The Business of Education

At a recent faculty development day, our forward-thinking administrators encouraged us to start connecting the content of our courses to the workforce. They used terms like “business model” and “entrepreneurship” in the same breath as “student success” and “graduation rates.”  We were encouraged to emphasize in our courses the relevance of our subject matter to the workforce so that our students could more readily see how psychology, political science, art, and physical education courses could benefit them as America’s future employees. Essentially, the theme of the day was: “the business of education is business.”

I teach a developmental writing course that focuses on gender roles and identity in popular culture. Another colleague teaches a college composition class based on horror movies and monster theory. A third colleague teaches a course on food and culture. On the surface, it does not appear that any of these courses is “applicable” in the “real world.” Yet, I would argue that our courses benefit students more in the long run than do courses that focus strictly on making our students better employees.

When I was an undergrad, no one ever mentioned the workforce. There was an unspoken agreement that what you were learning in that course would benefit you in some capacity, regardless if it was something that seemed, on the surface, not immediately relevant to our future ambitions. My fellow students never asked the dreaded question that I hear so often in my classes now: “When am I really going to use this?”

Not once did I ever question why we were learning about physics in an English class (how would I ever have gotten through The Crying of Lot 49 without a lesson on entropy?). Not once did I ever ask why I was learning about Aristotle, Freud, Marx, Einstein, or Ben Franklin in an English class. Not once did I ever wonder why my Early British Lit professor spent more time teaching us British history than he did on poetry.

You know what would help our students become better employees? The ability to think critically, make connections, and, most importantly, to communicate those critical connections in an effective way. They will not be able to do any of these tasks if we continue to isolate our subjects and explain them only in terms of their monetary value. Part of being a good employee and, I would argue, a decent person in general is understanding how human beings and, more broadly, the world, operate.

When I was an academic advisor at Temple University, every fall when the freshmen came, I inevitably encountered the student who wanted to be a philosophy major but whose parents disagreed with that major choice and instead wanted the student to pursue something in business or science. The biggest claim: “There’s no money in philosophy.” To that sentiment, I gave my stock reply: “Study what you love, and study it WELL; the money will follow.” What I meant here was that most students who study philosophy are not going to become philosophers, nor are students who study sociology going to become sociologists. Even some of the most “applicable” majors, like psychology, for example, are not necessarily going to lead to a job in mental health professions. That’s not the point of the major or, more fully, the degree. The point of the degree is to study something that you care about or want to know more about, to acquire the requisite skills to not only understand that subject exclusively but also the way that subject connects to other subjects, and then later use those skills to get a job, which will be more possible for those who know stuff and can talk a good game.

We need to be honest with our students. Writing a good 5-paragraph essay is not going to land them a job, nor should I pretend that it will. However, the SKILLS involved in writing a good 5-paragraph essay – thoughtfulness, argumentation, organization, style, purpose, clarity, and conciseness – are what will help my students find and land a job. The more exposure that they get to these skills, the more their value as employees goes up.

Look, the bottom line is that good looks are probably the most important factor in getting and keeping a job in America. But, as I tell my students, if you’re not good looking, you need to be smart and funny. Smart and funny people are people who know at least a little bit about many different things and can make jokes that are based on references and connections to those different things they know about. So, at the end of the day, we instructors should not be trying to teach our students how our particular class will make them money or get them a job. Instead, we should be working across disciplines to encourage our students to understand the interrelatedness of all things, to connect – not divide – the content in each of their classes, and, most importantly, to get a sense of humor. They’re going to need it in this economy.

About moniacal @ X Rated

On a lifelong journey to be a person in a place...
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4 Responses to The Business of Education

  1. MD says:

    Just one additional comment that I forgot to add: instead of focusing on how to make the classroom more like the boardroom, administrators need to encourage us to do our jobs. Meaning, they need to get all the disciplines together more often to discuss how we can bridge our courses and create the connections I reference here in the article. If teachers and students both do their jobs correctly, students will be ready for the workforce without instructors “training” them to be employees.

    • Norman Detweiler says:

      Here is a web address to a story you may or may not have read Which is simalar in content to yours. http://www.scrippsnews.com/content/crisp-so-what-exactly-college It is very similar to yours and explains a little why some people may not value what you’re trying to say.
      I like your essay and agree with most of what you say except I tend to agree with Mr. Crisp on the point that a well rounded person my not be what the workforce wants. They want sheep and drones–he puts it much more elquently. I tend to think that is because of consumer driven market economics and that it is coming full circle and is probably the reason for most of the economic problems we have today. Market economic’s are not human and don’t care about the environment or our well being; they simply give the most amount of a good at the cheapest price. Done. But economic’s concepts could be and are being used to help solve enviromental problems, which I believe is sort of the point of your essay in an inverse way– even skills that seem geared for bussiness have other uses too.
      Please keep writing things like this. You and John Crisp give me renewed faith in mankind. I would reccomend that you submit this to the papers in our area. The editorial sections need content such as this.

      • Thanks for your comment, Norman. I agree that the workforce may be more interested in a person who can follow directions vs. a person who’s well-rounded. However, from all the research that I’ve done, employers still complain most about their employees’ inabilities to write well, communicate effectively, and problem solve. What I’m arguing is that instructors need to spend more time teaching those skills and not just making useless connections to the workforce that may or may not be applicable. It’s more important to gain the skills that will help no matter what the career is, and writing, communicating, and problem-solving are probably the skills most likely to be needed and used regardless of field.

  2. Norman Detweiler says:

    Touche

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