Friday, July 28, 2006

Consumerism in Education

As an educator, I read articles on education: its current state, where it’s going, style’s of teaching, etc. Often these articles refer, derisively, to the creep of consumerism into education. The complaint is that too many students have the view that since they are paying for the class, they should get an A or more direct control over the classroom itself. In my experience there is a lot of truth to this complaint; many students do have this view.

The complaint is, however, misplaced. The consumerism of the students, per se, doesn’t bother me or strike me as problematic. After all, education is a service that is being sold. Students are buying (and consuming) this service. Indeed, I often think of myself qua teacher as an entrepreneur. Consumerism becomes problematic in education when students (and others: parents, administrators, educators, politicians, etc.) have the wrong idea of what is being consumed.

When students view their purchase as the purchase of an A or even the purchase of an ‘education’, they are misunderstanding (with partial culpability to the institutions themselves) their purchase. Educational institutions are selling access and opportunity for education; the student has to get that education himself. An analogy to personal fitness training is apt here. If Sally purchases a year of personal fitness training at her local gym, she is not buying fitness; she is buying access to a trainer who has knowledge about fitness and can direct her efforts towards her goals. She is buying the access to facilities and equipment. She is purchasing the opportunity to get herself fit. If Sally became upset because the trainer was pushing her and challenging her during her sessions or because she failed to reach her fitness goals due to her own sloth or lack of effort then Sally is seriously misplacing her disappointment.

The same applies for education. When Tommy pays tuition at an education institution he is purchasing access to experts who can direct him towards his goals (and even help him determine these goals); he is purchasing access to facilities such as libraries and research centers. He is buying the opportunity to get an education, but he has to work to achieve these goals, much like Sally has to work to achieve her fitness goals.

If more students viewed education in this way, consumerism would be a benefit to them and to educators. Paying for one’s own education provides a powerful incentive to actually do the work that will help in achieving one’s goals. Even for the more apathetic students, I think the attitude would shift from “I paid for the credits, give me the A” to “I paid for the credits, I better do something about it”. This would be similar to the experience many have after buying a gym membership: “well, I paid for the membership; I might as well make use of it”.

So what causes students to have the wrong idea about what they are buying? The causes are many. In part, I think the institutions themselves contribute to this with the way they sell their services (either to students directly or the taxpayers that are actually paying for the education) and the way they structure their institutions. I think politicians represent a college education in this way—as some consumable that needs to be distributed to each member of society. The drive to get everyone a college education means that many students at colleges don’t want to be there (at least not for the right reasons), but are there because of incentives, parental or social pressures, and the like. They are told they need to get a college diploma to get a good job and so they want a college diploma. Many student, thus, don’t want (or care about) an education; they just want the document that says they can now get a good job. In other words, they want a union card, not an education.

I am not sure how to break this attitude. But, I think a start is for educators to do a better job of setting the right expectations for students.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Kristol: It's Our War

William Kristol, of the Weekly Standard, has a good piece on why Israel's fight with Hizbollah is part of the wider struggle against Islamo-fascism; that is, the US (and the West) against Iran.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Just call me Prez

According to this website, the celebrities I most resemble are Sean Astin, Haley Osment, Gabriel Bryne, Ronaldo, Lance Armstrong, Patrick Swayze, George W Bush, Matt Dillon, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Matt Ruffalo. I've gotten Matt Dillon before...but Oswald?? Do I look like a crazied patsy assassin?

Hat tip to Joe 'Hilary Duff' Duarte for the website.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Good News!

My review of Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl's Norms of Liberty is scheduled to be published by The Independent Review in their Winter 2007 issue (mailed in December). Yippie!

Some What I am Reading Updates

I finished the biography of Belichick. A very good read with lots of interesting information about the development of the team, and of Belichick as a coach. I would have like to have seen more in the later years where he was building and coaching the Patriots. It was much more focused on his earlier years--but given the title (The Education of a Coach) of the book that makes sense.

I started Parker's "Blue Screen", the latest Sunny Randall. So far, so good. She meets Jesse Stone, and the book starts off recalling some events from the Spenser book where Spenser meets Jesse. So these are all the same universe, so it's only a matter of time before Sunny and Spenser meet.

Bidinotto on Atlas Movie

Robert has some nice tidbits about the Atlas Movie at his blog.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Seminar Comments and Follow-up

Just got back from TOC’s Summer Seminar at Chapman University. I had a wonderful week and the seminar was excellent. The program was top-notch this year, with not a single presentation (save one) that I was disappointed in. I reconnected with old friends and made several new ones.

The big event of this year’s program was of course the ‘meet n’ greet’ with Howard and Karen Baldwin. The Baldwin’s are the principals of the Baldwin Entertainment Group (of Ray fame) which is producing the Atlas Shrugged movie. For more than an hour, the Baldwin’s graciously fielded questions from the crowd which was eager to give its suggestions (both positive and negative). I was very impressed with the Baldwins, in particular Karen Baldwin. They appear to be fully committed to making this movie--and more importantly making it right.

Now that they have signed with Lionsgate for distribution and production, the next step is to hire a director and then start to do casting. They said they are talking to directors, Vadim Perelman (House of Sand and Fog) as the one name I can remember. I have heard mostly good things about House of Sand and Fog, but I’ve never seen it. They also appear very close to casting Angelina Jolie for Dagny--they apparently have had many conversations with her about it. I know many would not be happy with this choice--but Jolie can pull it off and she’ll drive audiences to the theaters world wide.

One last tidbit about the Atlas movie: they are planning a trilogy, with the first part to beginning filming in the Spring.

The two best talks I attended: Tim Sandefur’s Eminent Domain Abuse: Its Philosophical Roots; and Susan Wake’s Overcoming Ethical Relativism in the College Classroom.

I didn’t attend Barbara Branden’s Rage and Objectivism; but I heard nothing but good things about it. Another talk I didn’t attend but which was very well received was Bidinotto’s The Anatomy of Cooperation. I’ve ordered both audios, so I hope to find out what I missed.

The one disappointing session was the joint interview of the Brandens by Duncan Scott. I wasn’t sure of the point of the session prior to going, and I am still not. The questions were for the most part uninteresting and basically softballs; there was nothing said that hadn’t already been said a hundred times before. As a philosopher, I will be glad when Objectivism can be discussed and studied without having to deal with irrelevancies from 40 years ago. Let’s get down to the business of understanding philosophy and making our lives happier and more prosperous.

All in all, a great conference and a great week.