Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Destructive Effect of The Commercialization of Education : The Business of Christian Education XCIII

24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Matthew 6:24
            There is this childish and selfish dream that as teenagers we quite often told as our life overarching dream: “Born in a rich family, growing up spoiled, indulging in life to the fullest as youth, having plenty when old, and go straight to heaven in death.”  The silly dream is to get the best of both worlds, the world’s indulgence and the eternal salvation in heaven.  But that dream remains a dream.  Enjoying the world’s indulgence leads man away from God.  While walking with God faithfully often ends up with
renouncing the world’s indulgence.  And the current world’s indulgence is captured in material wealth.  The famous phrase “Time is Money” becomes the norm for gaining success.  Money is hailed as the “God” of the world nowadays.  Everything is operated through budget.  Without proper budgeting one may not survive.  In the consumeristic age, money is indeed the king.  Many people bow to money.  It doesn’t matter how immoral or amoral a man is, as long as he has money, he rules.  But actually it is not him who rules, it is the money in his hands.  So, learning the pattern of the world, young people grow up craving for money.  For with money lies the imagination of power, of leisure, of fame, of worldly indulgence.  The motto “money buys anything” is almost normative.  Some people even believe that money can buy love.  Some argue that money can buy happiness.  All kind of institutions, be it profit or non-profit, in one way or another follows the government of money as its most crucial structure.  All “business” proposal is designed with the numbers and dollars being in full display.  The dollar number has become the sign whether the “business” is worth doing or not.  If the number is negative, then the business is not worth doing.  Only when it is positive then one might consider pursuing the “business.”  But merely positive is not enough anymore.  It must be positive with a large “profit” margin.  The margin signifies growth.  If the margin is narrow, the growth is doubtable.  In short, everything now is measured by money.  Even to judge if something is good or bad, money is the measurement.  Value becomes identical with money.

            Any noble dream can be easily shattered if it doesn’t promise a return of investment.  This mode of thinking is within our thinking system.  Somehow it has been programmed into our categorical thinking process.  And therefore, even a noble dream must factor in money.  Money is certainly not the evil that we need to avoid.  Money is useful in many ways.  Money exists in our everyday life.  Its usefulness and importance is undeniable in today’s society structure.  We would be naïve to argue for the banishment of money altogether.  This currency is adopted worldwide for goods exchange.  Goods exchange and all other exchanges between humans are essential in the fabric of humanity.  Without the exchange, our civilization will not develop.  Money makes life more effective and efficient.  In this way we can’t dismiss money.  What seems to be the problem, however, is where we seat money in our value system.  If money remains a tool to enhance human effectiveness and efficiency, then our life’s purpose must not be directed toward money.  Our devotion and worship, therefore, cannot be for money.  But, the trouble is when we put money as more than a tool, especially when money becomes the king or the god of our life.  When that happens, all our life purpose will be geared toward money.  In that way, our devotion and worship are for money.  Money becomes our master and we are its slaves.  For sure, money has that kind of appeal.  For in it lies the imagination of power, of leisure, of fame, and of indulgence.  The way the world operates right now paves the way for money to gain the number one seat in one’s value system.  If this is the kind of model being adopted when money is involved, then for sure money will corrupt any noble dream.  James Hudson Taylor knew about this when he set up Inland China Mission.  So he set a policy that kept money at bay.  Missionaries who joined ICM must not concern themselves with money.  Christian History Magazine issue 52 recorded that ICM missionaries “would have no guaranteed salary but trust in the Lord to supply their needs. Income would be shared. No debts would be incurred.”[1]  This has been their policy ever since.  ICM is now OMF International.  A missionary friend of mine from OMF International still quoted that policy.  They believe that money is not the motivation for mission.  The sufficiency of funding will not be the reason for doing mission work.  The Lord is their reason.

            Sadly but true, many noble dreams have been gradually corrupted by money.  As the institution grows bigger, money slowly takes precedence.  And slowly but sure, the institution’s structure is adapted toward money.  Before long, the faith of the workers shifs toward money.  Knowing this pattern, some people, from the beginning, have set money at the center.  While money has its usefulness, seating it at the center corrupts the entire body.  Even if we talk about a purely business venture here, the noble goal of setting up the business venture in the first time is now swallowed by the primacy of money.  So, if we look at TV Shows like Shark’s Tank or Dragon’s Den the entire conversation will head toward money.  The dollar number is the language.  Money is at the center of every decision made.  In summary, the goal is not of noble quality anymore.  The goal is to be rich.  And as one very prominent businessman says one time “the goal now for many young man is to get rich fast.”  The world is now upside down.  Profit was meant to be the reward for a good “service.”  The goal is to provide the good “service.”  But the appeal of the reward is too powerful that the goal is not providing the good “service” anymore, but to gain as much money as one can.  The reward becomes the goal, and the means to achieve the goal is by providing good “service.”  Following the pattern of the world, good “service” is no longer defined by good in itself, but by how market reacts toward the “service” provided.  Good “service” now means giving what the market demands.  Good is what people say.  And what people say depends on whether it is a great number or not.  The number ends up being translated into the dollar.  Such is the language of business today.  This mode of thinking is also affecting the world of non-profit organization.  The language of business dominates.  Money talks.  Every decision is then made based on whether it is profitable to the organization or not.  If the dollar number is not great, then the decision is usually made against it.

