34/100: Students As Consumers

Paul Krugman makes a point in his NY Times op-ed piece - The Patients are not Consumers. Criticizing the Republican stance on Health care, where they resist state provision and starting to claw back in Medicare in the name of 'consumer choice', Krugman asserts:

Medical care, after all, is an area in which crucial decisions — life and death decisions — must be made. Yet making such decisions intelligently requires a vast amount of specialized knowledge. Furthermore, those decisions often must be made under conditions in which the patient is incapacitated, under severe stress, or needs action immediately, with no time for discussion, let alone comparison shopping.

It is possible to extend the argument to education and examine whether the new mantra of 'students as consumers' hold true. Education, after all, is a complex decision - and shapes the students lives. A lot of specialized knowledge, and in the case of education, an active participation, is needed from the students' side to make it meaningful. And, that is the final point - students should be viewed as much as a 'producer' as 'consumer' of education, because education is not the thing that the teacher delivers, but the thing that students make of it.

Indeed, students as consumers is at the heart of the argument for private provision of education. But I shall say that this is a false argument. It is possible to see the student as a 'citizen', a participant, someone who must be actively engaged in the process of education and whose education will impact the wider society, and provide education for a profit. In fact, the reductionist arguments of students as consumers and consequent efforts like League Tables (and I must cite Malcolm
Gladwell's excellent 'The Order of Things' here) are completely off the mark.

Krugman says that reducing patients to just 'consumers' and doctors as 'providers' say something about the society's values; the same indeed can be said about the 'student as consumer' debate.


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