Earlier this week I attended a meeting co-sponsored by AACU and the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. Its purpose was three-fold: to inspire K-16 educators to do a better job preparing graduates to have the skills that employers need in their employees; to inspire the business community to give more public support to public education; and to launch a state-wide movement to that end.
The meeting was useful in all sorts of ways--the governor spoke, K-12 and Higher Ed systems talked more about integrating their work, and prominent business leaders spoke on behalf of the importance of education. The Commissioner of Higher Education, the past Commissioner, and the current State Superintendent of Schools spoke candidly and passionately about the needs for better support for education.
The language of partnership was everywhere--many pledged to "work together," "support each other" etc. But much of the conversation about partnership with business was uni-directional. That is, schools pledged to help train better employees. Schools serve businesses.
In the world of civic engagement we always talk about reciprocal relationships. So I started to wonder what a reciprocal educational relationship with business would be like. Not just one where businesses state publicly that schools need more support, but one that had direct bearing on learning. Here is my thinking:
1. We know that the outside-of-schools context (family, community, socio-economic status) plays a huge role in shaping the ability of students to learn,
2. And we know that most high school/college/university students work while they are in school.
So given 1 and 2, instead of only asking what education can do to serve business, a true partnership would have to ask this:
"What can businesses do to provide education with better-prepared students?"
Until we take that question seriously, the notion of partnerships between education and the business world will always be too-attuned to meeting the needs of employers and too negligent of the needs of learners.