Are Public Schools Pawns in the Capitalistic Game of Corporate Greed?

Coming from a school with a small student population and staff, tightened budgets negatively impacting our school is a reality.  We have no educational assistants in our school, currently have a half time LRT although many of our students have significant needs and we seem to be constantly threatened with the removal of teaching positions.   Because of the number of staff we have, it is tricky for us to even offer the full gamut of core credits on a consistent basis, which is problematic when working with a transient and inconsistent student body.    Seeing the news this week about the provincial government putting the responsibility on school boards to cover half of teacher’s salary increases really made my heart sink.  We already have had a tightened budget so I cringe thinking about what could come of it.

Budget Cuts   – Photo Credit: Humor Blog via Compfight cc

But we are not alone.  Under funding of public education seems to be the norm for schools in both Canada and the United States.  What can a school do when there are budget cuts and they have needs that require more money than is allotted?  When schools are not getting enough public funding, they are forced to look elsewhere.  For many, corporate sponsorship seems to offer a pretty good bargain.  Funding for laptops, classroom materials, big ticket items like a new gym or scoreboard or maybe even staffing can be found through business and corporate sponsors.

We were reminded during last week’s class that corporations and businesses have been involved in school for a long time.  And why wouldn’t they be?They have a vested interest in education — school is helping to shape the minds of young people that will grow up to be potential employees and consumers of their products, so of course corporations want to be able to influence them in any way they can.

There are many that believe that corporate involvement in schools is a good thing.  As stated by Judah Schiller and Christine Arena’s article, How Corporations are Helping To Solve the Education Crisis, “today’s public schools were designed for 19th-century industrialism, not an era of globalization and interconnectivity,” and corporate sponsorship and involvement in education is the solution to the myriad of problems that come from this outdated system.   Citing statistics about poor national results from students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects, and stating that “in the past 10 years, growth in STEM jobs has been three times greater than that of on-STEM jobs,” while “80% of the jobs created in the next decade will require some mastery of technology, math and science,” this article suggests that many “talent-hungry corporations … view the problem as an opportunity.”

There are many examples of how corporate involvement in schools can be helpful. The case study on schools that have embraced Google provides a list of a number of schools that have benefited.   I myself use Google Apps For Education extensively at my school, both with students and with colleagues — I find it to be extremely useful.

Google in Schools   Image Source

The list of companies that invest in education is vast.  Some provide monetary support, while others lend a hand by giving the school technological supports and devices.  This support, however, is not often without strings attached, restricting other companies’ involvement and marketing to students.   Many great examples can be found in this brief article from the Alberta Teacher’s Association.  It talks about the M&M’s primary math textbook, Colgate’s classroom kits and storybooks, and the McDonald’s Go Active Fitness Challenge (Ironic, no?), while pointing out more resources on the subject, like the documentary Corporations in Classrooms  that suggests that corporate marketing in this way is “designed to create brand-name consumers instead of learners [and that] school districts should fight to keep classrooms free from marketing.

Not all companies are there to advertise, however.  There are other ways to make a buck by playing the education game.   Pearson, for example, has entrenched itself firmly in the education market and its’ involvement in and monetary gains from standardized testing is astounding.  In my opinion, this is an example of a company being allowed to have too much impact on how we do business as schools.

Image Source

I very much understand where the need for corporate sponsorship comes from.  I feel the squeeze of tightened budgets and can understand the appeal of getting money or other forms of support from companies to support school programming.  However, I am  unable to dissociate from the feeling that companies are not doing this for the greater good or the benefit of students.  Even if they are not looking to directly advertise to students, they stand to gain from being involved in education.  Yes, companies may hope to improve education for students, but in the end they exist as part of our capitalist system and are in it for the money.

This being said, I understand the need.   The reality is that we do not receive enough public funding.  Can schools benefit from corporate involvement?  Yes.  Is the education business being looked at as a source of vast potential income by corporations?  Of course.

Does the benefit outweigh the disadvantages of being a pawn in the game of corporate greed?  I hate to say it, but maybe sometimes it does.

Once again, I advocate for balance — if the benefits are there and it is not detrimental to student welfare then perhaps it is something we need to accept.

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3 thoughts on “Are Public Schools Pawns in the Capitalistic Game of Corporate Greed?

  1. I have had a hard time finding my balance on this topic. When I look at the standardized testing being done from prek-grade 12 I cringe… but yet I understand having some form of assessment that allows us to look at results to help direct decision making. I think there needs to be a balance during those decisions and using a variety of assessment methods and consultation before a true picture can be created on student learning and progress. This process takes a lot more effort than just putting a piece of paper through a scanner and spitting out “results”, so unfortunately its hard to see us moving away from the “ease” of standardized tests anytime soon.

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  2. You’re absolutely right. Balance is truly difficult to find when discussing common public good, like schools. How much involvement is too much? How much is negligible? Do we aim for one extreme or another? I’m sure we will not see the end of questions like these are budgets become tighter and tighter.

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