I posted this first as a reply to the article Lifelong Learning and the American Myth of the Self Made Man (here) but I thought it is interesting for our topic as well, that’s why I am reposting it here in a slightly modified version.
When I read the descriptions of ‘self improvement’ and ‘shifting the responsibility to the individual’ concerning the myth of the self-made man in the US, some bells rang and I thought it might be worth to look at the parallels between the two concepts of lifelong learning and performance measurement (I will follow the lines of the typically sceptic and pessimistic European take on these things that the author has worked out so well in different blogposts for example here).
With the term of self-improvement the author nailed the normative core of both – LLL and PM. In both these concepts the self becomes something that is to be optimized, be it through education, classes taken, certificates collected, money invested, or be it according to indicators of efficiency, quality and output from one’s employer. In both cases it is a highly individualized concept: the focus of attention is not the organizational or national level, but the person. And neither performance nor knowledge, competences and formal degrees are transferrable, they are tightly coupled to individuals.
What is connected to that is the dimension of time – reading the line of ‘lifelong learning’ makes me wonder if the lifelong-part of it is a threat or a promise. Lifelong leaves no doubt that the self – in working life, in the education system and even more and more in the private sphere – is never good enough and is something that requires constant activity and work. Self-development becomes a never-ending and unsolvable task – it is not enough anymore to do your schooling and then acquire a degree to get a job that you will keep until retirement (as it has been and in some jobs in Germany still is) but you are incessantly demanded to increase and boost your abilities and competences – update your computer skills, take a class for improving your soft skills or learn a language. Here, LLL and PM form an alliance, as the measurement tools formalize and objectify your individual efforts of self-development. With the numbers, ratings and evaluations from PM ‘development’ suddenly materializes.
The experiences of the teachers from the US form a vivid example: Unlike teachers from Germany who do practical examinations in only one period of their career (the beginning) the experience of being evaluated, the demand to ‘prove yourself’ and to ‘perform’ is for the US teachers expanded – to a lifelong period of time.