Since schools are one of the few places where students can learn to engage in democracy, it is vital that we stand strong in defending public schools. As an educator, it is easy to become downhearted in the face of mandated curriculum, high-stakes testing, and rampant corporate insinuation into the school day. Public schools made desperate beggars for financial support by ever-increasing cuts in budget are vulnerable to corporations looking to make a profit off of our nation’s school children.
The debate over a privatized, corporate-run model of education versus a socially responsible, public education system is really about how corporations have become more and more influential and ingrained into public life. The responsibility for teachers to help forge citizens has become less about creating a society that participates in democracy and more about creating consumers. Students are exposed to advertising for products daily on book covers, vending machines, and sports venues, even on buses and in restrooms.
As if exposing students to advertisements in the educational environment was not enough, corporate influence is also dictating the curriculum that is being taught. Education has become big business and very profitable. Textbook companies create not only the books and materials that teachers use to teach, but also the tests that are mandated for students to pass in order to proceed to the next level or graduate from high school. The focus on testing and uniform curriculum has deadened students to learning.
Education should be about discovery and critical thinking but has been reduced to the ability to choose the best answer from a limited list of choices. Students are taught a formula for finding the right answer instead of nurturing an interest in learning that is unique to the individual. It is no surprise that there is so much student apathy over their own education. Who can get excited about following directions and clicking boxes?
It’s time for leaders and communities to fight back. Some teachers in Seattle have boycotted their state test. Even Diane Ravitch, former assistant secretary of education and a leading designer of the GW Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind law, has come out as an opponent of high-stakes testing, a reversal of her previous position.
In her latest book, Reign of Terror: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, she asserts that “schools are in crisis because of persistent orchestrated attacks on them and their teachers and principals, and attacks on the very principle of public responsibility for education.” The purpose of these attacks is to create a false sense of deficiency in the education system and open schools up to privatization.