A teacher and a consultant walk into a bar…and they have a conversation that anyone can understand!
My friend, Doug, a professor in education with a background in educational instruction and assessment and currently a department chair, and I got into a wide-ranging conversation covering our areas of mutual interest and concern. We both have wide-ranging interests, and we each read a lot and keep abreast of each other’s areas of interest. And although most of my recent work has been in business, organizations, finance and economics, we’ve worked on projects together involving education and community action. It’s fun as well as challenging to hang out with people like Doug; I have to keep my own learning up to date if I expect to keep pace! He began the conversation. “What’s your take on the economy, and what do you think we can do to make things work better?” he asked. I wondered about his thoughts on the status of higher education, and how well he thought colleges and universities were doing in fulfilling their missions. We discovered a couple of important intersections: education and economic growth and sustainability are very closely related.
- Four patterns stand out as causes for economic woes:
- undermining the importance of information
- confusion of goals
- inadequate education that must include critical thinking skills in an ever more complex world
- the loss of sustainable employment and the decline of wages.
- The troubling patterns in education include:
- Educators at each institutional and grade level tend to find fault with the previous grades for not providing “good education” but rarely question their own roles and responsibilities, and then fail to attend to the real learning needs of students
- Consequently, education systems and structures have hardly changed in relation to the needs and conditions of the world around us
- Students and learners carry the brunt of the consequences, and teachers are blamed for everything, while education in general is underfunded and un-prepared
- If our information and analysis are at all accurate, then the joke emerges: our economy and our economic systems rely heavily on education, the education system is inadequate to the challenge and to fix it we need a public commitment to changes and alternatives in education and we need funding for education as both local and national priorities, and the funding won’t be available without a robust and sustainable economy.
- For free markets and vibrant business to succeed, information about any and every transaction, must be reliable, and it must be equally shared with all parties, and that includes underlying information about the participants themselves.
- The desire for “confidentiality” as applied to producers and traders is entirely misdirected: without reliable and timely information about a product, and about the commercial (including financial) health of the producer and the distributor, any market exchange is skewed and its results are suspect.
- A major cause, perhaps the largest single cause, of the 2008 recession and bust, was the huge quantity of misinformation being passed between market players: banks misinformed each other, lenders misinformed borrowers, borrowers misinformed lenders, corporations misinformed stock-holders, everyone misinformed ratings organizations, and markets were left managing transactions built on falsehoods and misdirections.
- Computerized trading in financial markets only amplified the misinformation, taking trade markets rapidly in one direction or the other without real data or evidence.
- Reliable information was, essentially, taken out of the market. And for markets to work — for markets to act even remotely like the Adam Smith model — traders need to have access to the same, and to all, the information embodied within any proposed transaction. Auctioneers, market makers, and brokers all serve a mid-ground position to help match up buyers and sellers through an information posting and exchange mechanism. That’s what the ideal stock market does, and that’s what the ideal public marketplace does.
- Regardless of political persuasion, every rational person will have to admit to the importance, the sacredness, of quality information if he or she believes at all in market economies.
- The stated technical goal of free market liberal economies is the rational resolution of participants each seeking maximum benefit. It has been believed that well formed markets will allow rational players to each reach their best possible position in relation to every other player, because rational players in a rational market, having the same complete information, will essentially negotiate a transaction that is mutually beneficial.
- But the current unstated goal is that each player gets the chance get whatever he or she can. That is, the way we tend to play it out is to pursue individual self-interest at all costs to others. Gold becomes a highly valued and over-priced commodity in a market built on greed and deliberate misinformation, for example. Yet investments in gold support child-labor and near slave labor working conditions, engagement in environmentally hazardous extraction processes, and the movement of working capital into metal stockpiles such that capital becomes unavailable to local and regional economies.
Education that includes learner-centered methodologies, project centered learning, life-long learning, critical thinking, and complex systems — and, importantly, this includes education that encompasses and embraces the arts! — is essential to the long-term development of sustainable systems as well as market economies, not to mention healthy democracies.