Intellectual Property of Dr. Bruce D. Watson, DEd Melbourne and attributed authors as noted.
For Private individual use. All rights reserved.
A student can be defined in different ways. So can education. Students cannot simply consume knowledge.
The way a person defines or understands these concepts can make a difference in the way that person—and others—acts.
e.g., Manager Private Registered Training Organisation = manager of Government subsidised and deregulated “education business”.
Consumerism is a social and economic order and ideology that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-greater amounts.
We have to ask whether a metaphor of consumerism is giving RTO managers a helpful idea of what their function is.
I don’t think it is.
This is a basic framework of why.
“Have It Your Way”: Consumerism Invades Education”
An Essay by Simon Benlow
Two weeks ago, the Faculty and staff received a memo regarding “National Customer Service Week.” We were urged to take special efforts in serving our customers—presumabIy, our students. Certainly, I have no objections to extending extra efforts in helping students feel comfortable and situated in the college environment. However, I am deeply troubled (as are many or most, instructors and professors) by use of the term “customer” to refer to students.
I am concerned, in general, about the slow and subtle infiltration of consumerism into education (by companies buying access to students’ brains), and I am downright hostile to the way “customer” has suddenly replaced the word (and maybe idea of) “student” in higher education. And because my concerns may seem ungrounded, I would like to offer a brief analysis—a quick examination of the basic, and not-so·basic, differences between “customer” and “student.” “The customer is always right”, We hear this hollow phruse resound through (almost) every corridor of our consumerist culture.
The motive behind the phrase is painfully clear—to keep customers happy, to keep them from complaining, and most importantly, to keep them coming back. (Of course, the meaninglessness of the phrase is well known, too—for those of us who have had the displeasure of talking with Ameritech operators or “customer service” tellers at our banks.)
The phrase is meant to maintain a climate in which the substance of anyone’s concerns or complaints is obfuscated by friendly and diplomatic clichés, “your business means so much to us”; “we’ll do everything we can to address the problem” Ultimately, then, the goal of customer service, in this sense, is to lull customers into a sense of complacency— even though theirphones may not be working or their washers are throwing sparks.
“Have it your way!” Of course, we all know the song and the friendly fried-food establishment associated with this slogan. lt’s a harmless phrase, in and of itself: and one that works particularly well for the franchise. It suggests to customers that their particular appetites can be catered to, that their specific tastes, no matter how eccentric (within the continuum of dip n’ serve fried food) can he easily satisfied. It promotes the idea that the institution will shift its entire set of processes to meet the desires of the individual. The meal deal bargain.
Recently, in our hyper-drive-thru culture, we’ve been given a new ticket to ride— a quicker and easier way to get East food (and a host of other things as well): the combo or meal deal. In the old days, we had to pull up to the drive-thru board, search under “sandwiches” and THEN go through the labour of exploring “Sides” and “Beverages.” It was all too much. Now, we can simply pull up, and say a number. We don`t even have to trouble ourselves with uttering all the stuff that we want to eat. We just say “#l with a diet.” The meal deal craze is, of course, not limited to Fast Food; Ii is, simply, most explicitly manifested in the Fast Food industry. That is, in the Fast hood world, we can clearly see the motives of an increasingly consumerised culture:
(l) to limit the interaction between the provider and the customer,
(2) to limit the time the customer has to reflect on his/her wants, and
(3) to limit the energy the customer has to exert.
Customers are encouraged to be passive. We are prompted in a variety of ways not to be agents of our own making. Our needs and desires are met by the work of others. As customers, we pay for someone else`s work. For someone else’s acts of invention, creation, and production. And we not only hire out our activities (painting our homes, cooking our dinners): we also hire out our imaginations. We don’t even have to imagine what is possible. Others have already done the imagining, created a product or service and have told us how we can use it. (They’ve even taken the extra step of telling us what NOT to do: “Women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant should nor take. or even handle, these pills.”)
In short, the world of the customer is based on intellectual inactivity; we merely have to dial the phone, get online. say a number.
We don’t have to reflect, invent, produce, or research (Consumer Reports has done it already). Nor do we have to shop: they will deliver. Being a customer means being driven by simple and personal desires , . . and ultimately demanding that those desires be met. Contrary to the passive, personalising, self-perpetuating, desire-driven customer, students are encouraged to be active.
