Home > Uncategorized > Consumer Mentality Has Polarized Higher Education… Is K-12 Education Next?

Consumer Mentality Has Polarized Higher Education… Is K-12 Education Next?

March 19, 2018

I read two seemingly unrelated articles in succession this morning: a re-print of a Washington Post article by Eric Adler from from our local newspaper,the Valley News, and a post by Bill Duncan blogging for Advancing New Hampshire Public Education.

Mr. Adlers Washington Post article describes how polarization, which is plaguing higher education, is an unintended consequence of the consumer mentality that was introduced into higher education at the turn of the last century when elective courses were first introduced into college curricula. Why?

Enamored of laissez-faire economics, (colleges) replaced the old classical course of studies with a free-market approach to education. Charles W. Eliot, as president of Harvard University from 1869 to 1909, proved to be the most influential of these advocates for the free-elective system. He advertised his philosophy with Darwinian vocabulary. “In education, as elsewhere,” Eliot wrote in 1884, “it is the fittest that survives.” Undergraduates would now serve as the judges of the academic disciplines; those subjects that failed to win student attention would die. From vessels in need of moral improvement, American undergraduates transformed into capitalist consumers.

The result of this consumerism is the ongoing competition for comfort at colleges: better dorms, fancier stadiums and arenas, student unions that resemble shopping malls, and cafeterias that offer food comparable to that provided on cruises. But, as Mr. Adler notes, the “comfort” also extends into content. Leftist students who oppose right-wing ideas engage in campus protests that on occasion shut down dialogue completely. But, as Mr. Adler notes, the intolerance is not limited to the left wing. He describes how “…a student Republican club at Orange Coast College in California recently campaigned for its school to punish a professor who had labeled President Trump a “white supremacist” and how “…some religious students at Duke University boycotted the institution’s summer reading list in 2015 because it contained a graphic novel that was forthright about gay romance.” He then draws this thought provoking conclusion:

Although such examples of conservative student hijinks typically draw less attention, they hint at the existence of a less-ideologically-inspired climate of intolerance, fed by students who think they know best. And these students think this for a good reason: Their schools, having given up any coherent vision of what it means to be an educated person, treat them this way.

The bottom line: if you give students a wide choice of what constitutes an education they will not only gravitate toward easy courses, they will also gravitate toward courses with content that reflects their own thinking. This is the logical ultimate consequence of consumerism.

After reading this column, I read Bill Duncan’s post that described NH Governor Sununu’s thinking on public education in New Hampshire. In the post, Mr. Duncan highlighted this quote from the Governor:

“Gov. Sununu believes that investing in kids, not institutions, will produce positive results for New Hampshire students, which is why he supports SB 193, giving families more freedom in their children’s education,” he said, referring to the school choice bill backed by Sununu and Edelblut.

If you look at Mr. Sununu’s thinking about “choice”, you can see that it is based on free market consumerism. And if parents are free to choose the schools their children attend, they will likely enroll them in schools that inculcate the values and ideals they think are best for their children. As a result of feeding parents who think they know best New Hampshire would be abandoning any coherent vision of what it means to be an educated person.  

Although many people object to State regulations, they are adopted by a democratically elected or appointed school board and they define “what it means to be an educated person”. Similarly, each year the when the local school board engages in a budget debate it is engaging in a debate on “what it means to be an educated citizen” in the community that school board serves. If we believe that parents are free to determine their own vision of “what it means to be an educated citizen” we are simultaneously rejecting the notion that the community and the state can set that definition… and we are eroding our democracy in doing so.

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