People created companies, right? Not vice versa?

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LONDON — I have long been a fan of Alfie Kohn the author and professor. Earlier today he tweeted (yes, that’s a verb now) with a link to an article he wrote in 2003 called “What does it mean to be well educated?”

Like most things he writes I find it sets me to thinking about life and work. At one point he asks refers to:

the dispute between those who see education as a means to creating or sustaining a democratic society and those who believe its primary role is economic, amounting to an “investment” in future workers and, ultimately, corporate profits.

I am interested in the assertion because it raised a fundamental question about why we educate and how we educate. And even bigger ones about life.

I have often thought that education could be more practical… more vocational. I should have been taught how to fill in a tax return at one of the 9 schools I attended. Or maybe how to apply for planning permission or balance my chequebook (who’s got a chequebook these days anyway.) But instead I got a degree in English Literature. What good is that!?

Quite a lot, I have found but I don’t want to stray too far down that path.

What I find interesting is the question of whether school should train us to be good workers or for to be good people. (Kohn makes the point better.)

My question then is:

Are we human here to have a good life? Or are we here to be successful workers?

If you answered Yes and No then you understand what I am trying to say. But unfortunately those answers belie our behaviour, day by day, week by week and hour by hour.


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2 Responses

  1. Kate W

    That’s a big question and I was pondering something similar on the commute from Slough this morning. And it also relates to your previous blog David on ‘Employees pay today ….’.
    I’m hopeful of an evolution in the way we work. Here’s how I see it. Me and my fellow employees work for any organization mostly because it’s interesting and largely because it provides us with the currency to sustain a lifestyle, home and family. And any organization is created from a spark of an idea that becomes profitable. Those profits are soon the bounty of shareholders, who are it turns out not individuals but large, faceless pension funds. Mostly employees are working to deliver wealth to these shareholders.Producing something that makes the world a better or more interesting place to be is in reality of less signicance. So any organization’s leadership priority are these shareholders first and everyone/thing else falls below that. And in prosperous times while we employees suspected we were lower down the food chain, everything was going well so what was there to worry about. People willingly sacrificed personal lives in order to deliver success in the belief that come the flood the organization would at least give them hammer, nails and wood to build an ark.
    But in the past 18 months as the credit crunch overwhelmed us all, it has become clear that the dynamic was far from watertight. The shareholder, embodied by reckless pension fund managers, financial wizards etc earned fat bonuses while employees just managed to service their debts in previous years. But when it all went bad, the financial instutions ‘fess up that not only was all our hard work in vain as the pension funds are empty but they also have no money to lend the organizations who now need it desperately to stay afloat. And so projects are cut and at worst jobs are lost. Employees feel that they been let down on every front; by their employers for whom they worked dilligently and by the pension funds who are supposed to help them sail into a well-earned retirement.

    And employees also realise that they don’t even have a paddle in the terms of current skills within this knowledge economy. They’ve been busy working hard and not recently had an opportunity to develop new skills (as is mentioned in the France Telecom case).
    Clearly something needs to change. People aren’t going to buy into this so enthusiastically going forward.
    Most people under 40 are looking at working well into their old age (or what we consider as old age now!). It makes sense for it to become less about working your way up an organization, acquiring influence and wealth but more about developing a network (social media is an enabler here), having flexible ways of working (4 day week, shift patterns, longer days, virtual teams), reward systems (additional holiday, loan schemes for study, employee ownership, vouchers), more project work rather than permanent role as it doesn’t hold much value anymore. I’m sure there are better ideas but it’s about less dependency on employers. And employees, if they are still that, will probably want to move among various businesses in order to gain knowledge and so wealth.
    And to get started we need an education system that inspires young adults to be more than just academic but self-sufficient too. Oh and creative – more music, art and sport would surely enable us all to define ourselves primarily by more than our jobs.
    It’s a thought … could be a revolution.

  2. David Ferrabee

    For a bit more than a month we have had a anonymous contributor to this blog. He/she has been writing under a pseudonym. In the past few weeks I have started removing those posts as they have got more gratuitous and hostile.
    I am happy to have anything posted here as long as the writer will stand behind it. Real names, real emails.

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