Portions

I’m just returning from Paris after attending the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) annual International Conference. It was a good event that once again reinforced just how seriously leaders from around the world are taking education these days. Political, corporate, and educational leaders sang a similar song—colleges, communities, and countries must educate well or die on the vine.

On a different—but related—note, whenever I travel to Paris, I’m struck by the size of the portions. They’re tiny. Every coffee cup and wine glass seems like it comes from my 7-year-old’s Barbie set. Of course, the problem is mine. America’s portions are ridiculously big—not to mention incredibly wasteful. It’s hard to deny that, on the whole, we are a country of food excess (see Super-Size Me). And, more often than not, we take it for granted.

Our K-Ph.D. education system is another good example. While other countries scramble to give access to education at least a portion of their population and parents in other parts of the world only dream of giving their children the ability to read and write, some in our country blithely neglect our treasure. In relation to the rest of the world, our education portions are huge. Moreover, we just assume it was always that way. We forget that universal high schools, community colleges, and Pell Grants only came about in the last 100 years. In addition, we have to admit, we’re a little wasteful. We throw curricula, interventions and technology at students without always doing the hard work of assessing impact. We can tell great inspirational stories about the outcomes, but rarely do we develop the culture of evidence necessary to really know if we’re making a difference.

Still, just like the food situation, I’m not unhappy with the US education excess. It’s better to be battling problems of excess, rather than crises of shortage. My Grandparents stories about the Great Depression make that very clear. However, wrestle with our comparative education excess we must. Because anyone with excess has a moral imperative to ask harder questions about what you do with what is provided. We also need to discuss the fact that, just like with food, the unevenness of our education excess is galling. From K-12 school district funding to higher-education endowment distribution, one doesn’t have to look very far to see that those who need it the least, get it the most—money to support their learning.

Hard truth: excess can lead to unevenness, lack of focus, and the devaluing of the goodness at hand. Do we have a portion problem in US education?

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