Recently, an article in the New York Times has been doing the rounds in the Allen and Jain office. In the article, David Brooks provides a very eloquent argument as to why the most educated generation in history is also the one that seems to be firmly embracing a recession in the quality of civic life and political participation. He suggests that it is the focus on an individual’s education, and the cult of hyper-liberal thought, which has resulted in the election of Donald Trump and the substantial decline in the institutions which have served the United States for centuries.
However, there is another way of thinking about the problem of elites which perhaps better captures the issue at hand. The problem is not that more people are going into tertiary education. The problem is that we are not teaching students (even the very best and brightest) the skills that they need to form a community of legislators. For a start, it is a damning indictment that proportionally fewer and fewer people are getting involved with the arts of debating and public speaking. Even those institutions traditionally famed for their debating societies (such as Oxford’s Union Society) has seen a tendency towards the lowest common denominator. Events with B-List celebrities have now been prioritised over and above conversations which challenge narratives.
The problem with education is more profound than the decline and fall of rhetoric as a discipline worth acquiring. Education, across the developed world, has now become a tick box exercise where the priority has been on making sure government targets have been achieved and that the necessary paperwork is filled in and submitted. Teachers have become more and more administration orientated. Given the limits of time and pay which are inherent to working in the state sector, this results in less time spent planning and delivering high-quality lessons. More time is spent pushing people towards a passing grade than it is trying to get smarter students to flourish and develop into the cream of the crop. World education has become so obsessed with exam results that we have stopped caring whether students learn anything.
There is, however, a third and final issue that it is necessary to address when thinking about the failure of the educational elite. Whatever country you want to look at, the quality of teachers has been going backwards in a profound way. It is easy to make sense of why this is the case. The cost of living has gone up far more quickly than teachers’ wages. Teaching is also not considered to command the same societal respect that it once had. Teachers and governments, it seems, are always at war with one another. If you are a well-qualified individual with a reasonable degree and good earning prospects, you cannot be blamed for either working in the private education sector (which can only be afforded by elites) or refusing to work in the industry altogether.
In large part, it is these failures which allow for Allen and Jain to have an opportunity to exist. It is essential to see education consultants as correctors of the very real failings in the education sector. The alternative is to pray that public policy changes, or that your child lucks across one of the very few genuinely world-class teachers which remain in the sector. Going back to thinking about students as part of a community, tailoring approaches and focusing on broad-brush development is how we can turn the tide of macro scale mismanagement.
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