Globalization in the Classroom: A Government-Sponsored Public School Program Preaches Free-Trade Gospel

By Mines, Luke | The Nation, June 1, 1998 | Go to article overview

Globalization in the Classroom: A Government-Sponsored Public School Program Preaches Free-Trade Gospel


Mines, Luke, The Nation


In a classroom at Chicago Vocational high school, an educational video begins to roll. In scenes from the big-budget Hollywood thrillers Clear and Present Danger and Broken Arrow, armored vehicles career through explosions and over rough terrain. As a generic rock soundtrack blares, a middle-aged businessman appears on the screen: "My name is Toni O'Gara and my company is the O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt Armoring Company." He explains that his company manufactures the armored HMMWV (humvee) for the armed forces and that he is looking to increase sales of military wares in the developing world, especially Southeast Asia. "Join us," he says, "in the `Team America' strategy to sell our products in the Big Emerging Markets."

Why are Chicago teenagers being encouraged to help craft a plan to market military equipment to developing countries? To teach them that globalization and free trade are fun and nothing to fear. The video is part of the Virtual Trade Mission--a corporate-financed and Clinton Administration--backed plan to introduce high school students to the wonders of the global economy and the potential of "Big Emerging Markets" (Mexico, Indonesia, China and others) to absorb US. exports. The project trams teachers to use its curriculum, conducts in-class seminars with corporate representatives and runs a Web site. After a successful pilot program at several schools in the 1996 97 school year, the V.T.M. is expanding and may reach 50,000 students in ten states during this school year, by which time the total amount spent on it by various sponsors will approach $2 million, mostly for in-kind services such as video production and airline travel. The Commerce Department has also assisted in the preparation of materials. Commerce Secretary William Daley gave the program a resounding vote of confidence and framed the possible future extent of its reach in a recent speech at Harvard: "We must resolve to build a domestic consensus for open trade," he said. "The younger we start to make the case, the better... We hope [the V.T.M.] expands to every state, and we reach every child in America."

The V.T.M. videos are slickly produced in MTV style, with quick cuts, hypnotizing graphics and throbbing soundtracks. The viewpoints of corporate sponsors--such as MCI, Boeing, Hughes and U.P.S.--dominate the videos' content. On a tape produced by Boeing, enthusiastic teenagers with Colgate smiles boldly tell students, "Trade helps people all over the world understand each other better... Trade helps people in all countries improve their standards of living." The presentation offers no support for these assertions, except for vague historical references to Marco Polo and the Phoenicians. Negative consequences of globalization are not mentioned. Some videos for the V.T.M. program are produced by the investment-hungry governments of Singapore, Indonesia and other developing nations. They, of course, offer no critical examination of life in these countries or the impact of trade and investment. A golden-throated narrator tells students, "Free-trade synergistically enhances the competitiveness of Singapore and its trading partners, including America." He adds, "Singapore's legal system has an enviable reputation for treating all parties fairly." He says nothing about the American youth who was caned for vandalizing a car or the people who were executed for drug possession.

Under the VT. M. study plan, after students have watched the videos and listened to guest lectures from corporate officials and diplomats they are ready to move on to exercises in the Export Challenge workbook.. The eighty-two-page background, produced mostly by the Commerce Department, proclaims: "Through policies that clear the tracks for the private sector, American business can reap the rewards of expanded trade--they can truly be `Winning with Exports.'" Profiles of developing nations focus solely on their ability to purchase U.S. exports, paying no attention to political, social, cultural or environmental consequences of development. …

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