From 3 R's to 3 C's: Corporate Curriculum and Culture in Public Schools

By Mahiri, Jabari | Social Justice, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

From 3 R's to 3 C's: Corporate Curriculum and Culture in Public Schools


Mahiri, Jabari, Social Justice


THE WAR ON PUBLIC EDUCATION IN THE UNITED STATES IS ONE FRONT OF A LARGER war for world domination. The objectives and issues that form the battle lines domestically are intricately linked, and must be understood as local expressions of the logic (or illogic) of a U.S. quest for global empire. A key objective for public education that increasingly serves poor, working-class, and ethnically diverse students is the institution of highly scripted curriculums as the foundation for all teaching and learning. Scripted curriculums are designed by textbook corporations and are primarily aimed at preparing students for standardized tests. Rice (2004) notes that their formulas for success seem to treat all learners alike, while also having the effect of deskilling teachers who become "simple deliverers of content." These textbook corporations play collateral roles on the home front to the multinational corporations that wage ideological and economic warfare abroad. The consistent motive is to maximize profits.

A potent aspect of this quest is the current extent of collusion between corporations, banks, and governments, which Perkins (2004) calls the corporatocracy. He confessed his role for several decades as an "economic hit man" in duping leaders of developing countries to support U.S. commercial and political interests, in part by entrapping them in a web of debt to ensure their loyalty. Korten (2001) terms this process "predatory financing." To be completely successful, however, empires also require pacification and acceptance of their objectives at home. I argue that textbook corporations that promote scripted curriculums linked to standardized tests ultimately contribute to this process. However, teachers, students, parents, and community members are entrenched and fighting this form of corporate takeover and control of public schools. This article chronicles the struggle of one such group in a public school district in Northern California.

A Fight to Read Books

From January to June of 2005, I conducted research on an exemplary teaching practice taking place at El Cerrito High School in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. This district includes a number of municipalities, edge cities (Garreau, 1992), in Northern California with one or more high schools. I used the actual names of principal places and players in this article because they have already been identified in published newspaper articles, public documents, and television broadcasts of school board meetings.

Joan Cone, who has taught high school English for 40 years, was the focal teacher in this site, one of several around the country in which I was researching exemplary teaching. She has been an exceptionally effective and reflective English teacher, and has contributed to the profession by publishing articles on different aspects of her practice in a variety of educational journals, including the Harvard Educational Review. She is well known in the field for her original work on de-tracking, block scheduling, and the successful teaching of reading, writing, and literature to diverse students. These loci are linked to her goals of providing equitable, challenging, and culturally responsive learning experiences and resources to attain high achievement for all students. Late in her career, she returned to graduate school and completed a Ph.D. in education at the University of California, Berkeley.

Shortly after beginning my observations in Dr. Cone's ninth grade literature class, talk began to circulate around the district about the school board's decision on February 9, 2005, to adopt a Prentice Hall-designed literature curriculum for high school English classes in grades nine to eleven. This was a key event that framed this struggle. Other key events were the e-mail correspondence of February 4, which analyzed the Prentice Hall curriculum, a February 5 letter to the school board, which requested that the curriculum not be adopted, meetings on April 5, 12, and 24 to organize resistance to the curriculum's adoption, a memo dated April 28 from district administrators that set guidelines for using the Prentice Hall curriculum, the May 18 board meeting, and a May 25 e-mail to the dean of U. …

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