Note: Although I may sound subjective, I am merely writing about an issue/theory, and I will not confirm any personal beliefs.
There’s a hidden force with cold and brutal hands that suffocate us, and the danger is that we hardly notice it – corporations are literally investing in students in public schools in order to receive a financial gain. They increase competition and create an award system that determines a student’s value by their potential to earn money, to be a benefit to the economy. These students are given the best privileges, whereas those who are unproductive are bound for the school to prison pipeline that contains all the “failures” of society. But the key is that at birth, their class and race already determine their status in life.
If you haven’t heard of some of these words before, you’ll probably want to know what they mean. These are all definitions made by me, as used in my own writing, and may not match dictionary definitions.
Capitalism – a market economy; emphasizes profit and economic value. These values are deeply ingrained (i.e. productivity is good because it gives us more money, profitability > moral obligations)
Neoliberalism – a branch of capitalism; “capitalism on steroids”; a laissez-faire/free-market economy which involves expansion of corporations into public services
Private Sectors – corporations, businesses, enterprises
Public Sectors and Services: controlled by the government
Spaces/Spheres: areas (physical or virtual) of free discussion and exchanging ideas about social problems
Origin of Public Schools
The so-called “founding father” of public education was Horace Mann (1796), an education reformer in Massachusetts. He basically popularized the idea that secularized school should be used to discipline students to become model citizens, as well as make education funded by the government. This was one idea that separated the north and the south–the south was reluctant to pay taxes in order to fund for public education.
However, at the heart of American industrial revolution, what did these students mostly end up being involved in? That’s right–factories, and for those that are extremely privileged, business. And thus, the idea of the model citizen was in reality the goal to become the model factory worker: bells that signaled the end of the class period were analogous to factory bells that indicated a work shift; the relationship between a teacher and a student is eerily similar to that of an overseer and a laborer; school = factory, the board of education = “CEO”, principal + staff = overseer, students = laborer.
Therefore, one could argue that public schooling (a public service) was created for the benefit of private businesses–all to craft the most productive worker to generate the most profit. Money makes the world go round.
The same system follows public education today. Besides a few education reforms that have changed curriculum and student distribution, nothing has changed the fundamental structure of public schools. Or perhaps, they have become even more corrupted by the private sector.
Firstly, shipping a student off to boarding school, or the influx of private school applicants is the first sign of public school’s supposed “failure.”
Ever since international tests like PISA (US was 38th in math and 24th in science) and TIMMS (US is 8th in math and 8th in science) revealed the harsh reality of students’ STEM capabilities, there was a complete freak out across the nation. After all, the US is supposed to be the global hegemony, how was it possible for the powerful country to not come in first place?? Congress completely freaked out, and presidents became increasingly focused on reforming education such as implementing NCLB and ESSA. Yes, the Bush presidents pushed the hardest on these programs, and as you probably know, conservative presidents usually don’t support public education.
What also became popularized was the push for school choice–that is, allowing students to apply to different schools instead of their home school. These schools are usually private schools since by then, public schools were basically considered “not adequate enough” to give students a proper education. What did this result in? A mass fleeting of wealthy, white students and leaving public education (which was sometimes truly of substantial lower quality) to POC.
What everyone failed to understand is that the tests were extremely misleading because of the intrinsic inequality in the country. If they looked at scores of similar socioeconomic demographics, the US was actually doing fairly well. But because the United States is such a large country, there is bound to be more poverty, and therefore, more worse performing students that lowered the overall average of the test scores.
Second, the technological revolution has completely changed how students learn.
Notice how all of your school’s software is probably from the same company. Textbooks too, seem to be massed produced and extremely expensive.
Education has simply become a new market for corporations to exploit and earn mass profits off of. Create one laptop, sell it (1500 * # of schools in your state) = a heck of a lot of money. But not only are the education resources a great deal of profit…the educated is worth even more.
Let’s take a look at Microsoft: they sell Office 365 to a school, 1500 students learn how to use these products, perhaps 40% will go on later into STEM, maybe 10% of those students will go into computer science or computational finance…and the product is? 0.4*0.1*1500 = 60 capable employees of Microsoft who already know how to use the company’s products. It’s the perfect opportunity–sell products for money, and get even more money when those employees work for the company later on. Perhaps the word is: “long-term investment.” And I know it’s harsh, but this is a reality. You are a long-term investment for the companies that own the products you use, for the brands you see everyday in your classrooms.
Would you have even thought of this genius marketing plan had you not read this blog post?
School to Prison Pipeline
“Under the reign of neoliberal politics with its hyped-up social Darwinism and theater of cruelty, the popular demonization and “dangerousation” of the young now justifies responses to youth that were unthinkable 20 years ago, including criminalization and imprisonment, the prescription of psychotropic drugs, psychiatric confinement, and zero tolerance policies that model schools after prisons. School has become a model for a punishing society in which children who commit a rule violation as minor as a dress code infraction or slightly act out in class can be handcuffed, booked, and put in a jail cell. Racism, inequality, and poverty are on full display in the growing resegregation of public schools in the United States.” – Giroux ’09
The influx of neoliberalism in education has produced a new manifestation of an economy–overly-competitive students who strive to get to the top so that they can become wealthier and more successful than their peers, bringing happiness when seeing their friends’ failures because the greed of money is too strong to handle. Capitalist ideologies have etched “wealth good” “profit > well-being” into our minds, and that’s our method of social acceptance.
For those who might not be fast at learning, who want to go into the arts instead of STEM, who don’t have the necessary resources to guarantee a top spot in their class, and who don’t have the money to go to an out-of-state public school or an elite private school… the world does not have time to deal with these “misfits” and “economic failures.” Their teachers don’t care about them, the school system doesn’t try to help them. That means less likely to get a job, more likely to commit crime, etc. Perhaps they are not more likely to commit crime, but if they are of low financial status and happen to be Black or Latinx, the unjust justice system is more likely to imprison them.
And so, off to jail, a place where their labor can still be somewhat profitable because now it’s “community service,” or free labor. Another institution that has been corrupted by corporations (i.e. private prisons). Once they’re out, no one wants to employ them, and it’s a cycle of poverty they are stuck in.
It’s not a coincidence that these people locked into the school to prison pipeline are often marginalized groups. The neoliberal education system has not provided a space where they will be accepted by society’s standards.