3. What’s the product of education?

When we become too focused on the product, we may miss the purpose. Hyper-focus on a product usually stems from a desire to produce results (sales, rankings, or scores). How many times in business or athletics have organizations become so transfixed on the result that lost is the purpose for which they entered the game? –ultimately resulting in personal or corporate demise.

Perhaps the same thing is occurring in education?

“Students are coming out of college focused either on money, or on nothing.” writes a student in her scholarship-winning essay, What Makes College Worth it? Her thesis basically states that education is failing to do its job, “The post-secondary education system today no longer sparks enthusiasm or excitement, but fails to inspire students from reaching their full potential.”

Another student entreats his elders to, “invest in those [the students] around you” in his college paper entitled, Teaching Creative Learning and Engagement in Life: A Petition. He goes on to say, “Your generation is teaching the next young and impressionable generation how to walk into a future you have not prepared for.” Wow, I hear a cry for help!

“Our modern day educational system is out dated,” writes a third student in his essay, The Flaws of Our Educational System. He astutely observes, “If a civilization fails in properly educating its’ youth, it will cause a plethora of problems down the road; that will ultimately lead to the devastation of that civilization.”

This is what Millennial Generation students are saying about their educational experience. Of course, these are only anecdotal accounts, yet these are not just vitriolic complaints, these students are attempting to make a cogent plea for better education through their high school and college essays. I think we should listen.

Yet there is a broader cry–and I will voice what I believe they do not have quite the language to express:

The young generation is clamoring for us to invest in them, mentor them, guide them, and truly help them how to find their place in the world. They feel ill-equipped to take on the society they will soon inherit.

Consider a few more of the students’ excerpts:

“I believe that the purpose of our educational system should be educating people about the possibilities that life holds for them, helping them figure out what they are good at, and equipping them to be successful in whatever they set out to do.”

“Colleges have given up on their students, not believing they can transform the world. Students are too comfortable, uninspired, and not eager to discover the cure for cancer or reform the economy.”

“Students should realize that college is not here to help them land great jobs but to broaden their way of thinking and discover how they can contribute to society.”

“Professors have ignored their main job, focusing instead on their own research and futures.”

“This paper is a petition for the reader, no matter your occupation, to think of yourself as a teacher.”

As the last quote asserts, this does not just fall on the leaders of the educational system alone. This burden falls on the shoulders of the elder generations that create the surface area which shapes our young: parents, government and business leaders. It falls on the shoulders of our nation. 

There is quite a bit of research on the phenomenon of prolonged adolescence, to the extent that some researchers are calling for the establishment of an entirely new life-stage called “emerging adulthood,” that parents and institutions should cater to. Emerging adulthood is a period of life after adolescence where young adults are essentially having a “failure to launch” problem.

What if it’s actually a “failure to teach” problem?

I would submit the failure to launch is more a reflection of our failure, as a society, to prepare a young generation. Liken it to a cumulative GPA of how we’ve done over the last 30 years in cooperatively raising the Millennial Generation.

It’s a collective problem, which will take a collective solution. The emerging adulthood problem does not just fall on one group of people: parents, educators, government, or business. The responsibility falls on all of our shoulders including the Millennial Generation as well.

So what is the product? The results (metrics of college rankings, SOL scores, profits) or the student? Let us recall the purpose.

The hyper-focus on the metrics can miss the purpose–true development of our young–which could inevitability yield the demise of a nation. Perhaps we’ve been witnessing an insidious devastation for several decades to which our eyes are not yet opened. May we take note now to change the trajectory.

“There is no more critical indicator of the future of a society than the character, competence, and integrity of its youth.”

— Quote from Urie Bronfenbrenner PhD, a brilliant Jewish Russian-American developmental psychologist who contributed to the understanding of the interplay between the micro-human development process and macro-society.

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4 Responses to 3. What’s the product of education?

  1. Anna says:

    Drew,

    You know what’s interesting about the ancient philosophers–they knew that education was the cornerstone of a nation. In his “The Republic” Plato asserts that in order to rear up virtuous citizens, the ruler must target the education system. Plato wanted the children to have an “erotic attachment” to virtue–he wished for the children to grow up learning. The ancients knew that changing a civilization’s mores and customs was only possible through changes implemented in education. Education has always been the foundation of any healthy (or ailing) civilization. Until recently, education was not restricted to the classroom led by teachers. People were acculturated by everyone with whom they associated–the world was a classroom. Now, for some inexcusable reason school has come to be defined in terms of grades and statistics, which stifle the desire to learn. The thing that still baffles me is the overwhelming number of students who believe that college is intended for no more than to get that piece of paper that proves to employers that you can pass classes. College is not viewed as a place to grow and mature or learn more about the things that interest the individual. I think this shift has caused a system-wide collapse because students are not learning to retain information for future use; rather, they learn to get grades that matter in the here and now. There is very little prospect association with the information provided in the classroom, mostly because very little of it is relevant to students’ lives. The system is continually devaluating education, which will undoutedbly reflect on how people view the role of learning as nothing more than statistics. Students should be encouraged to be innovative, and not be penalized when they step off the designated path.

