This post briefly reviews Monica Martinez, “The Learning Economy” in Phi Delta Kappan 91, no. 6 (March 2010): 74-75. [Available here]
Martinez, president of New Tech Network, a subsidiary of the KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a private company whose aim is “to transform education in the US from a world of schooling to a world of learning,” here provides a brief but interesting way of thinking about the increasing variety of educational options parents are using.
For Martinez, there is not competition between public schools, private schools, charters, homeschooling, private tutoring, correspondence courses, enrichment opportunities, or any combination of these things. What’s really happening is that all these choices together comprise one coherent “learning economy” that functions much like other aspects of the American economy. Her article reads a bit like some of the breathless futurist stuff that has been extolling homeschooling as an example of the emerging paradigm of post-industrial education that is individualized, fluid, customized, and so on. For a recent example, see this short piece from Time Magazine by Reihan Salam, which predicts, “Rather than warehouse their children in factory schools invented to instill obedience in the future mill workers of America, bourgeois rebels will educate their kids in virtual schools tailored to different learning styles. Whereas only 1.5 million children were homeschooled in 2007, we can expect the number to explode in future years as distance education blows past the traditional variety in cost and quality.”
Salam sees opposition between traditional schools and the emerging virtual learning. Martinez, in contrast, predicts a grand synthesis, where the old-fashioned brick and mortar school is transformed into “a hub in the midst of other networks.” The challenge, says Martinez, is for school districts to think creatively and imaginatively about how they can tap into the rich emerging resources being made available through virtual platforms, open-source courseware, the outsourcing of tutoring to India, educational cooperatives, and so on.
In a not-too-distant future Martinez imagines public schools serving no longer as “exclusive agents of coordination, service provision” and other functions traditionally associated with schooling. Instead, certified teachers would serve as brokers, working with parents to help them craft an ideal education for their child that takes advantage of all of the resources available in the Learning Economy.
What Martinez is describing is a lot like what many homeschooling parents have been doing for decades. Even before the internet, homeschoolers shared, through countless newsletters and phone trees, information with one another about educational opportunities at local museums, universities, churches, art barns, dance studios, and much more. Now that the internet exists such communication is even easier and closer to real-time. Given the bewildering array of curricular and enrichment options available it would make sense to have professionals who know the terrain on hand to serve as facilitators and resource personnel, rather like a good DJ helping hipsters find good new music.
As a professor in a department whose job is to prepare public school teachers, I can say with certainty that this is not at all what we’re preparing our students for. I think Martinez’ idea of the certified professional who works with clients (parents) to help them customize the best education for their children using every possible resource available is wonderful, but it’s a radical departure from what is being done today in schools of education. Absent any sort of formal training or certification program for the expertise Martinez envisions, the most qualified candidate for education “DJ” in my mind is the homeschooling mother who’s been at it for a long time. Veteran homeschoolers, especially those who have compiled newsletters or spear-headed cooperatives, know the local “learning economy” better than anybody.
I don’t know if Martinez’ vision will come to pass, but it is definitely appealing to me. As one who has written extensively about the conflicts between homeschoolers and public school personnel during the 1980s and 1990s, her synthetic vision has a Hegelian beauty to it that gives one hope that all really is well that ends well. But futuristic dreaming has been wrong before, so I’m not holding my breath.