Selling Education (Part 1)

As I may have mentioned, I have spent much of the last 8 months immersed in marketing courses. There’s a knack to marketing, but it’s not rocket science… and I would know.(1) It makes perfect sense. Figure out what you have that’s worth selling, to whom, and how to find and contact those people that will go, “ooh! ooh! That’s exactly what I’m looking for! I’m so glad you found me!” and shower you with money and compliments. (That’s called “social proof”, BTW.)

At any rate, one day I was sitting with my Book of Many Questions spread in front of me, and it said, “Clear benefits that you offer: ” And I froze, like a deer caught in headlights. Benefits. Of education that doesn’t come with a degree that allows you to participate in the ongoing education process… what is the intrinsic benefit of education? What are the instrumental benefits? What is education for, anyway? (1b)

Fortunately (I guess), I have already spent several years considering that set of questions. So I had a starting point, at least. (2)

Let me start at the top of my one-page mindmap that resulted from “Thinking about Education: In which I attempt to answer the question, why should anybody pay me to teach them something in the first place?”, (3) on which is written “Heuristics” and “Hermeneutics”. I invoke the sociological concept of “ideology” as a failure to recognize that a worldview is a temporary model, an interpretation (if you will) of the universe (the text). It includes a portion that compares Fractals, Emergence, and Entropy to the transmission and memory of stories, and George Kelly’s Personal Construct Theory. Human needs appear on a spectrum from “staying alive” to “being whole”, there is a comparison of consciousness and reactivity… Myth. Spiritual Materialism. Communities of practice. Problems of translation. “Physicists speak math.” Neil Postman’s point that as teachers we must necessarily sacrifice comprehensiveness for coherence… and it ends with the following statement:

The purpose of education is to communicate (as clearly as we can) the stories and models that (in our experience) provide effective means of predicting and influencing the patterns of the universe (1) of which we are a part, (2) which we can affect, and (3) to which we are subject.

And then I sat back, and thought, “Well, then, what does it mean that we’ve made it a private good?” (4) and then I went to Toronto for a week and wrote poems instead of coming up with an answer.

To be continued…


1. That joke is one of the fringe benefits of a physics education.
1b. I also don’t know who my target market is. Really, what I’ve learned is that I don’t think like a marketer. Or possibly that marketing is harder than rocket science. Or maybe that I’m better at rocket science than I am at marketing.
2. Honestly? This would be easier if I knew less. Then I’d be able to take a side, dig my heels in, and puff smoke at anyone who took a contrary position.
3. You are in no way expected to follow and/or believe the free-association that follows.
4. As you can see, I wandered away from the marketing problem and back to the one that I was writing about five years ago, which falls into the “important, but not urgent” category.

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One thought on “Selling Education (Part 1)

  1. The key problem you have, Seonaid, is that you think. You think well, you think hard, and you think differently. You have the breadth of a philosopher, the rigour of a mathematician, and the grounding of a scientist. This is a rare and valuable combination – but not a highly valued one. (Which says much about the priorities of our society.)

    You address problems at a higher level than most employers desire. You’re not particularly qualified to contribute to addressing the question, “How should I design/make/distribute/advertise/sell this stuff?” You’d be better at, “What stuff should I design/make/distribute/advertise/sell?”, but you wouldn’t stand out against those that specialize in this area. You would excel at addressing, “Should I design/make/distribute/advertise/sell stuff at all?” – but that doesn’t tend to be an examination employers want to make.

    Perhaps the latter comes up at strategic retreats of heads of state, CEOs, and other leaders, but at that point the most difficult task is getting an invitation to the party – and at these events, one’s potential contribution to the outcome is among the least weighted factors when deciding who attends.

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