Education Does Not Need Business Hokum

The United States has now “progressed” in its fascination with wealth to the point that Trump (a serial failed billionaire, born with, but not earning, a giant silver spoon) is benefitting from the Teflon of his wealth, possibly all the way to the White House.

Despite everything we claim, folks in the U.S. think getting rich justifies just about everything, and is willing to turn a blind eye to virtually anything rich and famous people do—while destroying middle class and especially poor folk for the same behaviors.

An equally disturbing and illogical obsession is one with business—especially as a counter to the often damned “government.”

One of our most important public institutions has always and continues to be cheated because it is a public institution and by our fetish for business models at all cost.

It is a regular refrain by good people with good intentions that education just needs the savior that is the business model: business leaders (not educators) tossing out those hokum promises of competitiveness, leadership, and innovation.

Let me be clear, I am not being sarcastic about these arguments and proposals being from good people with good intentions. But that cannot justify the emptiness and inappropriateness of the terms or concepts behind them.

Despite our love affair in the U.S. with competition, a solid body of research shows that collaboration and cooperation are far more effective than competition. That fact is even more pronounced in education where within and among states, schools, and teachers, we must be working together—not against each other—in order to bring equity to the lives and schooling of children, and their families, and to everyone.

Competition creates some winners, and many losers.

“Leadership” and “innovation,” however, are simply the very worst of the business world, the empty-suit mantras best captured in the comic strip Dilbert.

In business and education, a key failure of both includes bureaucracy and the professionalization of the workforce—seminars, certification, retraining to create leaders and innovators.

It is all hokum—profound wasting of time, energy, and funding; benefitting only the marketers of “leadership” and “innovation.”

“Leadership” is the last refuge of someone who has nothing real to offer. “Innovation” is a market promise only slightly less misleading than the stock market or the lottery (and really, there is no difference between those).

“Leadership” is “Let me tell you what to do (because I am better than you, which is obvious by my success and your failure, which is your own fault).” Service, however, is “How can I use my privilege in the service of your needs?”

There is a paternalism and missionary zeal among business leaders and models that claim be a fix for any or every thing. Just look at how this has manifested itself in education already with the rise and apparent impending fall of Teach For America, a leadership organization masquerading as an education organization.

No, education does not need business leaders or a business model. In fact, business needs to step away from its own ridiculous model.

Yes, education needs to be reimagined, but by educators in the service of all students, families, and ultimately the democracy our schools serve.

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