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.


  1. Just how does one produce corporate workers if they don’t know how to read, write, or add?

    In addition, CC can’t teach time management, attitude, and workplace skills if they can’t teach the basics.


    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      It strikes me that there might be considerable overlap between the various visions of what an “education” should produce, and that these basic skills may be a part of many of these visions.

  2. The Massachusetts Frameworks work. Their efficacy has been demonstrated through NAEP and PISA.

    Why were they not adopted nationally? Why is a curriculum being adopted wholesale, without even teaching materials?

    The person who was in charge of the Common Core should not be in charge of the College Board. That is a level beyond “centralization.”

    • tim-10-ber says:

      I have been asking this question, too. Why not adopt the leading standards, etc from MA. The answer, at least to me, is there is too much money in education.

  3. I’m quite sure there’s no way to say what the CCSS is in substantive terms–even whether or not it’s true that it’s soft on fiction. Which of the thousands of opinions being bantered about in the din and chaos it’s unleashed should be taken as authoritative? The architect’s? Or the curriculum director one works for? I think the dissension and the confusion is the real substance of it.

    I would say the procedural questions matter sharply, and this one most of all: whose decision is it, how we shape our children?

  4. Roger Sweeny says:

    Thought experiment: Every entering high school freshman is offered the following choice:

    1. If you complete the corporate course of study, we guarantee that you will have the basic job skills that corporations are looking for.

    2. If you complete the academic course of studies, we guarantee that you are on your way to becoming an educated person.

    I suspect a hell of a lot of people would choose the corporate course.

    One could argue that the present standards are not “corporate” enough, and that the Common Core, by doubling down on academics, is actually less “corporate” than what we have today.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    The problem with centralizing anything is too few controlling too much.
    The controlling insitution has a vested interest in controlling–it’s a job–which means low-level initiative is a threat, no matter its value.
    Decentralization means idiots only screw up locally and can be more easily replaced or avoided than can Central Control.
    Most people would like to have a job. Liberal education used to be for the wealthy. They could afford it.
    It’s available for self-study in libraries, and might actually be more understandable for adult who’ve experienced life.

  6. I don’t understand the view of the “corporate” takeover of education. I find this to be specious. Now it is true that there is a lot of cronyism going on in D.C.. The Obama administration has made it 10 times worse than it was with previous administrations. This Common Core has been supported by both parties. From my own research this curriculum is pretty the continued dumbing down of children in government school. Since parents have acquiesced all authority when it comes to educating their children, the government has every right to create more anti-intellectual schooling.

    This has been going on for over a century. The goal is to wipe any vestige of individualism. To turn the United States away from its founding ideals. They want a more docile, compliant citizenry. And they are succeeding.

    • Bill Gates is the national school board, but Arne Duncan doesn’t mind–they’re partners. The goal seems to be to create people who will pleasantly work in small groups on tasks assigned from on high–submissive and with just enough knowledge to understand and comply. Most important, they must not imagine there is any authority beyond the assigned task and the official goals. They can brainstorm about efficiency and effectiveness, but not whether the task is worth doing–truth and justice are beyond their paygrade. Man must be replaced by socialist man, as Marx put it. No thought about God arises or can arise. The only remnant left of morality in the corporate/NCTE program of “21st Century Skills” were the exhortations to obey all copyright laws. It’s the first commandment–where “thou shalt have no other gods…” used to be.