Sunday, September 25, 2011

How Do We Handle the Economy in Schools?

Here's the dilemma - we want students to go to school so they can be successful in life but we don't want to talk about being successful in business. As a result, it is very difficult to talk about real-world design in schools because most designers work for businesses. We don't know how to handle the economy in schools.

We are ambivalent about how to treat businesses in education. Many teachers will say they are opposed to helping students get jobs because the real mission of education is to become a well-rounded person and schools should not be about getting jobs.

How does an enterprise like education, which is basically non-profit at its core, do justice to the for-profit world when we think it is the root of evil? How do we help students become productive citizens in a global economy when we think selling things for profit is filling the world with stuff people don't want or need?

There are many role models in the design world who are attractive, bright, wealthy and successful but we don't tell students about them because it's impossible to talk about the people without talking about the companies they work for. David Butler (left), for example, is a handsome young man who heads up global design for Coca-Cola. Young people would die to have David's life and job. In schools however, Coca-Cola is a bad thing. We know Coke isn't a healthy drink and we try to keep it out of schools.

And who wouldn't want to be Jonathan Ive, head designer and friend of Steve Jobs at Apple - the coolest company anywhere (right). How do you talk about design without talking about the companies that have the best designed products in the world?

You see the problem? How do you talk about the importance of design in shaping the global economy in schools where teachers often feel businesses are bad? If we talk about advertising in schools it is usually to point out how bad advertising is and how it gets people to buy and do things they shouldn't. If we talk about product design it makes educators think about our overly materialistic culture of commercialism.

So do educators continue to ignore, or even denigrate, trying to be competitive in the global economy in favor of instilling loftier virtues and education for education's sake? How can schools do justice to the need for our students and our nation to be competitive against the growing economic powers in China and India?

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