Education: Common Good or Consumer Good? - Blog! - Two-Fisted History


Common Good or Consumer Good?

What is our purpose as Educators?  Is Education a Common Good or a Consumer Good?  Or is it something else altogether?

This was one of the theses that emerged from one of the Professional Development course on the History of American Education I participated in last Spring.  Should everyone receive an Education?  Or should Education be received by a few 'Consumers' who can afford it?  From previous posts (Links), readers might think I support the later theory.  Indeed, because of my support for certain charter schools (a position that often became contentious with the instructor – a career-long public school teacher.), many believed I felt that Education was a limited right.

Maybe one way we should look at Education is as an 'optional good.'  Before everyone jumps on me about the dangers of illiterate societies, let me assuage your fears.  I'm not saying that all schooling and Education is an 'optional good.'  Reading, writing, basic arithmetic – those should of course be taught to and mastered by the Citizen Scholar, but in some ways, we do commit a grave disservice to our students by looking narrowly at what Education is.

As early as 5th Grade, we tell our students that they have to go to University.  They need to score highly on standardized tests.  If they don't, they'll never do well in life and end up in a van down by the river. We push our students into STEM fields believing that we're serving both the National Good (maybe I should amend that to 'Civic Good?') and the Individual Good, when in fact we're hyper-specializing our kids for careers which may or may not exist by the time they've graduated from University, and forcing them to pay obscene amounts of money in student loan debt.

I'm putting the cart in front of the horse here, though.

In this context, a Common Good means it is something that everyone has access to.  By contrast, a Consumer Good means that that the people who can afford it receive a 'better' education.  Many of our ProD discussions were heavily skewed towards Education being the former.  The larger issue that I have with the Common Good approach is that we have uncommon students.

For the student who has yet to find their niche; to discern their vocation, that area of study that they love or may develop a passion for a career that they'll never find because our public schools are so heavily curriculum and score driven, this isn't a Common Good.

For the student who loves to work with their hands, but is tasked towards 'College & Career Ready,' this isn't a Common Good.  It's a denunciation of their skill and a Common Ill for all of us who require the skill of farmers, carpenters, repair people, etc.

It seems as though that, by trying to appease & enforce the Common Good, we wind up hurting our shared good.   Who is more important to our National Good?  The cube dweller doing data entry or the heating & A/C technician?  The schlub in middle management or the men and women who pump electricity, water, & natural gas to our homes?

As long as we keep misplacing what type of Good that we're looking for and strive for an Educational Balance & Freedom, we're going to continue placing our National Good in grave danger.

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