In college, students cannot simply consume knowledge. Even in its most packaged form, the textbook, knowledge must be regenerated, revised, reinterpreted, and remembered in order to be anything beyond an answer on a multiple-choice test. Students who read textbooks, literature, and articles passively will get nothing from them, is a kind of paralyzing higher education illiteracy.
Certainly, they will be able to read something aloud, or even to themselves, and maybe summarize a main point; however, they will not know how to imagine the implications or significance of a textbook chapter. (And this is what academics mean when they say, “Our students don’t know how to make meaning”)
Students who come to college with a consumerist attitude are lost. Because they are anticipating their most basic desires will be stimulated (because that’s how people are massaged into buying stuff they don’t need), consumerist students come to college waiting to be tickled, waiting to see the big boom, waiting for the car chase or the sex scene, waiting for the french fry, waiting for the cherry coke. What they encounter, however, are rooms filled with ingredients.
They see only black and white words—where they anticipate smashy colors and extravagant tools for getting their attention. In the face of pure ingredients (the stuff for making meaning), they will be confused . . . and ultimately, terribly bored. Consumerist students (or those who have been tricked into thinking like consumers) will also have a difficult time understanding principles.
Principles, established doctrines which are to be followed, or evaluated, in the processes of making knowledge, don’t really exist in consumer culture (unless you count slogans as doctrines). Because everything is based on the eccentricities of the individual (“hold the pickle, hold the lettuce”), the individual need not ever think outside of his/her own desires and the reality that is created From projecting those desires onto everything and everyone in view. In higher education, principles establish how a discipline works. Physics works on principles of matter and energy. The goal of a physicist is to discover the principles and understand how they can be used. Composition works on principles—conventions of grammar and persuasion.
This is not to say that all knowledge is prescribed. On the contrary, students in such classes are encouraged to invent, to break rules, to go beyond. But in order to do so, they need certain ground rules; they need to understand that certain principles exist in the world outside of their own desires. (One cannot do chemistry and simply dismiss algebra because it is distasteful.) When I think back to the best teachers and professors in my education I recall those who demanded everything contrary to the consumerist mentality. They insisted on active students; they made us read staggering amounts of material and then actively put that material to use:
- they prompted us into confusion and disorientation;
- they made us uncomfortable, and then,
- sometimes, offered paths to clarity
In short, they made us into critical, reflective agents of our own becoming, rather than passive bags of desire. Everything valuable about my education came from instructors and professors who were free from the ridiculous tyranny of consumerism.
There is no way higher education can counter the incredible momentum of consumerist culture.
It is far more pervasive than the discourses of physics or composition studies. However, if we continue to allow the term “customer” to replace “student,” I fear that students will become increasingly blind to the difference between consumerist culture and college culture. I fear they will become increasingly more confused by the expectations of college and that in the nightmarish long run, colleges will become simply another extension of the consumerist machine in which everyone is encouraged to pre-packaged knowledge, to super-size grades, and to “hoId” anything even slightly distasteful.
Regretfully, what is said of college students appears to apply to many VET Practitioners:
In the VET System, VET Practitioners cannot simply consume knowledge. Even in its most packaged form, the textbook, knowledge must be regenerated, revised, reinterpreted, and remembered in order to be anything beyond an answer on a multiple-choice test. VET Practitioners who read textbooks, literature, and articles passively will get nothing from them, is a kind of paralysing VET illiteracy.
Certainly, they will be able to read something aloud, or even to themselves, and maybe summarise a main point; however, they will not know how to imagine the implications or significance of a textbook chapter. (And this is what Educationists and Academics mean when they say, “The VET Practitioners don’t know how to make meaning”) – a symptom of Competency Based Training.
VET Practitioners who come to the VET System with a consumerist attitude are lost. Because they are anticipating their most basic desires will be stimulated (because that’s how people are massaged into doing stuff they don’t want to), consumerist VET Practitioners come to the VET System waiting to be tickled, waiting to see the big boom, waiting for the car chase or the sex scene, waiting for the french fry, waiting for the cherry coke. What they encounter, however, are rooms filled with VET products.