When I was a child and in middle school, I discovered what it is to posture and pretend to know something. I vividly recall sitting in a video production class and trying to figure out something on a now antiquated video camera. I assured my teacher at the time that I knew how to work the camera. I assured her I was an expert on its use. After fiddling with the device for 20 minutes, she saw through my ruse. Yanking me out of my chair, she promptly scolded me for lying. She told me that I should never pretend to know something and waste everyone’s time.
That event was an important one in my life. My teacher told me that there are people who dedicate their lives to some things and, as such, know a lot about those things. She wasn’t mad or upset with me; she was just teaching me about life. Yet, we all know that there are some who never learned this lesson. They didn’t have the same luxury as me.
This story is particularly relevant to discussions of education in the U.S. That is, everyone — no matter their expertise — seems to be an authority on education. Given the democratic nature of our society, we tolerate this seeming perversion. We allow people who aren’t education experts to tell education experts how to do their jobs. We allow people who’ve never taught before to tell teachers how to do their jobs. Certainly, we need some oversight, and we need outside points of view; these things help us to not live in a vacuum. However, we have experts for a reason. Experts are the people to which we turn for advice because we know that they are an authority on the subject in question.
It seems too many people pretend to know how to work that video camera. Politicians, business magnates and venture capitalists have become the educational experts now. In the 21st century educational system, more stock seems to be put in the perspective of a venture capitalist than someone who is actually an expert on education.
Many educational startups are nothing more than glorified techno-utopist-aligned learning management systems aimed at a supposedly underserved market: online education. But, these startups aren’t really dedicated to education; they’re dedicated to profit. That’s a symptom of a capitalist economy. Some enterprising and business-savvy individual finds a hole and plugs it with millions of dollars and ill-formed ideas of how to “fix” education.
Make no mistake: Education is broken in this country, and it’s limping toward an agonizing death of a thousand cuts. The list of “experts” goes on: Bill and Melinda Gates, George Lucas, Mark Zuckerberg and other magnates are considered more worthy of voice on education than those involved with it. They want to make education the new business.
Education is hardly a business, yet that’s one of the main approaches being hailed for the crisis we find ourselves in. CEOs have declared that education needs to be reformed into a “profitable business.” We don’t need to look far to see what those “profitable businesses” look like. For-profit universities are some of the most unscrupulous and unethical businesses around. They take advantage of students and cast them aside. This is the future that America’s business magnates would have for education in this country. Perhaps most frustrating is that there are dedicated educators and researchers who are actively trying to change and improve education. But, their voices become minimized because they’re not millionaires, billionaires or have started a company in Silicon Valley.
Unfortunately, this may be the eventual end to a long and storied history. States are funneling money away from education, students are being taught more and more by underpaid and overworked teachers and students are continuing to be indoctrinated to be nothing more than simple test takers.
Of course, it doesn’t matter. We trust our politicians to tell us what’s wrong with education instead of people who actually study education. The problems of the education system certainly don’t have anything to do with cuts in financial support, antiquated tests that research shows don’t work, overworked teachers, an overburdened system, high tuition and a rise in cost of living without a comparable rise in the minimum wage. These things couldn’t possibly affect the education system, right?
We’re in trouble. I don’t think anyone would dispute this. The American educational system is slowly and painfully marching toward its demise. We must stop it. We must change it. But, I don’t think entrusting the most vital part of our future existence to individuals who often bet on the fluctuations of a capitalist market is a wise idea. Moreover, I don’t think entrusting shortsighted politicians worried about pleasing everyone should hold great sway either.
We need to start listening to our educational experts, our professors, our researchers and our students. We need to talk with them. Then, we need to talk to organizations outside of education and see how we can help students develop skills that will allow them to succeed. We shouldn’t outright trust those who are more comfortable selling stock shares off for profit than helping a student achieve a great future.
Our students are not stock shares to be traded on Wall Street, so let’s not treat them as such.