Paradigm #1 – Relationship of Economic Performance and Education

If you were to research the academic literature related to educational policy, you would find that a main talking point is the correlation of education to economic progress. Though I do not disagree with the main premise of this position, what is disconcerting, is the obsessive focus on using economic performance measures to make assumptions about both the quality and aim of our educational system. This by no means is a new paradigm, hark back to the landmark 1983 report, A Nation at Risk, to see that this paradigm has existed in some form for the last several decades.

Currently, within the field of economics they are confronting an internal debate about the very validity of the economic measures we have staked our educational futures on. What a growing chorus of economic scientists are insisting is that the economic performance measures used today may not only be inaccurate, but may be mismeasuring our lives to a point that social and policy decisions made based on the economic data could lead to harmful, unintended effects on society as a whole.

Where does that leave us in education?

There is strong research to indicate that, yes in fact, education provides a strong basis for economic progress. Yet, should that be the aim of education, to provide for economic progress? Or is economic progress simply one of many beneficial corollary effects of a robust education system? What happens if education becomes laser focused on one of the corollary effects?

Let’s use the natural process of the honey bee to explore this concept of corollary effects further. To survive, a honey bee collects pollen and nectar to provide energy stores for the rest of the hive. In the process our honey bee transfers pollen caught on its hairs to other flowers pollinating them to produce fruits and seeds. The benefits of pollination are a corollary effect of the bee’s efforts to gather its hive’s energy stores. However, in our fictional world, the bees suddenly decide that they really want to just focus on pollination because they like to see the fruit and seeds grow. What happens then? They’ll probably pollinate quite a few flowers…for a little while, but they will die and so will the hive. No one would argue of the benefits provided by pollination, yet can we not see the insanity of the bees if that was their only focus?

Therefore, we must urge for caution in getting too caught up in calling for massive ‘reform’ of education to pursue what is simply a corollary effect. That will leave us in no better position. The time is ripe for a reframing and a sincere dialogue about the aim of education in our country. The process of reframing this paradigm can start in our classrooms.

Teacher Challenge: Think and reflect about what you feel the aim of education could or should be? Each of us has a stake in the future of education and we must practice the art of articulating our visions for the moment we are asked.

Learner Challenge: Let’s challenge ourselves to learn more about how we measure economic performance. I was amazed at how little I knew as I started to dig into this paradigm piece more. Below is a small smattering of accessible resources you could read for additional learning.

Additional Reading:

Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn’t Add Up

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