Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Education and Capital

"In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else."
— Lee Iacocca

Imagine if medical students went to medical school and their professors, instead of teaching about organs and chemicals, told them that there is no “right way” to perform medicine. Instead, each student would be taught a form of individualized, un-peer-reviewed research and told that they would be responsible for discovering what methods of treating their patients worked in their own practices. Would we call that a more “individualized, patient-centered” type of practice? Or what if, in law school, students were just told that for every scenario, they would have to keep individualized data on what worked for them and what didn't in their own courtrooms. Would we call that a “data-driven” law practice?

It is easy to see how inane these ideas are, especially now that the practices of law and medicine have advanced to the level that they have. And yet this is how education is run, or more specifically, how educator programs in colleges and universities around the US are run. So the question is, what would make education a well informed, high performing industry?

People talk all the time about how much the government spends on education in dollars, but whether you think that its a shame that we don't spend more or a shame that we haven't accomplished more with what we do spend, dollars spent has almost nothing to do with how much is really being invested. Government spending isn’t even the tip of the iceberg when we start talking about how much money is swirling around the medical field- private practices, hospitals, medical schools, medical journals, research and development, insurance, and lobbyists. The same is true of law when you stop to consider how much interest is invested in hammering out the most obscure possibilities, interpretations, and details of the meaning of a comma for every single written piece of policy ever created.

I’m not saying that money is the solution; I’m saying that because of the monetray-centered nature of the US, money is an indicator of how much psychic energy Americans have invested in something. And if we follow the money, our interest is spent on the medical field, law, advertising, psychology, lobbying, the music and movie industry, the stock market, the military, fashion, and reality TV.

So, while the US may spend more dollars on education, those dollars do not equate to human intellectual capital- unless you consider the number of dollars spent on education in proportion to those spent on all the other stuff to be a reflection of the percentage of human capital we have invested in education in the US. It is the human intellectual capital that reflects the concerns and priorities of a nation.

We can spend more than any other country on education, but until education is one of the top investments, it won’t be one of our top priorities. And until we understand education as well as we understand our other top-performing markets, we will continue not to live up to our true potential.

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