A corporate education

There exists a very vocal group of people who oppose the Common Core Curriculum on the basis of its reliance on “corporate” funding in implementation, and the corporate influence over its curriculum and pedagogy. (Corporate, in this context, seems to mean “of or by corporations”, which I take it is shorthand for “of or by business and/or financial entitites”.)

Just scanning through the Washington Post Education Section (to which I will not link because it changes daily), we see Valerie Strauss presenting…

A National Day of Action protesting corporate influence in school reform

A bit of polemic against corporate funding

Susan O’Hanion has some testy polemic on the subject here. She has a LOT of arguments against Common Core (just take a look at her site), but this one is that the language arts curriculum is heavily non-fiction based. She attributes this to the fact that corporations want to co-opt the schools and churn out employees to fit the empty, in-demand positions.

If you just take a look, you’ll find similar sorts of arguments. Here. Here. Here. Even Diane Ravitch, in her own way, has gotten in on the act, albeit in a more restrained way.

The arguments boil down to four, I think.

* that we shouldn’t do things on a grand scale without testing them first, and that the Common Core standards haven’t been tested;

* that the testing regime that has turned out to accompany the standards is going to result in more lifeless teaching to the test;

* that the CC curriculum itself is designed to produce corporate workers, not educated students;and

* that the standards represent an inappropriate centralization of educational decision-making.

The first and fourth are procedural objections. The second and third are substantive objections. And those are what interest me the most at the moment.

Every educational program every devised has a vision of what someone who completes the program should be like. (More appropriately, everyone who designs or runs such a program has a vision — although not always the same vision.) The ultimate question is, really, not “what do we want our students to know?” but rather “what sort of people do we want our students to be?”

The answer to that question may be a more limited sort of response: we want our students to be the sort of people who know x, y, and z. But it might be richer than that. We might want our students to be the sort of people who value independence, or democratic citizenship, or who are self-sufficient risk-takers. We might want our students to be aesthetically sensitive, to be analytically precise. Or both.

So when people say that the Common Core Standards are being implemented by corporations to create workers, and when they say that this is a bad thing, what’s really going on is a clash of visions — a disagreement of what it is we want “our” (i.e., society’s) students, to the extent that they can properly be said to be “ours”, to be like.

Because of this substantive disagreement, some of the procedural stuff doesn’t really matter at all. If my curriculum is designed to produce a person of, let’s call it, “TYPE A”, then even if it’s working perfectly my curriculum is going to miserably fail when it is tested as to whether or not it produces people of types B and C.

The question of centralization matters, but only insofar as decentralization is a way to accommodate and deal with competing visions.

There are a lot of different types of education a person can get. Musical educations, military educations, liberal arts educations, technical educations… and sure, a “corporate education” designed to equip a person to move swiftly and competently through the business world.

If we assume (and it’s a big assumption) that the Common Core really is about implementing a corporate education for America’s students, and if we assume that it is going to work as it hopes, well… I’m not convinced that a corporate education, on its own, is such a bad thing.

It’s probably better than getting no education, which is arguably what is going on in many schools across the nation.

For my part, I think that a liberal arts education can serve as the foundation for (very nearly) any other sort of education. I see the liberal arts as aimed at learning how to structure thought, rather than being necessarily informed by any particular content (although there is a body of traditional content designed to do just that).

But I also recognize that there’s a possibility that not everyone is cut out for omnicompetence — that Heinlein’s standards of being a human being might be a little high.

Not everyone is really cut out for, say, military training. It just doesn’t “take” with some people. Not everyone is cut out for law school, or medical school. Not everyone is cut out for biology — Hell, I’m not really cut out for biology (though I get Chemistry and Physics).

So even if a “corporate education” really is the practical goal of Common Core, I can’t necessarily get behind the substantive objections. A corporate education may, in fact, be a good education. And as I said, it’s not clear to me that the lack of testing is really an issue once you realize that field testing is only useful once we’ve all agreed what to test for.

But a corporate education probably isn’t going to be a good education for everyone. And because I’m not the sort of person who seeks to institutionally impose my worldviews on all and sundry (though I wouldn’t be disappointed were those views universally shared) I can probably get behind the objections based on centralization.