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Students Are Not Commodities; Corporations Can't Teach

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By Ruth Engelke

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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.

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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.

The opponents of public education have been working to defund schools and demoralize educators for years. Ohio state Rep. Andrew Brenner (R) called teachers unions, "an outgrowth of our socialistic education system;" conservative-based politicians enforce curriculum that favors a more nationalistic view of history. The Jefferson County School Board in Colorado is insisting upon reviewing the new curriculum handed down by The College Board switching the emphasis from the memorization of names and dates to historical thinking. The school board, and conservative groups across America, are concerned that the new curriculum "encourages or condones civil strife." School board member Julie Williams argued that any U.S. history curriculum should "present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage" and should "promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system." One Colorado education board member and businesswoman wrote that the US "ended it (slavery) voluntarily, at great sacrifice, while the practice continues in many countries still today! Shouldn't our students be provided that viewpoint?" Should students be offered a viewpoint that is incorrect and which promotes an unjust, discriminatory system? The intention of the College Board is to promote critical thinking, but the business interests in Colorado and other places do not want citizens to be able to think for themselves. Promoting a patriotic curriculum that never questions the motives or the decisions of the United States, and is an outright lie told to quell uprising, keeps our children uninformed, unquestioning consumers.

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A lawsuit funded by a group called Students Matter (Vergara v. California) contends that laws protecting tenure and the right to a fair hearing in cases of accusations of misconduct for teachers in California deny students the right to a quality public education. California Judge Rolf Treu tentatively ruled in June that the teacher job laws were unconstitutional, but did not compel policymakers to immediately delete them and devise new measures until after a ruling by an appeals court. When teachers lose their protections to teach with vitality and creativity, they lose the ability to teach in a socially responsible way and are undermined as the intellectual leaders of their classrooms. If education is a priority in this country, then protecting the educational leaders and their ability to teach should be of primary importance. Treating students as a commodity and teachers as slaves to business destroys the heart of the public school system. Teachers and students need to be empowered to teach and learn, not humiliated by attempts to privatize education and turn it into a business model where the teachers are the foremen making sure the students produce the company's results in the form of test scores.

The formula is simple: underfund schools, overcrowd classrooms, mandate testing run by private-sector firms that "prove" schools are failing, undermine teachers unions, and make a bundle by opening charter schools funded by vouchers from the government. It's time to fight back. Children are not commodities to be turned into profit. The future of democracy depends on education being available for the public good. Teachers and principals are not the problem; poverty, social disparity, and racial inequality are the problems. Corporations should not be allowed to educate our children any more than they should be allowed to make our decisions regarding health or environmental concerns. Some things just can't have a price tag attached to them.

Move to Amend is born out of the desire to create real democracy for all Americans. A functioning public education system is integral to creating an informed public capable of critical thinking. While it is important for us to acknowledge that our public education system was created to provide an education for people living in the industrial age, and that we must re-envision a system that addresses the needs of a growing population and an electorate living in the technology age, it is equally important that we ensure our education system remains public so we can attain a real and functioning democracy that actually serves the needs of the We the People --not the corporations who currently control it.

Support Move to Amend by signing the petition to establish that corporations are not persons with the same inalienable rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as human beings and that money is not speech ( ) Then get involved with a local Move to Amend affiliate group in your area to see what you can do to join a movement of individuals coming together to enact change in their communities.

Ruthi Engelke completed a MA in literature and writing from the University of Houston at Clear Lake. She taught high school theater and English for the last thirteen years and has taught writing at the university level. She is a volunteer with the Move to Amend campaign.


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The Move to Amend Coalition is a grassroots campaign to amend the Constitution to state that artificial entities such as corporations, unions, and non-profits do not have inherent rights under the Constitution, and that money is not free speech so (more...)

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