Sunday, April 17, 2011

Management theory, education theory, and philosophy

I was thinking that this summer I might read some management books, based on the idea that big chunks of classroom management probably have considerable overlap with the most effective HR departments of major corporations.  If management companies can find a way to convince employees that working for (for example) BP is actually a good move, then surely I can convince my students that reading is fun; at least my statement is true.

Before I got the chance, though, I read this article (h/t Making Light) that argues that business management theory is basically a stupid, corrupt sub-set of philosophy.  Now in my college years, I had a philosophy instructor suggest that all knowledge was a sub-set of philosophy, and for all I know, he was right.  But this philosopher-turned-business-consultant-turned-philosopher argues (I think) that the bond between management theory and philosophy are much more tight than a simple "philosophy trumps all" philosophy. 

This intersects with the focus of this blog in several ways.  First, the whole premise of the article is a critique of the education of managers.  Shorter Stewart: We charge too much for MBA's and then we don't teach them anything.  Many graduates of Harvard's MBA program are successful, but this is not because Harvard cranks out great MBA's.  It's because you have to be very intelligent, ambitious, hard-working, and probably financially stable to get into the program.  You have to be all of those things, only a lot more so, to graduate from those programs.  Coincidentally, those skills are also requisites for success in any area, but specifically business management.  So Harvard's MBA program isn't necessarily good at creating good managers, but it may be good at finding good managers.

In education, this question is asked of most advanced coursework: does my Honors English class create good thinker/communicators, or does it just find people who are good at those things and make them work at it?  Is there really a difference?  If there is, is it one that matters after graduation?  If that's all we're good for, then why do we insist on educating everyone?  Why not just find the best?  (NB: Regular readers know that I am firmly dedicated to the principle of high-quality education for ALL students.  I have no interest in being a cherry picker.)

Second, throughout Stewart's criticism, the parallel between business management theory and classroom management holds.  In fact, in many ways it grows stronger and expands to include the whole field of education theory.  Ed theory focuses on how people learn, what they should learn, how other people can get them to learn it, how we know when they have learned it, and what to do with them if they haven't (and if they have).  It's a field of study which, like philosophy and management theory, has at its core a search for tools for quantifying and analyzing human experience.  This leaves me with the resounding question: Should I be studying more philosophy than ed theory?  Stop reading Marzano and start reading Kant?


1 comment:

Raymond said...
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