I've been looking forward to reading Liz Morrish and Helen Sauntson's new book as Liz and I have been 'talking' for some time via email.
The first thing that struck me was their use of critical metaphor analysis.
This framework suggests we use metaphor to help us understand the world around us.
However, the choice of metaphor creates both opportunities for enhanced understanding along with risks that we narrow our thinking to those parameters fitting into the metaphor we have chosen.
Metaphors bring with them particular values and the way we feel when we think about the metaphor becomes associated with the particular thing we have coupled to it.
Under neoliberalism the metaphor of "consumer" is so often ascribed to the role of student that most are now unable to separate the actual role from the values that accompany the metaphor.
When it first developed in the early 20th century in America, the role of consumer was seen as passive: the consumer received commodities and consumed them (the latest washing machine; the latest fridge).
In many ways, consumers were a captive audience and what was being sold became essential to their definition of success.
Whilst in more recent times with the development of IT, the role of consumer has become one of more active participation in a networked community, the fundamental role of passively accepting consumer goods still defines the good consumer.
As consumers of education, students are expected to passively consume the knowledge "sold" to them (knowledge defined by the relevant learning outcomes of each unit of study).
Nowhere in the metaphor of consumption is there opportunity for students to purchase knowledge that is not approved for them to "own", or to construct new knowledge.
Our metaphor of consumption shapes the way we deliver to students, and shapes the way students expect to behave in purchasing that knowledge.
In business, the ideal consumer is one who is happy with the purchase made.
Consumer satisfaction is the highest accolade; something that will ensure the consumer returns to purchase from the organisation again. In education, similarly, we are driven by student satisfaction surveys.
The measure of success in "selling" knowledge is the extent to which students are happy with their purchase. This metaphor makes it impossible to evaluate teaching and learning on the basis of student growth.
The consumer metaphor positions universities in competition with each other.
Competition means that increasing amounts of money is spent on marketing; finding ways to persuade students to study here rather than somewhere else.
Marketing budgets in most universities have increased many times over the past few years to match the assumptions underpinning this consumer metaphor. Consumers generally purchase a product because they see a benefit to themselves or their family from that purchase.
Marketing thus focuses on the benefits that purchasing a qualification offers. In line with this metaphor, government increasingly focus on a user-pays model for higher education funding.
Given the consumer metaphor positions the beneficiary of a qualification as the individual who has purchased it, then it is not unreasonable to expect the individual to pay for that qualification.
The consumer metaphor makes it difficult to argue that education benefits more than the individual; that there are benefits to society in having a highly educated citizenry capable of critical thinking and informed decision-making.
Rather, as consumers, we are positioned as passive, only interested in our own benefits and we define our success based on materialistic values.