like to display below Illich’s view, which made me think that industry, evaluation, standards, etc are all a big bullshit. And I’d like to invite you to join me in the discussion. Don’t we rely too much on education to happen mostly within the school? Will teachers, parents and government ever empower pupils to decide what/how/when/where they’ll learn? Is this utopia?

The Myth of Packaging Values
School sells curriculum–a bundle of goods made according to the same process and having the same structure as other merchandise. Curriculum production for most schools begins with allegedly scientific research, on whose basis educational engineers predict future demand and tools for the assembly line, within the limits set by budgets and taboos. The distributor-teacher delivers the finished product to the consumer pupil, whose reactions are carefully studied and charted to provide research data for the preparation of the next model, which may be “ungraded,” “student-designed,” “team-taught,” “visually-aided,” or “issue-centered.”
The result of the curriculum production process looks like any other modern staple. It is a bundle of planned meanings, a package of values, a commodity whose “balanced appeal” makes it marketable to a sufficiently large number to justify the cost of production. Consumer-pupils are taught to make their desires conform to marketable values. Thus they are made to feel guilty if they do not behave according to the predictions of consumer research by getting the grades and certificates that will place them in the job category they have been led to expect. (…)
This resistance is due not to the authoritarian style of a public school or the seductive style of some free school, but to the fundamental approach common to all schools –the idea that one person’s judgment should determine what and when another person must learn.
(Illich 1971)


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