Thursday, January 24, 2008

Privatizing education, one building at a time.

Hi folks,

If we continue to privatize education at this rate, we'll turn back the social progress clock to the 1600's -- when the Puritans still ran things.

That should make the neo-cons dizzy with joy.

Here's the latest:

Corporate sponsorship part of the education game

WEST BEND - Acuity Insurance Co.’s recent $525,000 purchase of naming rights for the West Bend High Schools Field House serves as part of a company wide commitment to education, says CEO Ben Salzmann.

The 83-year-old Sheboygan-based property and casualty insurer developed a plan of donating to education about three years ago, with the goal of helping a struggling state economy and in turn helping itself.

'We’re trying to build an environment where there isn’t such a brain drain out of the state of Wisconsin,' Salzmann said.

Taxpayers, he said, are paying too much to support education for people to graduate and leave the state.

So we stop the brain-drain by shifting the cost of education to an insurance company?




patrick said...

I don't get your point. Here we have a successful local company that has yet to move its jobs out of the community, and you're upset that they gave a very considerable amount of money to the local school district. I thought we were to applaud good corporate citizens like Acuity?

Yeah, this is one giant step back to 1600! Give me a break.

Mpeterson said...

Sorry you missed the point.

Auctioning off naming rights to a public school building makes it a little less public and a little more corporate. The purpose of public education in America is to produce citizens but, more and more, we've been marketed the idea that education is supposed to create consumers.

Using tax dollars to produce consumers instead of citizens sounds like a bad deal to me.

It was damned nice of Acuity (which received $14 million in state tax-credits and spent $450,000 to put up tallest flagpole in the US) to put up some dough for education. Lots of great companies do that in Wisconsin -- Johnson Wax is a terrific example. So hoorah for Acuity. Maybe they'll endow a chair in Business Ethics somewhere.

But school districts are increasingly forced to accept donations like this because Americans have been sold the idea that they no longer have to be responsible for the education of the next generation. Preserving the democracy is not our job anymore. That's work for citizens, not consumers.

Consuming stuff is way easier than being a responsible citizen.

Witness the recent referendum in West Bend.

I think America was a better place to live when people took responsibility for public education and named their schools after Jefferson and Madison and Franklin.

And yes sir, privatization and 1600.

Okay, here: what do Calvinism, Jonathan Edwards, Social Darwinism, and Reaganomics all have in common?

It's not apple pie.

patrick said...

If Acuity gets to name the field house, how does that make education more corporate? Is Acuity controlling the course offerings? No.

You go on to comment that we, as citizens, need to support the local schools--but I'd bet that you would also argue that business does too.

Having been in the classroom for 15 years, I can tell you that the ideals of citizenship dominate exclusively. I don't see where "we've been marketed the idea that education is supposed to create consumers." Never has the idea come up in any curriculum discussion I've been a part of in department, school, district, discipline, or state-wide conferences.

You go on to mention the referrendum in West Bend--but you should note the millions and millions the tax-paying citizens of West-Bend have contributed and continue to do so now. The fact that they didn't pass the biggest tax-referendum does not suggest they do not support the schools and you know it.

I am really interested in the teaser riddle. What's the answer?

Mpeterson said...

Hi Patrick,

You and I have had different experiences. After my own 20 years in the classroom I can tell you that my students come to college with little or no understanding of how our own political process works -- at any rate, barely enough to pass the citizenship exam -- and with no competent familiarity the Constitution or the Federalist papers.

My students uniformly believe that "freedom" means being able to do what you want to do whenever you want to do it (that is, to act on appetite) -- rather than being able to choose to do what's best (choice being a function of reason rather than appetite) .

If by citizenship you mean you've acquainted them with their responsibilities to be good consumers in the economic system, then we're at odds. If by citizenship you mean you've acquainted them with their responsibilities as citizens within the political system, then we agree. I haven't seen much evidence of the latter in recent students in recent years.

As for whether my neighbors support the local schools or not I'll leave to Owen Robinson to decide. He has a much better track record estimating the desires of voters in Washington County than I do. My sense is that the referendum was affordable (based on reviewing local property values and comparing those to local income/property tax rates to other districts in the State) and so, have to assume that people voted as they did (and overwhelmingly!) for reasons other than affordability.

Grin. I got radicalized about all of this nearly 30 years ago when I had to read Josef Pieper's Leisure: the basis of culture for a seminar I was taking.

I think the answer to the teaser is a corner of American psychology over the last 30 years.

Here's what they all have in common: the axiom that wealth is a symptom of God's grace and that poverty, therefore, a symptom of a sinful nature.

I think this kind of Calivinism, appropriated culturally from the beginning of US history -- hence my crack about the 1600's -- is one way of explaining how economically poor Christian fundamentalists can vote for an ideology that says wealth is better than poverty.

Look at the way Mr. Huckabee has rattled the cages of the economically dedicated neo-cons on the right.

Anyway, that's another thread.

patrick said...

You make many good points here. First, by citizenship I mean the responsibility to be informed and participate actively in our political system. Perhaps if you could explain (or point to a previous post) what exactly you mean by "responsibilities to be good consumers in the economic system" we would have more common ground. This being said, I believe that many young students I see are highly generous with their time and money, very hungry to make a contribution to something larger than themselves. There is also a real responsibility to provide students with a working financial and economic literacy too.

You're also spot-on with your comments regarding freedom, reason, and appetite. Wasn't the 1600's also the time when the purpose of education was to teach people to restrain their animal appetites? Maybe I'm wrong. But there is a connection to be made here since our current educational model is Bloom's taxonemy which places a greater emphasis on "critical thinking" and "higher levels of thought" than on the retention of facts. That is part of the reason why your students don't know the Federalist papers; they've spent too much time debating global warming or the war in Iraq (not that these are not important subjects for them to consider)

As for the good people of West Bend, they make their own choices. In West Allis--where I teach--the public has been very supportive of new taxes with specific targets. A big part of the West Bend thing might have been the "biggest" label and the emotional resonse it brings. And while I am more conservative, I don't like Robinson. I don't really like his writing style.

Finally, I have to admit I don't really know much about calvinism myself. I know a little bit about Edwards, just the basics. As a Puritan in the latter part of that movement wouldn't he have considered it a sin to question and interpret God's favor based on one's fortunes? Even so, I've always thought that required quite a large suspension of human nature.

Huckabee is a dufus