One cannot attempt to stay abreast of current issues without colliding with the most recent field report from a public park or city square.Â The Occupy movement has become a significant part of the American discourse.Â Its constituents proffer a barrage of valid observations on a breadth of inequities in American society, but a cogent set of grievances or demands have yet to be articulated.Â
Douglas Rushkoff of CNNÂ tries to assuage a bit of the angst many experience with regard to a lack of consensus within the movement by explaining, â€śWe are witnessing Americaâ€™s first true Internet-era movement, which doesnâ€™t take its cue from a charismatic leader, express itself in bumper-sticker length goals, and understand itself as having a particular endpointâ€¦This is not a movement with a traditional narrative arc.Â As a product of the decentralized networked-era culture, it is less about victory than sustainability.Â It is not about one-pointedness, but inclusion and groping toward consensus.Â It is not a book; it is like the internet.â€ťÂ Though there might not be a central message, a few recurring themes seem consistent with regard to education.
Many of those populating our public parks are college-educated young adults beleaguered by student loans and unable to secure employment that can make timely repayment of those debts a reality.Â As Washington Post guest blogger Christopher GuizloÂ stated, â€śIf I pay out my loans over a 20-year period with an average interest rate of 7.5 percent, my monthly payments will be almost $200.Â That will likely affect what job I take and where I live, not to mention beginning the next chapter of my life.Â Like most college graduates, I want o establish my adult life.Â I want to buy a house, get married and start a family.Â But I donâ€™t know if that is going to happen as soon as I wantedâ€¦This is not the future that college graduates were promisedâ€¦Maybe itâ€™s time to Occupy Higher Education.â€ťÂ Â Charles C. W. CookeÂ terms this the â€ścollege = good life fallacyâ€ť and addresses the embedded role of education within the cultural meta-narrative by explaining, â€śIn the West, we are hard at work establishing a culture that fetishizes education, and instills the belief that collegeâ€”regardless of its content or applicationâ€”will, and should, inexorably lead to a better job, or a better life, or even a better America.Â Worse, that one has a right to these things.Â In doing so, we have created a Potemkin aristocracy, one based upon the erroneous and tragic conceit that having letters after oneâ€™s name intrinsically confers excellence.Â We are happily encouraging our children to join its ranks, regardless of whether there is any evidence that to do so will be in their best interest.â€ť
Â My entire person bristles at Cookeâ€™s characterization.Â As a teacher and advocate in global development, I believe that education is the answer.Â I want to shout him down and occupy his cubicle, but there is a nagging, painful truth in his words that has haunted me.Â Although I am sympathetic to the angst of students and educators within the splinter Occupy Education movement, there is something in the tone that leaves a subtle alkaline taste in my mouth.Â As I have examined both the movement and myself, what seems to propagate my uneasiness is an undercurrent of entitlement.Â Perhaps most unsettling for one like myself, who has designed and implemented entire systems to promote college readiness and heralded the merits of university education, is the fear that I have unwittingly promoted a sort of collegiate panacea that fosters this sentiment.Â A college education is a remarkably valuable resource, but by installing this goal as the default setting for all students, we may have set them up for what one of my favorite bands, Switchfoot, calls â€śThe Beautiful Letdown.â€ťÂ We have employed countless programs to motivate students to pursue higher education (and rightfully so).Â The problem, however, is that we implemented these innovative programs without adjusting the system as a whole.Â Our education system, much like our economy, is a free market, competition-based system.Â Instead of competing for profit and market share, students are encouraged to compete for class rank, and college admissions.Â Within a competition-based system, however, often the motivational strategies degrade into incentives.Â We incentivize academic performance with the promise of the good life after acquiring a college degree.Â Unfortunately, a growing number of those purchasing our bonded dreams are met with the sobering reality that we cannot ultimately deliver.Â We have oversold the static link between college and income and undersold our audience.Â We have resorted to the basest extrinsic incentive, money.Â We have demeaned our students by assuming that they need this carrot dangling in front of them in order to jump through our hoops.Â The end goal, a college education, is a noble ideal, but we have sold out in our methods to motivate students to get there.Â We have earned a great deal of the angst being shouted through megaphones.Â Not only does our incentivised system promote unrealistic expectations, it is based on a flawed paradigm.Â Dan Pink, in his book Drive has revived the work of Edward Deci, Carnegie Mellon University, â€śWhen money is used as an external reward for some activity, the subjects lose intrinsic interest in the activity.â€ťÂ Rewards are like a sugar rush for our students.Â They may serve to keep them going for a short period, but as Pink states, â€śThe effect wears offâ€”and, worse, can reduce a personâ€™s longer-term motivation to continue the project.â€ť
