May 13, 2008

When did education turn into an industrial complex?

“Industry” used to be a word that brought to mind a whole array of positive meanings — from hard work, to labor and its unions, to skilled management that could build whole cities towards the skies, get us all from sea to shining sea in just a few hours, clothe us, feed us, raise us out of ignorance, entertain us and cure us if we got sick.

“Industrial” meant strength, durability, and a no-nonsense domination of the physical environment as much as did minerals, electricity, power and steel.

And tagging along with all this mighty American strength was what all parents wanted their kids to be: “industrious,” diligent, having as Wordnet puts it a “persevering determination to perform a task.” You went to school, and you learned to be industrious.

Boy, has education taken a wrong turn.

It struck me as I’ve been reading the recent blogs laying out the “industry” education has become in this country that we can’t look for warm-fuzzy feelings from that word anymore. The business of getting our kids taught has been taken over by a loathsome machine of education politics, power grabs, and slick PR.

You learn about it when you read up on the corporate model fostered by Jack Welch and his kind (e.g., Mary Hoffman's essay) and on the great book— oops, test — publisher McGraw Hill (e.g., at Time Out from Testing, all over the Schools Matter blog including here, or Wikipedia). The corporate interconnectedness of education business groups have been brilliantly traced by Eduwonkette (Feb. 14th) and a couple of times already over at Chancellor’s (May 9th and 12th). And as much as The New Teacher Project spews its ya-da-ya-da on its website, it doesn’t necessarily make that organization better at the job of training teachers than any other group. They just landed the contract, as did the Aussies in the early 2000s (Andrew Wolf). Did I mention the Gates Foundation yet?

Thousands of inner-city kids pass through our classrooms each year, and we can’t reach them. The overcrowding, the unusually stupid demands on our skills and time, the waste of money, talent and resources, and the easy way administrators, politicos and press dismiss our own experienced voices are choices made not by us, but by arrogant industrial carpetbaggers who may never have been teachers at all.
That’s about where we are, folks.

I just heard John Dean interview on Air America this afternoon, who said it will take a run of at least three Democratic presidents to put things right again in this country.

When does the clock start on Joel Klein and on all the enablers that made the likes of him possible?

More importantly: When can we get the “industry” to back out of education?


  1. I'm starting to think that they will fail in some respects and succeed in others.
    I think that they are doomed to failure in the area of privatization for several reasons:
    1. they don't seem to be turning much of a profit-I don't know how well Edison stock is doing now, but I know that is was doing pretty poorly in the past.
    2. They are targeting low income neighborhoods. They will not be successful in such areas, despite their 'claimed' successes because they are not addressing the problems that affect such areas-problems that they have more than contributed to.
    3. They are not very smart. Although 'business savvy', they lack the capacity for creative intuition and critical thinking. They can sell you anything and make it look good-but they can never possess the originality and innovation that it takes to educate and to transform education.
    When the hype clears, and enough time has passed, people will see them for what they are and they will slink back.
    I think they will continue to be very successful in the areas of test publishing, curriculum creation, text book publishing.
    Buying and selling are what they do really well.

  2. A radiantly intelligent comment.

    Some of the recent textbooks are really dismal. I sub a lot these days (LOL) and can't find indexes in some math books, complete conjugation charts in foreign language books, or tables of contents that really help you find something. The standard music textbook out there was plain awful: a hodgepodge of unusable color plates, poems, text styles, and bits of history, this and that. No music teacher I know ever found it useful.

    So if the books don't have that old-time simplicity and directness, and when all the tests in the world don't get kids a viable foothold in the workplace, and when the curriculum becomes meaningless because students are just not processing the Eng. language very well, when do all these business guys get the boot?

    That's a rhetorical question.