    • Nitzah says:

      Ms. Anna,
      I like your statement “Students should be encouraged to be innovative, and not be penalized when they step off the designated path.” I studied in one university where depending on the professor we were pushed to look past the seen to something greater. However, I know that it is not always the case with every professor or university/college. So, on a larger scale you maybe right; I haven’t looked up the statistics or read the mission statements, sat in on classes, etc. of other universities to know. We seem to only hear about the scores/grades people get. I could go into great length discussing this one, but I think the purpose has been missed often times and due to fears, social differences, cultural differences, a changing world and every system trying to keep up, things get sloppy or just miss the mark… I will say that within the education system there are a lot of great people out there trying to figure-out how to fix it (I’m sure this is true for every system, otherwise there would not be this blog). People are trying to partner with parents, equip parents and move forward as a nation towards something better (okay so this is a newer practice within specific regions…). Sadly the nation can’t see that and I’m not saying things don’t need to change, but that there are many elements of the system that are confused. Perhaps, the starting point is getting people to see differently- to see people again instead of the numbers…

  2. Caleb says:

    Drew,

    Loving your posts and I totally agree with all of the quotes in this one! “Professors have ignored their main job, focusing instead on their own research and futures” and “Students should realize that college is not here to help them land great jobs but to broaden their way of thinking and discover how they can contribute to society.” This is great stuff! Love it!

  3. George McAleer says:

    What a great topic and powerful insight:
    “The young generation is clamoring for us to invest in them, mentor them, guide them, and truly help them how to find their place in the world. They feel ill-equipped to take on the society they will soon inherit.”
    It begs the question of the reader “What can I do to help or make a difference?” Support and leadership is needed at both the high school and college echelons.
    To answer the question from the high school perspective, offering tutoring services would be one way of investing in our younger generation on a microcosmic level. Or, from a macroscopic angle members of the older generation could become more involved in education related public policy issues.
    At a higher level of education there are several issues to consider. You highlighted the essay “What Makes College Worth it?” I think the answer to this potent query is partially determined by the student’s purposes for enrolling in college recognizing that these reasons can change as the years evolve. Specifically, a college education can be sought for any one of the following reasons:
    1. Acquire benefits of a values-based liberal arts education
    2. Obtain training for employment
    3. Attend since it follows the natural course of events of family culture.

    At first I thought this post might be an opportunity to promulgate the value of a liberal arts education with respect to the qualitative analytical and communication skills gained. In addition it could be argued that career training could be reserved for the Masters level of education.
    But regardless of the reason for attending college during the undergraduate years, schools should require that students enroll in liberal arts elective courses even if they major in utilitarian arenas like business or engineering. I attended a college where the freshman year of studies was uniform. My classmates and I engaged in somewhat similar course structures. Even when a major was declared during sophomore year, students were nonetheless required to take two 3 credit hour courses in the following disciplines: philosophy, theology, math, science and Physical Education. The core curriculum also required one 3 credit hour course in composition, history, social science, and fine arts/literature before graduation. A fundamental program like this may not change the teaching style of some professors but it is a step forward to ensuring that students receive a semblance of a values-based education. Even if one is not a leader, it is sensible for students to receive an education that makes them more than drones programmed to meet the needs of society.
    The blog asks “What’s the product of education?” My answer is that of institutions of higher learning have an obligation to produce graduates who can exchange concepts via words; analyze, assess, and critique their value; and implement change when and where required. A core curriculum that includes a liberal arts orientation enables graduates to achieve this goal regardless of their field of study.
    This alteration of curriculum requirements and philosophy of education has to originate from the leadership of the college. As the reader knows, the willingness to do make this leap originates with the school’s mission and business plan. From this point levels of quality emanate from the faculty and students that the school attracts and admits. Beyond this it’s the market in action.
    One action step would be a petition directed to college boards and administration insisting on a curriculum that incorporates a liberal arts perspective. Signed by student parents, community leaders, concerned citizens, and even students, a document like this would be a first step in a movement toward academic excellence.
    Pressuring colleges to conform to community expectations in providing quality education concomitantly helps a college in meeting its financial goals as well. It might be easier accomplishing this transition rather than changing the attitudes and behavior of the teaching faculty in the short term.
    In addition it’s been stated on more than one website that a person needs at least a bachelors degree to be successful. Not true! There are people with occupational skills who play a meaningful role in ensuring the well being of our society. Their acquiring a college degree would be ancillary at best and nonsensical at worst. But, obtaining a high school and possibly a trade education will enhance their technical proficiency.
    Regardless of the level, it is essential that the older generation invest in the education of our youth.
    “Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.”
    – Edward Everett
    [My comments in this blog were long-winded but nonetheless thorough like Everett’s speech that preceded President Lincoln’s pithy Gettysburg Address.]

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