Occasionally a blog post comes along in your field which you feel is seminal, a must-read. Think Scott's just share or Jim's glass bees post. Last week it was George's turn, and his post on the commercial pressures and interests around education is thought provoking and honest as he wrestles with the issues. If you haven't read it already, then please do so.
One element I wanted to expand upon was the language of change that is employed by many both within higher ed, and in companies with an interest in it. The common phrase now is to declare that education is broken. I commented on George's post that this is really beginning to irritate me. I don't deny that there are issues in education that need addressing, but by labelling it as broken, the response then becomes obvious "well let's fix it". And I'd be surprised if the person telling you that education was broken didn't just happen to have a fix in their back pocket.
Mike Caulfield sums it up in the comments better than I did, by talking about a rhetoric of crisis and a rhetoric of opportunity. Our responses to these different uses of language can be profound:
"The rhetoric of opportunity is better than the rhetoric of crisis for a number of reasons. In a rhetoric of opportunity, things which are improvements move forward, things which are not do not. A rhetoric of opportunity doesn’t denigrate the people who are doing wonderful things now, and it doesn’t pretend that what we have now is any worse than what we grew up with."
I am not advocating a linguistic determinism here, but the way we talk about a subject has implication for our actions. For instance, in this study Thibodeau & Boroditsky found that the metaphors used to frame a problem influenced the solution that subjects proposed, so if crime was couched in terms of a virus or a beast like metaphor, would shape how people thought it should be handled. And interestingly, when asked to justify their solution they do so by using data and reasons that back up the original metaphor, even if they are unaware of the metaphor in the original text.
A similar pattern is happening with education – the metaphors and language we use is influencing the manner in which we progress.
Like George, I have nothing against entrepreneurs, I feel that their agility can complement the rather slow nature of higher education. But I do resent companies or individuals trying to frame the problem so it places them in the powerful position of the new gods. There is one phrase anyone with a solution to a problem fears more than any other: "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". In order to justify a cure, you have to convince people of the brokenness of the current situation. And again, this is not to suggest education doesn't have issues, but I prefer Mike's notion of a rhetoric of opportunity.
I don't have an easy solution, indeed I would suggest you avoid anyone who does claim to have a simple solution to the multi-varied, messy domain of education. But I feel very strongly that education is doing lots of things right, and it isn't a problem waiting to be fixed. It's a set of challenges and opportunities, which both those inside and outside of the current system can address.
For now, join me in this pledge – if anyone says education is broken, I will walk out of the room.
[Update – almost as if they were trying to prove my point, David Kernohan pointed me at degreed.com which is asking people to take a photo declaring "Education is broken. Someone should do something." That someone being them presumably with their shiny dot com]