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The aim of management education: reflections on Mintzberg's managers not MBAs

Chia, R. (2005) The aim of management education: reflections on Mintzberg's managers not MBAs. [Review]

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Abstract

If I had my way, every management academic involved in teaching MBAs should be required to read Alfred North Whitehead's The Aims of Education and especially the chapter on 'Universities and their Function'. Only then will they begin to truly understand the central point that Mintzberg is making in his controversial and provocative book. Both Whitehead and Mintzberg speak out forcefully against the passive ingestion of 'inert ideas' that passes for management education. Writing nearly 70 years ago, Whitehead noted a worrying trend towards 'mental dryrot' in institutions of higher learning, a trend well criticized in Allan Bloom's (1987) The Closing of the American Mind. 'Education with inert ideas is not only useless: it is above all things, harmful - Corruptio optimi, pessima' (Whitehead 1932: 2). It produces 'minds in a groove' (Whitehead 1926[1985]: 245). Both Mintzberg and Whitehead argue against the 'silo-type' disciplinary mentality which characterizes the typical MBA curriculum. To be mentally caught in a groove, says Whitehead, is to live in contemplation of a given set of abstractions that are inevitably privileged and mistaken for reality itself. A 'Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness' (Whitehead 1926[1985]: 64) ensues and this manifests itself in business schools that confuse neat business specialisms for the integrative practice that is management.