Our Crooked Broker Society

Dave Pollard shows how dysfunctional relationships in a “crooked broker society” create systems that are not fit for meaningful human life.

In each industry, an Exploiter oppresses a Desperate Supplier. This unbalanced relationship is reinforced by a Procurer who in turn gouges an Addicted Buyer. Dave’s graphic shows several examples:


Image: Dave Pollard

So what about public education?

Are teachers the desperate suppliers, exploited by the school system which has a virtual monopoly on education jobs?

Are publishers, testing companies and universities the procurers who gouge the addicted parents, looking for any advantage in a shrinking middle class?

To show how vested interests control public education and stifle reform, Roger Shank describes the roles of these groups, in Rich Folks Misunderstand Educational Reform:

1. Teachers – Teachers would have to teach differently and no one really wants to change what they do on a day to day basis. True, teachers’ lives have been made so miserable by previous politicians’ attempts at reform that they are more open to change than ever, but still, they really don’t want to have to go to school to learn new methodologies.

2. Publishers – Big corporations have a real stake in education staying the way it has been. They don’t want to throw out all their textbooks and start over. They would spend a lot of money making sure this doesn’t happen.

3. Testing companies – Politicians have helped create an enormous industry that prepares and grades tests. They won’t give up their business without a fight. No real reform will take place if teachers are still teaching to the test and if we continue to teach stuff that is easy to test rather than giving kids open ended issues to think about and real workplace skills.

4. Universities – Any real school reform means changing how universities conduct admissions and convincing them to teach in college the subjects they have foisted upon the high schools (like algebra). This will never happen since it would also mean that colleges would need to interview students instead of relying upon grades and test scores for admission.

5. Parents – Parents tend to think school is a competition and they reinforce all the testing and grading in the hopes that their kid will win. In addition they believe that whatever they learned in school is what should be taught despite the fact that they have since forgotten all that they learned in school.

I think that local control of public education could fragment this system and weaken the position of the middlemen so that the Exploiters and Procurers would lose their centralized power and influence. “Small pieces, loosely joined” may be the right strategy for educational reform.

6 Responses to “Our Crooked Broker Society”

  1. Marco Polo

    Erm, in a word, democracy! I.e. those most directly involved and affected have the main say in the decisions and the management. In my more paranoid (or lucid?) moments, I see a race is on between the “zero-sum game” folks and those who see the possibility of abundance for all. I sense the zero-sum game-thinking folks are in the minority, but they are sure as heck creating havoc for the majority just as fast as they can (leaving someone else to clean up the mess, of course).

  2. Harold

    Stephen Downes noted today that, “Unless students are granted freedom and autonomy – which, on this picture, would allow them to employ teachers directly, without the exploiter and procurer intervening – local control would not improve the picture.” That has been my message for quite a while as well. Not until all of our institutions, public and private, are truly democratic will we be a real democracy. We have a long way to go.

  3. Optimus

    I’m presently a Master’s student at Northwestern University and I am presently taking a knowledge management course that has a heavy component of social network analysis.

    Our professor recommended your blog (and a handful of others) to learn more about KM and SNA.

    I work in government in my non-student life, and found this post very compelling.

    Do you think that the rapid information flow of online communities can help to expose the “crooked” brokers while boosting the reputations of those that actually help foster connections and create value for society?

    There are always bad apples to spoil the barrel – instead of completely starting over, do you think it would be wise to find, protect, and market the truly good people in broker roles and then move forward from there?

  4. Harold

    I think that the transparency that hyperlinks and networks enable can help expose the crooked brokers, as we are doing now. However, it will take more than discussion to make changes. Our ability to communicate outside of hierarchies has helped accelerate change, as we see many stories of corruption break on the Net first and later get picked up by the mass media. There is still a need for action, though.

    As for rotten apples, I believe that it’s more often a case of rotten barrels spoiling good apples, as I noted last week

  5. Optimus

    Thank you very much for the response and appreciate your dealing with my pseudonym. I also hope that action springs from the motivation that information *should* bring to this issue.


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