Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

ETHICS, CURRICULUM, TEACHING, AND LEARNING IN A HOSTILE POLICY ENVIRONMENT: Against the Corporate Takeover of American Schools

Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

ETHICS, CURRICULUM, TEACHING, AND LEARNING IN A HOSTILE POLICY ENVIRONMENT: Against the Corporate Takeover of American Schools

Article excerpt

John K. Norton's concern is multifaceted: He laments that states, and their schools, have fallen prey to a logic of competition, greed, and selfishness. The result is dehumanizing to both teachers and students via the reproduction of corporate culture imposed on schools. He is quoted from 1957.

Nearly 20 years prior to Norton's article, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) circulated a memo making the case that the average American needed to be "sold" on the idea that the United States was the best country in the world and that industry, specifically high wages earned in what one billboard noted was "the United States, Inc.," should be at the center of their initiative to "manufacture consent" (Ewen, 1996, p. 303; Lippmann, 1922; Spring, 2003). NAM's campaign was titled the "American Way" and featured billboards across the country proclaiming, "World's Highest Wages--There's No Way Like the American Way" (Ewen, 1996, p. 323). If there is any doubt about the role corporations play in influencing school culture, one need only be reminded of NAM's role in ridding schools of Harold Rugg's critical and influential social studies textbook series. Tarring it "un-American" and "subversive," NAM hired Ralph West Robey, a Columbia banking professor, and mounted a campaign to rid U.S. history of critique and argued that America's exceptionalism should be central to teaching social studies (Evans, 2007). While Rugg's case was in the early 1940s, the fairly recent arguments in Georgia, Oklahoma, and other states over the content of Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) is strikingly similar (Jacobs, 2015). Conservatives, overwhelmingly aligned with business interests, are shrill in claiming that the content of APUSH is "radically revisionist" and that it focuses far too much on themes like oppression and marginalization and not enough on free markets, Founding Fathers, and making America "great again." The economics curriculum in Texas was changed in 2010 so that "capitalism" would be replaced with "free-market economics." The Republican members of the board feared that "capitalism" was subject to epithets like "capitalist pig" and believed that "free markets" could not be so tarnished. They also limited references to Thomas Jefferson (too much church-state separation) and added Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek in an effort to make the curriculum more pro-business (McKinley, 2010). I mention these historical morsels to remind us that corporate logic has been active in infiltrating or preying on schools for more than 100 years--and it certainly continues today.

Carl Glickman (2009) also gestures toward this history in a wonderfully pithy Phi Delta Kappan article that helps me set the stage for the bulk of my initial comments on the curriculum, ethics, and the future of public education in the United States. In the "Backtalk" section of the Kappan, he wrote a piece titled "Educators Tell Business How to Stop Ruining America." His commentary is informed by many decades of economic discourse from the business world asserting that schools are failing, businesses are succeeding, and, thus, business people know what is best for schools, teachers, students, and curriculum. Glickman (2009) mimics and mocks the idea that businesses should be telling schools how to operate considering the epic corporate failures that led to the 2007 start of the Great Recession. Using language from A Nation at Risk, he writes that "the business and financial foundations of our society are currently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people." He goes on:

The hubris of high rollers on the top floors of America's giant 
companies permitting unfettered profit-making at the expense of others 
has no limit. To be blunt, the business community has become an 
industry at risk of implosion. To help our colleagues in the business 
community, we educators hereby recommend a new guiding and mentoring 
organization for business and financial institutions. … 
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