Today we live in an economy based society which has forced schools to exist in the business world but we still need to ask ourselves if we have gone too far and remember that the prioritized focus of schools should be the needs of their students. Unfortunately, there is a lack of funding provided to our public schools which directly impacts our students’ education. Due to the insufficient support that schools receive from the government, many schools rely on other sources such as sponsorships from larger companies whose financial interests in education can be problematic and rarely align with what is best for the students. With the rise of technology integration into classrooms, there are many Ed-tech companies driving up prices and operating with non-transparent pricing contracts. Through my EDTC 300 and EDTC 400 experiences, I have been exposed to many ways that technology can revolutionalize the way we teach and learn but the integration of technology requires support from corporate companies and we all know these companies can prioritize turning a profit. Sounds like a topic for a lively debate with numerous perspectives to consider!
Week 7 of the Winter 2019 EDTC 400 Great Ed-Tech debate permitted yet another in-depth conversation that introduced many perspectives and ideas to consider. The topic under debate this week was whether or not public education has sold its soul to corporate interests. Many of my classmates spoke from personal experiences which are always easy to lean on because we physically lived the effects but I think when participating in any debate that it is critical to put our personal lenses aside and be open to allowing new perspectives to challenge our opinions. I began the vote by disagreeing with the statement because I felt that I did not have an understanding of the various perspectives of approaching this debate topic to fully agree that public education has sold its soul to corporate interests.
As illustrated by our class vote prior to the debate, my class was very split which again illustrated that there was obvious controversy and thus, the topic under study was important for us, as pre-service educators, to discuss, expand our knowledge on, and be exposed to varying perspectives related to the subject matter. After the debate, a clear shift was represented as almost our entire class was in agreement that public education is selling its soul to corporate interests. Despite the grand shift in my class’ perspectives, I think we all left the debate with many arguments to critically consider in favor of either side of the debate.
Arguments for the Agree Side
Miss. Liz Dornstauder guided the discussion for the pro side of the debate arguing that indeed public education has sold its soul to corporate interests. Her introduction video for the debate outlined five key arguments in support of her stance that were backed up by significant research and statistics. She also shared many examples that corresponded to her arguments and helped to strengthen her claim which clearly had lasting effects on my class based on the result of our poll after the debate.
1. Common Core Standards: In 2008, a nationwide curriculum was funded by Bill and Melinda Gates in the United States which intended on implementing common core standards across the country to ensure every student received the same education. The common core standards initiative is a system that details what students of every grade level should know in the subject areas English Langauge Arts and Mathematics at the conclusion of each school grade. At the surface level, this does not sound like a terrible idea, however, the effects of common core standards on students can be very troubling and problematic. As discussed in ECS 210, common core standards lead to the curriculum being viewed as a product where students arrive at school, are fed specific information and leave attaining specific ends that were determined by people of power in our society. Problems with viewing curriculum as a product where specific end goals have been predetermined are that students and teachers have no voice, context is failed to be accounted for, it is difficult to measure learning, it assumes the idea that “one shoe fits all”, and people of the dominant culture in the society decide what is important to learn. A blog post written by Diane Ravitch discusses how the common core standards were implemented rashly and without pilot testing or public awareness. Thus, American education was bought by Bill Gates, a white man with power in the country and strictly financial interests in mind.
2. Push for Standardized testing: Prior to the debate, I knew standardized testing was problematic because of the same effects that seeing curriculum as a product has on education. Further, Liz provided our class with a video that demonstrates the correlation between politicians and companies and addresses why the push for standardized testing continues to persist even if it does not have the best interests of our students in mind. In the video, it discusses how Pearson is able to lobby legislatures to pass laws that insist on more tests being generated because the more tests that are produced, the more money the company makes. Thus, not only do standardized tests eliminate the opportunity for context or personal learning but they are forced to be written in schools so that companies such as Pearson can continue to profit. Educators are aware that standardized tests undermine creativity, innovation, and critical thought and force them to teach to the test in hopes of their students being successful on the exams but because of the money involved, they are continually used at the expense of our students’ learning opportunities.
