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In Favor of Long Views Over “Win” Cultures

Thinking a bit more about recent UVA events, I think that a deep problem with current approaches to education is not just market myopia but a distaste for any long-term project. We live in a quick-fix, I know the answer, will give results, and obtain a “win” culture. It has its arrogance just as academia has its arrogances. The “win” culture wants the rush of snark and deliverables already known. Whether they wish to admit it, some academics play into this model. Vaidhyanathan’s points about dwindling funding are dead on correct. Private and public funding is in peril. The world looks to the U.S. for models of public education while we eviscerate it. The business mentality and newspeak have no place for the work that plods, tests, fails, but in aggregate discovers new things, nurtures counter views, and happens to train people how to think beyond three bullet points. Recent works by Julie Cohen and Brett Frischmann lay the foundation to show how and why thinking beyond simplistic market models leads to outcomes we want. I think part of what they are reacting to is a failure to have a vocabulary beyond markets. In some cases it may be as simple as looking beyond one notion of the market. In others scholars are developing ways to understand what lies beyond our current thinking. In both cases, people are offering new metrics to evaluate and appreciate what is important for society and individuals but is not captured in market-speak.

A question that lurks here is why. Why are we having to remind people about the importance of education, how public institutions feed society at large, and the needs of humans as they develop? Saying that we are not getting what we want from current approaches is not a good answer. It tells us that something is broken. But turning to systems that may be excellent for some things but quite poor at others speaks of a desire to do anything for the sake of action without thinking through options. In business, the quick outcome and need for speed may be real (although there are many examples of rapid deployment that fall on their faces). In our public and personal lives, a little patience would help. There are many reasons to be suspicious about government, corporations, academia, and any group. That has been and is our world since at least the start of our country. For public institutions and a better civic life, we need to show people why truths we hold self-evident are ones others do too. Right now, a bunch of people lamenting and decrying failures does little to change things.

For example, all citizens who think that public education is something that should be free, need to explain who pays. And they need to realize that by voting to cut funds from education (yes mucking with taxes and not voting for increases means you failed to pay for your community goods), they drive to a world where they may not have access to the resources they need. Saying we will not fund until we get what we want is useless. Saying these are the hard outcomes and needs we see for education is a place where educators can and should engage. For those who think that education will undergo some mild re-tooling and continue as before, I direct you to this article “The Prospect of Western Europe Collapsing Like Eastern Europe.”

Put differently, I don’t think civic goods are a luxury. I think we are treating them that way. Society’s interest in self-congratulatory, near-term “wins” is part of and fuels the shift to business-style myopia. There is a literature from scenario planning that explains how that approach is not great for companies either. Yet, companies struggle with that information and research. I think most of us would prefer a society that has a shot at long-term success over short-term satisfaction. Then again it took some dreams and Joseph to have the ancients think about planning and cycles. As we are not in an age of dream interpretation, it is up to us to remember and to explain why should be planning for the long haul. As always, let the games begin.