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Education, Globalization and the Big Business Model

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For years, conservatives and others have been pushing for competition as a solution to the “failure” of our public schools (former Michigan Governor John Engler was a leader in this, and now so is George W. Bush). They argue that big business should be the model for the structure of our schools, engendering in schools the following traits: for profit status that will motivate employees and administrators; high stakes, with the potential for going out of business as a motivator; incentives packages (along with all the other trendy ideas from business consultants) for motivating employees; efficient use of funds that all successful businesses must have; and the infallible oversight of the stockholder keeping schools in line.

These politicians and education critics argue that public schools operate with impunity, without consequences for their failures. They ask, “what mechanism is in place to make teachers want to teach well, to motivate them to strive hard to offer premium education to our kids? If they don’t fear losing their jobs and going bankrupt, won’t they produce a bad product?” So we hear that schools are failing, that teachers are lazy and incompetent, that bad teachers cannot be fired, that teachers’ unions are bilking the public, and a litany of other complaints about the system.

As a six-year public school teacher, I agree. We need to operate like big business.

Let’s look at the automotive industry for some great examples of what schools could do. Clearly, the first thing we need to do is to lay off thousands of employees and cut our overhead. In fact, let’s lay off all of the teachers and teach them a lesson. Now, as Ford, GM and Daimler Chrysler have done, we will need to look outside of our country for cheap labor to fill the void created by the layoffs. I suggest that we send our children to Mexico to be educated. I’m sure there are hundreds of thousands of Mexicans who would jump at the chance to “educate” some Americans.

Educating our children in Mexico will solve a lot of problems and do away with a lot of excessive waste. We could avoid the problems linked with long-term employees (organized unions, health insurance and benefits, job security) by just showing up with pick up trucks at areas around Mexico City where each day we will select a new group of Mexicans to teach our children. Parents will save a bundle (outside of the initial travel fees) on the costs of raising a kid since food and clothes are cheaper in Mexico—just don’t drink the water, kids. Not only that, but these kids will be learning another language. Say some of them become autoworkers when they get older. If they get laid off by Ford, then they can always go to Mexico and get their jobs back (for less pay, of course) without fear of culture clash and language problems. Just think about how much our kids will enjoy the abundance of firecrackers, Spanish fly and pinatas. And we won’t have to worry so much about school violence anymore, as there are not nearly as many guns in Mexico as there are in the US.

Just because our new, big business schools will be educating our kids in Mexico does not mean that these won’t be American schools. We can have the Mexicans brand “Made in America” on each of the children so as to make it clear who they are. This will make reintegrating our children back into our country once they are educated much easier.

The problem of the laid off teachers and what they will mean to our economy remains. Remember, those who can do, and those who can’t teach. Perhaps these teachers could be deported. Or maybe we could send them to America’s number one employer—Walmart. They could work in the low-level jobs vacated by students: burger flipper, grocery bagger, paperboy, lemonade stand clerk and whatnot. When is the last time you had a grocery bagger quote Shakespeare or discuss the outcome of the Hundred Years’ War?

To prevent a collapse in the video game industry, we could send Halliburton, Bechtel Group Inc., Fluor Corp., Halliburton, Louis Berger Group Inc., Parsons Corp. and Washington Group International Inc. to Mexico to build up the infrastructure to support video game consoles and internet gaming in every student dwelling. Most assuredly, these companies would make sure that taxpayers get their money’s worth.

We should also look to Enron, Adelphia and Worldcom as worthy models. A school that is having difficulties in producing an educated product can always cook the books to make it seem like kids are learning (and if they are stuck in Mexico, it will be difficult to verify this anyway). In fact, such a school could overstate results by inflating student successes and hiding student failures and dropouts (as Bush’s supposedly turned around Texas schools have been doing). These schools could take money intended for school materials and use it for off-the-book loans to administrators. How about secretly shipping the students to China, which will educate the children for half of what the Mexicans will charge? The savings could be issued to administrators in the form of bonuses that they clearly would deserve for having done such a cost-efficient job with their schools. The possibilities for corporate loopholes and stock market manipulations are endless.

Another facet of this big business model could be in the educational materials industry. As a boon to the publishing industry, we could allow them to charge outrageous prices for textbooks; the authors of which would never see a dime of the profits—oh wait, they already do this one, but we can surely carry on the process.

If you are convinced that these are the schools that you want in the future, then support initiatives for for-profit schools (such as those of the Edison Project), charter schools, vouchers, public funding for private schools and the collapse of the socialist structure that is public education.

Note: I intend no offense to Mexico and Mexicans. I only use them as an example–many other countries would have served a similar purpose in the piece. My intent is to illustrate the flaws in the corporate model–in so doing, I think attention is also called to the plight of the Mexican worker (click here for more information).

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  • Alison Philippe

    It is not just K12 education that is affected by this trend to turn education into a business by governments. It permeates through to vocational education and training (VET) in such countries as Australia, UK, and Europe.

    I enjoyed your article very much. In Australia business determines and writes training packages, via skills councils for their various industries. These training packages set the standard for what has to be delivered by trainers (paraprofessionals) and teachers (professionals).

    A recent survey of employers in Australia revealed that they were still not satisfied with the VET system. According to the survey VET institutions are still not teaching enough practical skills.

    It seems to escape them that there is theory (and knowledge) embedded in skills and it is the understanding of the theory and knowledge that allows learners or employees to adapt and transfer the skills learnt in one industry to new contexts and different industries.

    There seems to be a general narrowing and dumbing down of vocational education and training which may, in the long run, prove detrimental to the individual, business, and the economy.

    This idea that unregulated capitalism (in reality corporatism) is the solution to all things has been proved incorrect so many times that it is annoying that the myth still survives.