On the Value of Education: Another Argument Against the Marketization of Everything

There are certain types of value that money measures quite well and certain values that should be measured in other ways. In our political climate and our culture we have become accustomed to discussing everything in terms of its financial value at the expense of values that are harder to quantify.

If you look through the archives, you will find stories about measuring the success of books with a “best seller list” rather than some list based on quality, arguing for arts in terms of tourism dollars or the creation of non-arts jobs, and for arts education with the tortured logic that music makes you good at math, which has some marketplace value.

Robin Cangie today responds to Peter Thiel’s much discussed article on what he calls the higher education bubble. Cangie argues on her blog that we devalue education– and miss the whole point– when we treat higher learning as nothing more than an overpriced stepping stone to a higher salary, and entry into the middle class.

The very real problems that Thiel identifies aren’t symptoms of a bubble but of an institutional crisis of education; they only look like a bubble because we’ve learned to treat education as a market-driven commodity rather than a social good.

…Students pay top dollar, not for quality, but for a name brand education. For-profit universities treat students as cash cows, making unrealistic promises and even outright lies to increase enrollment…. Meanwhile, rising tuition and student debt are justified on the increasingly faith-based grounds that it all will pay off in the long run.

By commoditizing higher education, we have not only given it away to the highest bidder, or borrower, as the case may be; we have impoverished the notion of becoming educated itself, at great social and economic harm.

…I’m not disagreeing with the problems in higher education that Thiel has pointed out. But to treat all of this as a bubble, on par with housing or high technology, is to not only misunderstand the problem but also to contribute to an impoverished, commoditized view of education that values a monetary return-on-investment over intellectual cultivation, that treats education as a resource, not unlike wood or oil, to be exploited and profited from, rather than a vital ingredient of a healthy society.

And so we must ask ourselves, what does it mean to be educated? If education means churning out obedient, unthinking, indebted consumers, then we’ve done very well. But if it means anything – anything at all – more than that, we have failed massively.

Read the whole article by following the link above.

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