3. Company Dictatorship of Information Provided: Continuing her discussion about Pearson, the main textbook provider in all of North America, Liz addressed how these companies tailor their textbooks to their largest buyers due to their financial interests. Publishers such as Pearson have the power to control what information is being included in textbooks and thus, what guides many lessons in classrooms and the information provided in trusted resources available to the students. Liz shared that Texas buys the most textbooks per capita per year and thus the material is tailored towards this particular audience. An article by Gail Collins explains how the textbooks used by children in all of North America have a Texas influence which is problematic because the values, and language recognized in Texas can vastly differ in other parts of the continent. Liz discussed a particular example from her Biology 30 course where her textbook had a Spanish translation rather than a French translation despite attending a French Immersion school in Canada. The focus of textbooks companies is profit rather than improved learning opportunities for students but because of their wealth and power, they continue to have a say towards how the system of public education operates.
4. Negative Health Effects Due to Corporate Sponsorship: The next argument that Liz addressed was how the corporate sponsorship that many schools rely on support unhealthy eating habits amongst students. This idea proved to be a hot topic during our class discussion because many of my classmates were able to speak from experiences about being sponsored by companies such as Coco-cola or Pepsi and we all connected the large Boston Pizza score clock in the University of Regina‘s gym to this conversation. Tom Phillpott’ article shared a troublesome statistic from a survey in 2005 which concluded that 80% of public high schools operate under contracts with either Coke or Pepsi. Having advertisements from pop corporations pasted around schools and their products easily accessible to students is causing overconsumption of unhealthy goods and can lead to students becoming lifetime consumers of these products. Yay for Coke and Pepsi, that means more money in their pockets, but profit for one means a cost for another and the health of students in unfortunately falling victim. A CBC article acknowledges that drinking pop does not just pose risks for diabetes or obesity but rather too much pop consumption can affect adolescents’ memory and ability to learn. The funding that corporate sponsorship provides schools can be beneficial and permit schools to afford sports uniforms, classroom technology, or educational field trips but the health and learning risks for students due to the corporations that schools must rely on for funding are extremely problematic.
5. Focus on Business rather than Education: The final argument discussed in agreement that public education has sold its soul to corporate interests outlined how many universities operate similarly to businesses rather than schools. In an article written by Andrew Rossi, it states “universities act increasingly like big businesses that treat students as customers” and due to the high-value society places on degrees, many individuals feel pressure to attend universities. The article goes on to discuss how the privatization of higher education benefits individual students who can afford to engage in the system rather than being seen as a public good that would help a nation prosper and permit educated citizens who can critically think and are taught to actively strive towards change in our society. By creating the idea that student debt is “good debt” corporations able to engage in profitable student loan markets which influence the continual rise in tuition and thus support the problematic theme of our society where the rich get richer. The power of universities allows them to hook in students as consumers and treat students as paying customers rather than the future generations of our society and thus, the focus once again lands on profit rather than education.
Arguments for the Disagree Side
Miss Shaleen Hengen argued the opposing side for the debate providing arguments for why public education has not sold its soul to corporate interests. Her introduction video outlined four key arguments that raised important questions and introduced opposing perspectives to consider during our discussion. She also did a fabulous job of connecting this week’s topic to Ed-tech which is ultimately the theme of this course.