This happens in education as well.  This syndrome is worldwide.  The noble purpose of education as beautifully summed up by Rousseau in Emile:

In the natural order where all men are equal, manhood is the common vocation.  One who is well educated for that will not do badly in the duties that pertain to it.  The fact that my pupil is intended for the army, the church or the bar, does not greatly concern me.  Before the vocation determined by his parents comes the call of nature to the life of human kind.  Life is the business I would have him learn.  When he leaves my hands, I admit he will not be a magistrate, or a soldier, or a priest.  First and foremost, he will be a man.  All that a man must be he will be when the need arises, as well as anyone else.  Whatever the changes of fortune he will always be able to find a place for himself.[2]

The grand purpose of education is to educate a human being to be a human being.  The definition of “human” must be made first priority here because whatever the definition is the entire system of education will be designed to achieve that definition.  In “Grand Weaver” Ravi Zacharias points out that the main problem with the Fall is that Adam and Eve desired to take matters into their own hands.  The authority and power have been given to man to work in the garden, to name the animals, and thus to set the boundary of other living creatures under them within the authority given to them.  But there is a particular domain that God doesn’t give to man to have authority over, which is the domain of morality.  It is God’s prerogative.  God sets the boundary.  The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is off limit for man.  Eating it means taking upon themselves the authority to define what is good and what is evil.  But God forbids Adam and Eve from doing so.  It is not their domain.  And ever since the Fall humans have tried to define morality according to their own idea.  But this must not so.  Now, to define “humans” we can’t merely adopt what the philosophers say.  Humans are complex creatures.  They don’t only function physically, or pragmatically, but far deeper than that they function morally and spiritually.  How can we define human morality when we are still confused as to which one is good which one is evil?  The American people continue to debate whether it is ethical to own a gun, and given the recent gun violence in many states, people start questioning the second amendment.  People then argue sharply against one another of the ethical implications of whether owning a gun is good or evil.  It is just one matter.  We haven’t touched the debate over abortion or euthanasia or any other thing.  The definition of “humans” must go back to the creator.  He alone has the full knowledge of the truth of what human is.

            And so, if education is to do its natural tendency, then it must seriously ponder the definition of human.  Education must not be directed toward leading human out to be something other or less or more than human.  John Dewey argues that education must be aimed toward the formation of good citizen.  But being good citizen is only a fraction of the meaning of being human.  The definition of citizen too must be understood carefully.  Each country has its own set of rules and values.  What country we are talking about when we adopt Dewey’s philosophy of education?  Citizen of the US?  Citizen of Russia?  Citizen of China?  And so on.  Rousseau’s philosophy of education is much nobler than Dewey’s in this regard.  The definition of human must go back to human intrinsic and ontological value as given to them by God himself.  It is not defined by one’s allegiance to a certain country in the world.  The country may remain today, but may cease to exist tomorrow.  When the country ceases to exist, do we lose the meaning and dignity of our being?  Coming back to the definition of human we must hear what the Creator says about it.  In creating human, God says that we are created in his image (Genesis 1:26-28).  Therefore we bear resemblance to God.  We are severely limited for sure, but yet we can certainly find the trace of the divine within our being.  The education of human must then focus on the formation of this image of God within.  This is noble.  And this noble purpose must not be compromised by anything.  For in it lies the essence of our being as human.

            The world as we know it today has changed, however.  The rise of money to the pedestal has replaced many noble values.  Money has infiltrated the world of education.  While people still see the value of education, its noble value has been reduced significantly.  The ideal of education is almost a rarity nowadays.  Even informal education is being sloppy these days.  The formal education, since industrial revolution, has taken a different form.  The goal of formal education in the industrial era is the creation of operators of machinery.  The diploma is given for the achievement of certain measurable performances in skills and knowledge of particular things.  With all the development that has been going on ever since the industrial revolution, education (formal, non-formal, and even informal) has become a means to produce a money making machine.  Human is being reduced to whether he/she is able to make the most money.  Educational institution is valued when it can produce man and woman who can generate the most material wealth.  The educational institution itself is currently undergoing a huge transformation.  Educational institution is being adapted to the business model.  If the educational institution is not profitable, then its existence will be questioned.  The measure of success of education is no longer whether the human that graduate from it becomes dignified and noble people, but whether the graduate may secure a high paying job or not.  So the model for education must follow business.  Education provides service.  Its service can only be judged good if it meets the market demand.  As soon as education steps toward serving the demand of the market, it has taken a totally different path than what it should be.  The path to please the market is the path to commercialize the institution.  People are willing to pay when it comes to meeting what they want.  The willingness of people to pay becomes the drive for offering to the market something that will expand their imagination.  In this kind of world, if education only offers the education of human to be true human, people will say “nah.”  No one is going “buy” that kind of education.  But if the promotion goes “Your son or daughter, upon graduation, will be guaranteed a job in the Fortune 500 companies,” then many people will buy its service.  Unfortunately, in today’s world, it seems that this commercialization path is the only way to make education work.

