school ain’t your business

Comparing school with business is bad business.

There are huge differences between school and business:

  1. Learning is personal
  2. Learning is messy
  3. Learning is abstract


Learning Is Personal

One of the most chilling moments in The Godfather is when Michael reveals his talent for strategy and his cold objectivity when it comes to the political pros and cons of killing in revenge: “It’s not personal, Sonny, it’s strictly business.”

Education is the exact opposite. Learning isn’t business, Sonny. It’s personal.

Learning Is Messy

We need to preserve the humanity in education. Being human is sometimes messy. That’s not only OK, it’s beautiful. Our mistakes and our emotional subjectivity are sustainable advantages that create opportunities for understanding and growth.

The biggest mistake is to ignore our humanity and pretend school is like business. It’s not.

Business success is defined by static, objective outcomes that are easily measured. There are only so many ways to account for inventory, profits and losses, and they are all subject to forensic review and analysis.

Learning Is Abstract

Education is about dynamic, subjective processes that are abstract and ambiguous. For decades we have tried to validate and replicate instructional and assessment tools and techniques, but evaluating skill and intelligence — especially as they evolve — remains an elusive goal. We can tell what a respondent answers on a test, but we don’t know why.

You can evaluate a business by the bottom line. Most of what we call “learning” never shows up in the box score.

In Conclusion

Once upon a time, it made sense to “administer” schooling in a one-to-many broadcast of lectures, textbooks, and dittoed worksheets.

But today we have the tools to customize the learning experience. We can account for differences between learners and even differences within each individual learner over time.

Please pay attention, because our options have changed.

This may be monitored for training purposes.

No, I haven’t surrendered writing this post to AI — but I do think we’ve gotten used to some mechanized ways of thinking that focus on order and efficiency. I’d like to see more schools embrace the messy, lovely experience of human learning.

trigger warning (redacted)

I wrote a 1500+ word post for this week that was motivated by the news of the six-year-old who shot his teacher. It’s a good piece and I think you’ll like it. But it’s also edgy. My family depends on the consulting income I earn from schools and I can’t afford to get canceled this week. So here is my offer to you, dear reader: Ask and ye shall receive. If you’d like me to personally deliver a camera-ready draft of this week’s blog post to your Inbox, please email me: david [at] davidpreston [dot] net

If you’re feeling efficient or lazy, you can copy/paste this message:

Hi David, I’m super curious about this week’s blog post – please send me the draft! Your #1 fan, [your name here]

When I receive your message I will reply with a handcrafted draft of the post. Then you can tell me whether you think I made the right call. See you back here next week!