“If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”


This is a republish of this article


Money, the goal of all goals, today is ruining both education and government. When money becomes, as it has, our only measure of value, structures protecting anything else melt before it. As the “business model” is most keenly attuned to profit, it has become the one model for all of our endeavors.

In my first “real” job out of college, I worked as a counselor in a Department of Education funded program at a small Midwestern college. Our target was students from disadvantaged backgrounds; the one I remember best was a Vietnam vet (this was 1974) who had completed two tours as a side-door gunner in the air cavalry. What he needed was someone to listen as he tried to process his experiences. In all cases, our task was to discover the needs of each individual student and try to develop means of meeting them.

Even then, however, government was bowing to free-market “logic” claiming business methods are the best and most effective in any environment. The DoE had become enamored by a business management concept called “Management by Objectives” and had decided that even small programs like ours needed to comply. We counselors spend a great deal of time on this nonsense, time we could have better spent working directly with students.

“Objectives” can be a useful part of creating a business program dedicated to definable bottom lines. But, in dealing with students, each of whom has distinct needs and possibilities, generalized goals such as these have a great deal less utility. The same is true of “outcomes,” one of today’s catchwords.

What is true for business is not necessarily true—or best—for education. Or for government. But no one seems to know that—and hasn’t for half a century, now. It has gotten to the point where understanding of the true nature of government has fallen so low that a Silicon Valley exec, Justine Tunney, could even start a petition, one she filed on the relevant White House site, stating “It’s time for the U.S. Regime to politely take its exit from history and do what’s best for America. The tech industry can offer us good governance and prevent further American decline.” The petition has now since disappeared from that website but it can still be found here. Tunney equates good governance with good corporate management, something too many of us accept without question—something that would have appalled our Founding Fathers who deliberately created a tri-part structure of checks and balances to avoid duplicating the structure of a kingdom. They didn’t want anyone to “offer” them anything; they wanted to create it themselves.

Now, unfortunately, with the triumph of neoliberal concepts like a benign elite meritocracy, many of the original American ideals have fallen to the wayside. This has happened in higher education, too—where “shared governance,” like the checks-and-balances of our federal system, was created to keep institutional sight focused on particular sets of non-businesslike goals.

In the current issue of Academe Gwendolyn Bradley writes of the changing structure of higher education:

during the three decades since NLRB v. Yeshiva University, the context in universities has changed in fundamental ways. Administrators have become more top-down in managing the university, which undermines faculty control over academic matters. A pattern has emerged of university administrators making unilateral decisions, without the approval of faculty governance bodies, on matters central to academic work. These changes in the distribution and exercise of authority in the university reveal a changed relationship between the administration and the faculty, one in which their interests are not aligned.

This is appalling, as is Tunney’s attitude, especially if it reflects Tech Industry thinking.

Business goals are easily quantifiable. Those of governments and schools, not so much. Businesses are responsible, really, to only one constituency (owners/investors) with one goal (profits). Governments are responsible to wide ranges of constituencies each with differing needs and goals. Schools should not be responsible only to their funders (as businesses are) but to faculty, parents, and the students, each of whom has distinct needs and goals. To complicate matters, students are in no position to be the immediate judges of their educators or of their education.

Trying to force government and education into business models is necessarily reductive, for businesses are not comparable to either government or education in their full ranges. Much of government and education must be ignored if business formulae are used. Yet the global corporate culture, following the relentless (but narrow) logic of its “market based” foundation, is in the midst of enfolding what remains of traditional American governmental and educational institutions into its structures.

That’s not surprising; there’s not much else left (it has long since absorbed journalism). It is creating a seamless cradle-to-grave system of human endeavor, governance, and thought. Paternalistic to its core, it validates its position through that one measure it knows best: money. Money seems to have become our alpha and omega.

Perhaps the Pink Floyd song best expresses our contemporary attitudes:

New car, caviar, four star daydream,
Think I’ll buy me a football team
Money get back
I’m all right Jack keep your hands off my stack.
Money it’s a hit
Don’t give me that do goody good bullshit
I’m in the hi-fidelity first class traveling set
And I think I need a Lear jet.

Or, from the Beatles:

Money don’t get everything it’s true
What it don’t get, I can’t use.

Education and government: who needs them when you’ve got money?