            And so all schools, colleges, universities, gradually rewrite their strategic planning following the commercialization of education.  They think they have to commercialize.  The consumeristic behavior of the modern people makes way for the commercialization of education.  This path leads to giving the power to the market.  The shaping and formation of human is now at the hand of the market.  If the market demands more specialized doctors, then education will produce specialized doctors.  If the market demands more computer programmers, then curriculum will be designed to produce more computer programmers.  This kind of drive becomes the main drive.  Thus when people graduate from these formal education, they will become lawyers, doctors, engineers, and so on, but no longer will they be true human.  No longer is there discussion on what it means to be a human being.  Man is now defined by their profession.  Their dignity lies with their profession.  The more their profession is rewarded, the more proud they are.  The more the money they can collect through their profession, the higher their dignity is.  No longer does their dignity lie in the intrinsic and ontological value of human being as created in the image of God.  Their worth is now determined by how much money they make.  This is the destructive effect of the commercialization of education.  And it leads to many more grieves.  The kind of profession that may yield much money is thin.  The pie is small.  But the population is huge.  Only a small number of people may achieve the top of the pyramid.  Perhaps 95% of the people in the world will never taste the “good” life.  No doubt competition is the rule of the game.  Survival of the fittest is hailed as the phrase of the new era.  Evolution theory gains fame because it fits precisely the reality of the world as we know it today.  Competition, survival of the fittest, or whatever name they may come up with, only breeds selfishness.  The commercialized education piggybacks on it and produces more selfish people in the world.  They exist to feed the greed within the selfish human depraved heart.  And today we are wondering why people are selfish?  Today we are wondering why people are egotistic maniac?  Today we are wondering why people do whatever it takes, be it stealing, robbing, manipulating, exploiting, etc. in order to get what they want?  Those who always lose in the competition eventually got depressed.  In their depression they protest to the world by bringing down those who enjoy the trophy of the competition with them, before then they end their own life.  This is the devastating effect of the commercialization of education.

            Sooner or later people will realize that the “service” can only be bought by those who have.  Those who don’t have will remain at the bottom of the pyramid.  There is some people who understand the noble goal of education.  People like Peter Cooper, who founded The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, understood this dilemma.  The Cooper Union “college” was founded for the purpose of distributing justice.  So education is not only for the haves.  So the no-haves too may have opportunity to excel, to achieve their dream.  This “college” attempts to answer the injustice caused by the commercialization of education.  When the Cooper Union began to charge tuition, a serious demonstration broke out from the students.  The tuition charge was seen as betraying the noble purpose of distributive justice in the world of education.  This is just one aspect of justice in education.  The balance currently is tipped toward the wealthy.  Money still sits at the top.  And people are still voluntarily applying to be slaves of money.  So this vicious cycle continues.  The saga of the commercialization of education does not end here.  It will only grow bigger.  Until all educational paths, including informal education, bow to money as their ultimate master.

            Jesus said in Matthew 6:24: “24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”  The childish and selfish dream that we spoke during our teenage years still dominate the world today.  But this dream will not come true.  It is a misleading dream.  For it proclaims that our life purpose is only to gratify our self.  We are created in the image of God.  The natural tendency that we ought to have is to serve God.  This is right and fitting.  God himself designs human to serve him.  That’s our basic constitution.  But ever since the Fall, we want to define our own self.  We define our own morality.  We define for our self what is good and what is not.  In the confusion humans stumble upon this powerful “god” called mammon.  It captivates the heart of man.  As soon as man bows to money, they have become slaves of money.  One cannot devote himself for money and God at the same time.  He has to choose.  If he serves money, he is going to ignore God.  And vice versa.  The true model of education must serve God and not money.  Education that serves money will lead to the formation of graduates that serve money, for basically it is what they teach.  Education that serves God will lead to the formation of graduates that serve God, for it is what they teach.  The commercialization of education paves the way for education that serves money.  It betrays the noble purpose of education.  While money is still important for the “business” of education to run effectively and efficiently, it must not be allowed to become the master.  It should remain as a tool to achieve the noble goal.  And it is just one of the tools among many others.  When money is seated at its proper position, then education may walk in the noble path once again.

[1] Christian History Magazine-Issue 52: Hudson Taylor & Missions to China (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1996).
[2] Rousseau, J. J.  (1962a).  The Emile of Jean Jacques Rousseau, pp. 14-15.  New York:  Teachers College Press, Teachers College Columbia University.  (Italics is mine)

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