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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

The McDonaldization of Advancement

There's more and more talk these days about the fact that learning is personal and that it is the responsibility of schools to shift agency back to the learner; to let our students design the what, how, and when of their learning story.

What is happening is more than a passing fad. It is a paradigmatic shift in our understanding of what school is for. The narrative, in other words, is changing. The McDonaldization of education in which schools, irrespective of their location, were once mass producers of "good" citizens, is now in steep decline. Our students are themselves realizing that they no longer need to be consumers of our fast-food learning programmes, credit banks and scoring machines, but that their education is a personal quest in which they are always the hero of their own adventure.

A photo of a tall sign for McDonalds
Have we witnessed the McDonalization of Advancement in schools?

So what has this to do with our role as Advancement professionals?

In his book, The McDonaldization of Society (1993), sociologist George Ritzer, who was the first to coin this phrase, explains that efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control were the four primary features of this old world order. In other words, everything was rooted in getting from A to B in the shortest time possible, focused on the objective reality of cash rather than taste, highly repetitive, routine-based, and standardized as opposed to contextualised.

And I'm left wondering whether, as our schools got caught up in this worldwide phenomenon, we inadvertently sold out to the McDonaldization of what we do.

My fear is that we've spent more time on reaching goals as quickly as possible, than on designing the user experience of our Advancement systems and processes.

My fear is that we have too easily assumed that it was sufficient to apply universal Advancement formulae, rather than think about what was culturally relevant and necessary in our own school.

My fear is that we have fed our communities with information-rich slogans and cliches, that leave them feeling bloated and more than a little lost, rather than taking the time to create truly authentic communications that reflect the story of our school.

In the end, however, my fear is also an expression of hope. Because, if it is the case that our schools are changing, then I'm convinced that we will too.

And just as we are seeing schools shift agency back to the learner, so our future is likely one in which we will have the chance to start letting our families, students, donors, alumni design the what, how, and when of their own journey through our schools.


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