Thursday, March 18, 2010

Charisma & Education

In western culture, it is often said that sex sells. Everything from sports cars to shampoo ("An organic experience") attaches itself to the idea that sex and profits increase exponentially. Businessman and entertainer extraordinaire P.T. Barnum might be the precursor to what contemporary society deems necessary to promoting one's goods and services through publicity and hype with the intention of increasing revenue. Even religious organizations have gotten into the act by becoming virtual money making machines with all the accoutrements of a rock star from books, CDs, videos and tee-shirts. Nothing is sacred anymore! The new paradigm is "whoever has the best concept that sells--rules". This is the new world and we had better get used to it. However, there is one institution that has attempted to stay above the fray and a result has lost its influence and struggles to maintain the foundation upon which it rests. This is the institution of education. While most institutions have opted to develop a marketing and public relations department, education still holds on as the bastion of traditionalism by not following suit. It is almost as if administrators believe that if they continue to take the high ground by not promoting themselves, redemption awaits. The reality is that by not adopting a business model like every other institute, education is positioning itself for ending up like the Do-Do Bird--extinct. Education does not have the luxury of resting on it’s a laurels when every sector in society has to be compete for consumer dollars. Yes, whether education wants to admit it or not, it too is a business. The principal serves as the CEO. Teachers serve as the employees who render services. The school board is the director. Parents are the consumers. And students are the raw material by which the end result is a consumable product. To the extent that the school system does this will reflect the tax dollars allocated to keep the current administrators in business. If the current system does not serve the needs of the consumers (parents), they will be out of business by the mass exodus of parents enrolling their children into other jurisdictions, private schools or home schooling.

So why make education more appealing? The answer is, "why not?" The impact of teachers in the lives of individuals ranks up there near God. If you listen to any awards acceptance speech, the recipients invariably talk about the teacher who had more faith in them than they had in themselves. It is indefensible to argue against the contribution the educational system has made to civilization. In fact, education is the bedrock of civilization and without it we would be relegated to the days of barbarism. Yet, it is these lofty ideas about education that diminishes its appeal. The major reason education should be more appealing is its continuance as a catalyst for human development that has been its mark since its inception. Today, education has to compete against the allure of materialism. It benefits cannot stand merely on its own against a monolithic message of "He who has the gold makes the rules." Education has to capture the minds and imagination of society in the same vein as a sports drink commercial. Every time it shirks away from competing on the world stage another entity with a better marketing plan depletes its impact. In an ever- changing society, education has to be willing to go to the edge in branding itself as the foundation of civilization. It has to create commercials of the impact of education and what society would look like without it. It has to capture the imagination of the population just as music videos have infused the minds of our youth. In short, education must reinvent itself and become a bigger player on the world stage. There are a few avenues that education may take to be more competitive.

First, create business alliances with corporations. Actually, some schools have begun placing a price tag for companies to put corporate emblems and names on buildings and stadiums. Corporations realize that they are not merely positioning themselves for the current buying public, but also the future one. Coke and Pepsi are vying for the privilege to have exclusive rights for putting their soda machines in schools. Administrators must insure that these companies pay the price tag for such opportunities. In turn, school administrators can expand curriculum and marketing efforts with the revenue. Education can begin blowing its own horn at the expense of those who want to increase their own profit margin.

Secondly, teachers must learn the art of connecting and engagement. The truth of the matter is that education has operated as a monopoly in its dealings with its constituents--parents and students. As long as teachers taught from the curriculum they were assigned, they were not required to do much else. The issue of connecting and engaging students to involve themselves in the process was not part of the standard. To thrive in contemporary society, teachers must become better communicators, verbally and non-verbally for the students. The idea of teachers becoming more charismatic in making the curriculum relevant to the students practical needs for success in the real world might seem beyond the scope of their responsibilities. Actually, it is not! Education, acting as a business, would tailor itself to the needs of its constituent consumers. What business operates effectively that does not measure the degree to which it accomplishes its objectives? As an incentive, teachers who prove to be "star performers" should be paid more. The market should determine how much they should be paid without any salary caps. If teachers produce books, videos and other products that supplement the learning process, they should get the lion share of the profits. By turning teachers into business educators, they compete for profits as well as students who are more productive. The private sector has been the example of what happens when you allow creativity and profits to rise to its potential.

Finally, curriculum should be iconoclastic. The reason why entertainers wield so much power over the minds of our youth is because they are raised to mythic proportions. Students do not see a correlation between great marketing and buying habits. Advertisement that captures the imagination of students is one of the competitors of education. By including the marketing process within educational curriculum, educators do two things: 1. Break down mythic performers to normal human beings and 2. Teach students about business models relevant to the practical world. By exploring and unveiling how rapper Master P. amassed a half billion dollar empire will reduce the artist to merely a smart businessman rather than an icon. In a global market where job security is fleeting, learning business models will prepare students to become more competitive in the market as well as encourage entrepreneurialism. Students will continue to buy these products, but with a greater understanding of how the process works and the real value behind the marketed item. In the Information Age, there are a lot of creative resources available to educators who want to be innovative.

In the new world, there are no more sacred cows. Industries able to meet the changing needs of society will flourish, while those who do not will fall by the way side. Education has a leg up, because it is built into the fabric of civilization. But if wishes to compete and serve as a catalyst for growth rather than merely existing, it must reinvent and align itself with the changing world. It would be sad commentary if education lost its zeal merely because the NBA had a better marketing plan.

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