I spent some time today trying to come up with a metaphor for a project that I am starting next week when I came across this very interesting paper:
"Should We Buy the "Student-As-Consumer" Metaphor?" by George Cheney (University of Montana), Jill J. McMillan (Wake Forest University), and Roy Schwartzman (University of South Carolina)
This caught my eye because the project I'm starting is for a school district.
Here is what the authors of the article dislike about the Student/Consumer metaphor:
- The student-as-consumer metaphor distances the student from the educational process.
- We should not confuse the momentary satisfaction of consumer wants with either the provision of high-quality education or ongoing educational improvement.
- We argue that while the basic impulse behind customer- driven or consumer-driven organizations and work processes seems to be very democratic, they actually become in practice a type of pseudo-democracy requiring very limited engagement of each participant (in this case, the student).
- What we call "measurement mania" tends to treat the educational process in a reductionistic way.
- A great deal of substance gets lost in the translation of the language of consumerism to higher education.
"The metaphor of student as consumer at first glance seemed to offer a lot of promise for transforming higher education because of how it focused our attention on the needs and desires of students, the accountability of colleges and universities, the control of costs involved, and a curriculum which develops practical skills in addition to intellectual ones. However, there are clearly disadvantages to this graft of a metaphor from a particular brand of marketing to the world of education. Specifically, the metaphor has a distancing effect on students, reducing their status to non-participants in the process of education; the metaphor confuses the momentary satisfaction of wants with long-term educational outcomes; it offers a form of pseudo- democracy in the place of authentic engagement; it treats educational outcomes in a reductionistic way; and it distorts the meaning of the very educational process it seeks to describe."
"We would like to reduce the distance between students and institutions of higher learning, but not by bowing to each fashion or fad in the larger market. We celebrate a process of critical engagement, recognizing students as co-creators in the educational endeavor. We use the same term to refer to higher education's complementary duties of being engaged in the larger society while maintaining a healthy, critical distance from it."
"The best thing that any college or university can do for students is to invite them into a process by which they learn how to learn for the rest of their lives but not through pandering to fleeting tastes or being bound by restricted notions of the bottom line. Above all, we seek to stress our common involvement and investment in life-long learning and the human community."
The right choice of words is so very important.