Should education serve business? LO6354

Randolph Jennings (
Mon, 1 Apr 1996 08:36:07 -0600

Replying to Re: Degrees with Expiry Dates LO6276

Archie Kregear wrote:
>After being in the workplace for 20 years, I can say that I have not seen
>anyone who was really prepared for a position in business by the
>educational system.... There are so many
>differences between the workplace and educational or research institution.
>I do not want to be critical of the educational system, it is just that
>there is so much more to learn in order to be really productive in the
>workplace. Recalling degrees is not the answer. Better preparation for
>the workplace is. (A whole discussion in itself)

Let's distinguish between the advanced training represented by MBAs, JDs
and the like, and general education at the K-12 and college levels. The
former serves the interests of the users of the training (businesses, law
firms, etc.), while the latter serves a much more general societal
purpose. I hope we haven't become so narrowly business oriented that we
have lost sight of the fact that business is only one element in the
complex system in which we live.

Perhaps we should be less critical of the aims of education as a system
(leaving open the possibility to argue about its operational
effectiveness), and more critical of the aims of business as a system.
Business has a dangerous tendency to demand that all resources be directed
to its needs, without concern for balancing the needs of the human systems
in which it operates. We see this in the rush to eliminate jobs, without
considering the corresponding increase in social welfare costs borne by
the larger systems in which business operates. We see this in escalating
demands for natural resources and other public goods, in demands for
licenses to generate pollution, in expectations that the public shoulder
the risks of insuring nuclear power plants, real estate development in
hurricane-prone areas and other high risk business activity, while the
benefits of these activities accrue to private interests. The very notion
of a collective "social welfare" seems to be lost on most "business"
people (at least in the U.S.).

Recent posts in this discussion have invoked John Dewey and Howard
Gardner, neither of whom would agree that the primary purpose of education
is to prepare people for the workplace. Such training is certainly *one*
of the many uses to which an education may be put, but it is by no means
the only, or even the most important or interesting use. Education is
about creating an informed citizenry that understands its own histories
and cultures, and can communicate using shared languages, symbols, and
metaphors. These "basic" skills can certainly be drawn upon by business,
just as they can be drawn upon in political and cultural activities, in
community-building, etc. But we should not be educating primarily to serve
the needs and interests of business. Those needs and interests are too
short-sighted and self-serving. We should be educating to create a
cohesive society that functions effectively as a complex living system.
Beyond this general condition, we can provide a virtually infinite set of
opportunities for specialist training, depending on the needs of the users
of the training; we can also argue at length about the effectiveness of
that training. But why do we expect that the societal system, the
education system, should provide primarily for the private needs of

Let me stop before I begin to run on like Ishmael.

Randolph Jennings
Government/Foundation Relations
St. Olaf College
Northfield, Minnesota 55057


Randolph Jennings <>

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <> -or- <>