Â What then is an appropriate response to this extrinsic, competition-based, incentivized system?Â I am not entirely sure, but when considering the sense of entitlement I perceive on campuses across the country, my mind is almost reflexively drawn to the reciprocal sentiment I have observed in communities across the developing world.Â One young man in the village of Thoera, Mozambique particularly comes to mind.Â I was asked to speak at a meeting of the village elders regarding the education of their young people.Â This bold young man snuck into the back of the meeting and sat quietly while I championed the extrinsic rewards of educationâ€”economic opportunities, access to greater income, blahâ€¦blahâ€¦blah.Â The elders seemed content to consider these accoutrements to their lifestyle, but this young man in the back of the room, stood with incredible courage, breaking the established tribal order, and with tears in his eyes, called me out.Â He basically said, â€śYeah, we get it.Â Weâ€™re not stupid.Â We understand that education can get us more stuff.Â Whatâ€™s more, we know that it is the only hope we have to lift our community out of the poverty we have known for generations.Â I donâ€™t need to be puppeted with rewards.Â I already desire an education more than you know for the sake of my people.Â I just cannot get one.Â What can you do about that?â€ťÂ The truth of his words stabbed me.Â I was both humbled and arrested by the tragedy of his situation and his incredible desire for education.Â This passion was a stark contrast to the apathy I experienced amongst students in the states.Â What was the difference?Â Access certainly played a part, but there was something deeper.
As my travels broadened, this young manâ€™s passion proved representative of a consistent core motivation within developing communities.Â The students cared and overcame incredible obstacles in pursuit of education, not because someone had crafted the most enticing incentive, but because their success was integrally tied to the wellness of their community.Â They desired an education because their people needed them.Â I believe this connection of education and community is the essential missing element in our current system.Â Our competitive system breeds isolation rather than authentic connection.Â As Deci stated, â€śOne who is interested in developing and enhancing intrinsic motivation in children, employees, students, etc, should not concentrate on external-control systems such as monetary rewards.â€ťÂ If we seek to increase student motivation or even occupy education, then we need to relinquish our sticks and carrots that are flooding universities with entitled young adults, and seek innovative ways to occupy our communities.Â To the degree that students perceive their import in alleviating the struggles of their community and world, they will respond with the elusive inspiration we have sought to conjure with a host of subtly subjugating rewards.Â We will create environments that foster social innovators like my colleague Duvon McGuire of New Life International.Â Duvon grew up amongst those suffering in Ecuador from water-born disease.Â In fact, he contracted Guardia as a 12 year-old, and this brush with death inspired the direction of his subsequent life efforts.Â He eventually graduated from Asbury College and designed and patented one of the most ingenious systems I have seen for the thirsty of in developing communities and catastrophes.Â His simple machine is easily installed and can purify up 55,000 gallons of water a minute using merely a car battery and a handful of table salt.Â Duvonâ€™s incredible innovation was wrought not out of a desire to patent equipment that might garner him the good life.Â His lifeâ€™s mission was connected to the suffering he experienced within his community.Â
Isnâ€™t this the dream sequence for educators?Â How satisfied do you think Duvonâ€™s science teachers feel?Â If the disgruntled are crying for us to Occupy Education, I say, â€śGood luck finding a room.â€ťÂ Our universities are flooded and so is the job market.Â Instead of propagating anemic promises of the good life, we need to create opportunities for students to venture into the margins of their communities locally and globally.Â As students begin to Occupy the suffering within their world, then we garner a generation that achieves innovation and excellence, not merely to attain a particular lifestyle but because their communities need the full weight of their talents.