In his essay entitled “Have It Your Way: Consumerism Invades Education,” noted educator Simon Benlow makes a clear-cut and passionate argument about the nature of learning. He argues, simply, that a consumer is far different from a student, and because of this vast divide between the two roles, education is quickly becoming degraded into a realm of not idea-exchange and personal empowerment, but customer satisfaction, nonchalance, and perhaps even deceit. He argues as much by pointing to an emphasis on “customer service,” which can “lull customers into a sense of complacency” (Benlow 130). He points out even more forcibly that with an emphasis on customer service, the person enrolled in any given course is actually encouraged to be passive in interactions with an institution of learning, when in fact such a person of necessity must be active in order to benefit from the educational process. Knowledge, according to Benlow, depends on discovery and not a prescription, and the best educators are those who “demanded everything contrary to the consumerist economy” (Benlow 131). In other words, treating students like consumers not only does them a disservice, but literally disables their minds for necessities outside the classroom.
While Benlow does seem to have legitimate concerns, it could be argued that his essay does not entirely take into account everything necessary for an educational institution to function properly. The fact is that institutions need money in order to exist, and money both does not come from nowhere and loses value once it is treated as if it does come from nowhere. These schools are required to receive payment from their students, not only to maintain property but to maintain high-quality teachers such as the very author of the essay. If a student does not feel welcome or able to accomplish or benefit from the institution he or she attends, that person will most likely drop-out. When or if that person does drop-out, the institution loses the money that student would have paid, money that allows the institution to at least remain at its current level of production, or in Benlow’s own terms its ability to promote the very values of proactive behavior, accountability, responsiveness and real-world skills necessary for a student-citizen and nation to thrive. Without concerning oneself with the necessary funding required to exist in the first place, educational institutions simply will cease to exist, and then Benlow’s values will also fail to perpetuate society.
Even so, in many ways, Benlow has a serious point. There is a reason those being educated have been called “students,” by-definition. There is a reason those who are students find themselves in an environment where they are encouraged to be responsive. In reality, outside the classroom things are not simply accomplished by sitting around and waiting for people to do what others want. To extend Benlow’s metaphor, if the cook at the fast food restaurant were as passive as the student is encouraged to be, the student would never acquire their order. Students need to be encouraged to take that action seriously. Even from a pure economic standpoint, after finishing education and entering the workforce, someone cannot acquire an entry-level position (let alone advance), without being proactive effectively. This is in full opposition to the sense of entitlement that so many college graduates possess The very concept of customer satisfaction must take into account the future ability of someone to be a customer or consumer in the first place, which also means equipping and accustoming that person to the real-world situation and behaviors necessary. The fact is that if everyone were to be passive, nothing would be accomplished at all, and if students are passive after college, the economy could collapse.
Benlow, Simon. “Have It Your Way: Consumerism Invades Education.” The Composition of Everyday Life, Brief Edition, 4th ed.: A Guide to Writing. Ed. John Mauk, John W. Metz. Boston: Wadsworth, 2013. 130-131.