1. Benefits of Technology in the Classroom: Shaleen started out with the argument that technology can be incredibly beneficial in classrooms but that technology is expensive and thus, schools rely on corporate sponsorship to fund their investments in tools that support learning. AHA! I was patiently waiting to see where Ed-tech would fit into this debate and Shaleen hit it spot on. Throughout the Great Ed-tech debate, our class has been confident that technology has the potential to enhance learning but a common drawback is the cost of technology. In today’s society, a reliance on technology is emerging and thus, for schools to provide their students with beneficial learning opportunities for their futures, they have turned to companies such as Google and Microsoft to provide tools for their classrooms. An article written by Mathew Lynch suggests that “only a few forward-thinking governments are making adequate technology investments in the education sector” which explains why schools are forced to build relationships with corporate interest to ensure they can prioritize technology in their classrooms. All technology is tied to corporations in one way or another and thus, schools that are implementing tools that are provided does not imply that they are “selling themselves out”, but simply striving toward permitting the best educational experiences for their students.
2. Determining the Right Platform: Shaleen’s second argument explained how schools do not jump at the first deal presented to them. Before partnering with corporations, many questions are critically considered including: What are the costs and Benefits? How reliable are the tools for our students? Are the tools practical to use? Janet Huger-Johnson, an experienced educator explains how teachers’ input is critical before making any ed-tech deal because they have first-hand knowledge of their students and their needs, and the function of their classrooms. “Not every school has equity in the opportunity to use technology as a tool for student engagement or lesson implementation” as quoted from Robyn Shulman’s article, but corporate partnerships can help shrink this divide. Knowing that critical thought takes place before making agreements and that the decision process involves teachers input demonstrates that the interests of students and the functionality of classrooms continue to be held at a high value.
3. Moving Away From Bad Business: Opposing Liz’s arguments concerned with textbook companies such as Pearson, this article written by Valerie Strauss states how Pearson has been losing huge testing contracts with schools throughout the country. Schools are standing up and fighting against the difficulty and inappropriate factors of standardized tests. Pearson has been attempting to dominate the world of education both online and offline but they are continually losing support from parents, teachers, and school boards because the content provided by Pearson illustrates their financial interests rather than the goals and core beliefs of many education systems. As schools continue to distance themselves from “bad businesses” such as Pearson, they are demonstrating that they are still in power and will continue to prioritize the needs of their students rather than falling victim to corporations’ financial interests.
4. Ethical Consumption: Shaleen’s final argument brought our debate into perspective when she argues that if we wish to determine that schools are selling their souls to corporate interests, then we must conclude that we all have. by addressing the example that to participate in the EDTC 400 course, we all rely on computers and technology platforms that allow us to interact online Shaleen persuasively suggested that we are supporting businesses and apps that profit from our use. When we take a step back and look at society as a whole, it is easy to see how almost everything we do is tied to large corporations who are constantly profiting from our engagement. It would be illogical to suggest that schools should avoid implementing beneficial tools into their classrooms simply because they are linked to large corporations because we would never expect this of citizens outside of the education system. It is important for schools to be cautious when considering what corporations to partner with but forming these affiliations does not mean schools are “selling their souls” and more than individuals engaging with social media or purchasing vehicles are. Ultimately, Shaleen’s final argument suggests that corporations are unavoidable but by turning our attention away from eliminating consumption and focusing on ethical consumption schools can ensure they benefit their students without “selling their souls” to corporate interests.
Where Do I Stand?
Throughout the debate, I continually felt myself being swayed to either side of the conversation but in the end, I choose to believe that public education has not sold its soul to corporate interests. Both sides of the debate agreed that large publishing companies such as Pearson that design standardized tests and nation-wide curriculum standards are problematic and unfair to our students. As educators, I think it is our responsibility to stay optimistic in believing that public education still has some control but we can not put our rose coloured glasses on and ignore the impacts of corporate interests. The society we live in has become dependent on technology and economically based which means education systems have been impacted by both the positive and negative factors of these controls. With that being said, technology and business corporations are unavoidable but that does not mean we have to let go of our values and hopes for the future of education. Public education may be on its way to selling its soul to corporate interests but it has not lost all control and this route can be redirected. As educators, we are a team and have a platform to make a change and I believe recognizing the need for change and becoming informed about this issue is the first important step to getting public education back on a track that prioritizes the best interests of our students.