Stella, your pithy and logical comment written in the last few hours in response to the "Build It And They Will Come; Be Passionate About It And They Will Stay" post I served up yesterday caught my attention.
"...did I just see you call education an industry? Maybe you misspoke. Education as "Commercial production and sale of goods." Isn't the way I want to look at education. If you mean industious that's another thing."
Misspoke? No. Education is very much an "industry". Look at all the milk cartons and the copier machines and the publications and 'liquid chalk systems' (fancy manufacturer talk for a 'white board', teachers) and the lawn sprinkler systems and security cameras. Oh, yeah, and the quite profitable 'testing' and standards element, too. Definitely an "industry".
Thus, my comment. But I suspect you were driving at something deeper, something richer, something far more bold...and necessary...and this is where you and I see eye-to-eye and frankly can have more fun.
Is it a complete definition? No. Thus, a quick reply and then let's see where the conversation goes over time.
Here's my simple line of provocation. Take it or leave it, or better yet, kick it around and customize it for your own purposes.
- Education is an industy. And a system. And a relatively modern construct of formalizing specific skill gains in order to perform relatively 'simple' skills for specific outcomes to not only keep society and our economic system going, but also to make sure that voters were less drunk and more literate, as well as citizens who could reasonably understand their leaders and follow the golden rule. And occasionally you'd see some fine learning for the sake of learning happening, but not as the underlying mission on a historical level. The best middle ground grew out of a desire to equalize the playing field regardless of economic status, gender, race, or physical ability. We could go back and forth indefinitely as to whether where the plus/minus column is today. And this is the heart that is the "industry" and supports the "industry." For better or worse, until death or learning does us part.
- School is a place and a system and a verb and a metaphor. Truth be told, schools as we know them have been a remarkable experiment, and even more so a remarkable success story. As long as we wanted factories at the end of the corridor and lunch line. And perhaps -- provocation to inspire innovation here -- it's time to admit "we won", schools were a success as we knew them, and its time to rethink the original question based on our world now...and the world we're creating every second of our collective lives. Schools were specific institutions that grew rapidly in number and value in the last 200-400 years (think post printing press, post modern democracies, post enlightenment, post American/French revolutions, post slavery, post Industrial revolution, etc.), specically in a rapidly changing agrarian-to-industrial nation such as the US (and most developed nations)...whose sole purpose early on was to hasten the transition from field to factory. Minus the 'gentleman's C' student who was already landed gentry and simply needed a decent maturation experience and a vital networking opportunity before ascending the 'throne', if you will. Mass literacy, factory whistles, urban population spikes, anti-child labor laws, Sputnik, a changing professional landscape, the GE Bill, civil rights, desegregation, technology, and the vacumn created by the other myriad of institutions and networks that no longer provided a tapestry of guidance/protection helped schools move from an elite few and a basic penmanship experience until the 8th grade, to the default exodus of all formal learning for all citizens, and in theory for free (minus taxes and paying for the latest-greatest Trapper Keeper for back-to-school needs). Simple formula: teacher (i.e. expert) stood/sat at the front of the room. Facts and information were fairly static and presented 'to' the students in a sequential, lockstep, codified manner with clear beginnings and endings. Students 'received' information passively (for the most part) and were obligated to progress in a linear and efficient manner based on the 'system' and the 'experts'. And until recently, school was the 'default place of learning' and thus pretty much had the upper hand. And paid the bills of countless layers of non-teachers, too. Then came the iconic power of the apple, the desk, the slate/blackboard, the flagpole, and the pail or lunchbox or locker. And then school became as much a symbol as a place. And this is where it gets tricky because we use the same word to mean very different things, from conceptual to literal to nostalgia to tomorrow to place to network.
- Learning is the fundamental and non-negotiable and frankly rubric-free element of the human spirit. There is no human without learning. But there is not necessarily a direct link between learning and schooling...and even less with education on a macro level. There is no relationship without learning. There is no run fast from the mastadon without learning. There is no naming of the planetary bodies without learning. There is no grasping learning as a model, as a semantic, as a metaphor, as a real touchy-feely thing without...you guessed it, learning. And with a roughly held eye on history and the clock, up until a few hundred years ago, the vast, vast, vast 98.999% of the planet "learned" independent of a system of education and a network of schools. But something strange on the way to the forum took place...and suddenly here we are in our very modern desire to toss around the "21st century" label feeling as if we are inventing "authentic learning" and "learning communities" and "anytime/anyplace discovery." While these phrases have real and very provocative power in today's unfolding dialogue, they were established long ago in every culture around every campfire whenever any brain synapse fired and any collection of individuals formed a network of ideas and questions and explorations. And no matter how poorly we do school or how well we do school, we can neither quench "learning" or claim to own "learning". I am, therefore I learn. 'nuff said.
So, Stella, I hear you on one level and offer that it makes the belly feel a bit queasy to think of the process of learning as an "industry"...and with this I fully agree to the depths of my soul. But to claim that schooling (in a modern sense) and education in a formalized institutional sense is not an "industry" is to be wishful at best.
So, here's my challenge back to you and all others who are even mildly interested:
Show me the spirit of learning first. Follow its path. Follow the learners where they take you. Then, and only then, begin to show me and tell me and demonstrate in real time what those programs and those places and those calendars of 'school' are...and then perhaps, out of the corner of my eye, begin to highlight the emerging networks of 'education' that loosely draw them together. But if learning is not front and center, the learner leading the charge, and the path discoved en route, then there is no more need to argue the semantics of "industry" or "industrious". The later is inate. The former irrelevant. And we'll all ring around the rosey, ashes ashes, we all fall down.
[Psst...and if you've managed to get this far and not throw the baby out with the bathwater, please keep in mind that I adore schools, adore teachers, adore back-to-school shopping, and adore the act of opening up a new syllabus on day one and taking role with a room full of kiddos I hardly know before me. And man, I can't think of anything better on this planet than the moment says, what could our new school look like if we did...and this..and that...and what about...? Again, provocation simply on the path of innovation.]