Printer Friendly

The corporate takeover of American schools.

What is the purpose of education? Over the years, educational policymakers have utilized a language of economics, masked under the rubric of culture, promote the idea that schools should prepare their students to compete in the world marketplace. While this topic has been explored in the past, there is renewed interest in the role of business in education, particularly in light of "choice" plans and federal policies affecting national standards and testing. Supported by research on "corporate culture" - such as Terrence Deal and A. A. Kennedy's Corporate Culture: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life and T. J. Peters and R. H. Waterman's In Search of Excellence - educational policymakers point to empirical studies showing increased efficiency and effectiveness within business settings. Thus, management schemes which reflect business attitudes toward success and accountability have become the focus of educational reform.

Defining "Corporate Culture"

Management theorists, like W. G. Dyer, Jr., in Culture in Organization: A Case Study, argue that corporate culture consists of a pattern of behaviors, beliefs, rituals, symbols, and myths which help to stimulate members of an organization toward success. Success, in turn, is defined by those individuals who shape the culture of the organization. Deal and Kennedy contend that companies which generate their identities by "shaping values, making heroes, spelling out rites and rituals, and acknowledging the cultural network have an edge." Part of this edge, they contend, is in having heroes whom workers can imitate.

To understand "corporate culture" ideology, one must first understand its functionalist and behaviorist foundations. These foundations best serve business interests in two major ways: by satisfying their proclivity for control, and by allowing for generalized standards of accountability.

Behaviorists consider the human being as an entity to be externally molded. If the person controlling a given human being wishes to stimulate a desired response, tactics like reinforcement, modeling, and conditioning are appropriate. In Gaining Control of the Corporate Culture, Ralph Kilmann, Mary Saxton, and Roy Serpa exemplify the behaviorist position in corporations when they distinguish between the positive and negative impacts a culture has on an organization:

A culture has positive impact on an organization when it points behavior in the right direction, is widely shared among the members of work groups, and puts strong pressure on group members to follow the established cultural guidelines. Alternatively, a culture has negative impact on an organization when it points behavior in the wrong direction, is widely shared among group members, and exerts strong pressure on group members.

The only (rather obvious) difference between what is considered positive and negative in this case relates directly to whether employee behavior is being pointed in the "right" or "wrong" direction.

What are the implications of this seeming truism? Advocates of "corporate culture" readily point to the leadership role of managers (by the very definition of their title, controlling and manipulative), who are seen as setting the tone and serving as models for their subordinates. Deal and Kennedy concede this point and argue that the practice of cultural management by "symbolic managers" is becoming not just an added management technique but the only effective solution to loss of control within an organization.

Standardization and Accountability

For managers to point behavior in the "right" direction, schemes of standardization are formulated for the purpose of accountability; these schemes have as their origin the "scientific management" concepts of Frederick Taylor. Taylor advocated the use of time-and-motion study as a means of analyzing and standardizing work activities. In his Principles of Scientific Management, he called for detailed observation and measurement to find the optimum mode of performance. Gareth Morgan's Images of Organization outlines five principles Taylor advocated as follows:

1. Shift all responsibility for the organization of work from the worker to the manager: managers should do all the thinking relating to the planning and design of work, leaving the workers with the task of implementation.

2. Use scientific methods to determine the most efficient way of doing work: design the workers' task accordingly, specifying the precise way in which the work is to be done.

3. Select the best person to perform the job thus designed.

4. Train the worker to do the work efficiently.

5. Monitor worker performance to ensure that appropriate work procedures are followed and that appropriate results are achieved.

Accountability and standards thus become the focus of a well-run organization. Businesses which incorporate the appropriate symbols, myths, and beliefs with Taylor's characteristics of production and accountability have become the apex of success for "corporate culture" advocates.

Consider fast-food chains. The respective symbols - a smiling clown or a fatherly pitchman - are coupled with the belief that a delicious meal can be purchased for a nominal fee and received in a very short amount of time. Workers are expected to follow the designated speech for each customer ("Would you like fries with that?") and must project the appropriate happy demeanor. Managers direct workers to complete their tasks in the most efficient manner possible, noting duties and procedures specific to the "drive-thru," "register," and "grill."

These days, schools are at risk of becoming similar institutions. Like corporate managers, educational administrators direct their teachers to perform special "tasks." In addition to their classroom duties, teachers patrol the cafeteria and halls and monitor the bathrooms. Scripted speech may not be as noticeable as in a fast-food establishment, but careful review may yield phrases which intimate the impact of behaviorist speech patterns or Madeline Hunter vocabulary ("My, isn't Susy sitting nicely today?"). State-mandated objectives serve as the menu teachers serve their students, with one major difference: students have little or no choice in selecting what they want, nor, it is argued, do teachers have any major input.

As Stanely Aronowitz and Henry Giroux illustrate in Education Under Siege: The Conservative, Liberal, and Radical Debate Over Schooling, the "corporate culture" mentality has become increasingly dominant among educational policymakers, putting students at risk by forcing them to respond in set ways to predetermined situations. Recent calls for accountability, standardized testing, and homogenized curricula all point to business schemes and "corporate culture" production. The transfer is easy: schools assume the role of businesses; administrators assume the role of managers; teachers assume the role of workers; students are relegated to the role of product; and all are encouraged to consider the climate "positive" because there are predetermined symbols, behaviors, beliefs, and rituals to support the claims and help people "feel" a part of the team.

Referring again to Gareth Morgan's outline of the five principles of "scientific management" as advocated by Frederick Taylor, we can draw the following parallels:

Shift all responsibility for Base the teacher's role on
organization of work from prescribed agenda set by
the worker to the manager. supervisor, principals, and

Use scientific methods to Develop more standardized
determine the most efficient tests for easier evaluation.
way of doing work. Teachers follow Madeline
 Hunter techniques for

Select the best person to Expand tracking to further
perform the job thus stratify students. Teachers
designed. should be tested to ensure
 they qualify to be an
 educator by taking the NTE.

Train the worker to do the Provide teachers with in-
work efficiently. service training on
 "effective teaching"
 methodologies and on staff

Monitor worker performance Evaluate teachers on student
to ensure that appropriate performance, on outcomes of
procedures are followed and the SAT, and on classroom
that appropriate results are observations.

What easier way is there to ensure the success of major corporations in the United States? Indeed, the business-approved and corporate-supported beliefs regarding "hard work" and "obedience to authority" could be induced from kindergarten through high school. The result is hegemony; the school itself becomes a factory poised to produce workers for growing companies and competitive enterprises. The rituals of tracking and stratification become paths which separate future managers from future workers, as determined by the performance of "appropriate" or "inappropriate" behaviors. It seems ironic, then, that "corporate culture" advocates readily overlook the possibility that in their system, which so much depends on the inculcation of the proper "myths," the overriding myth might actually be the validity of "corporate culture" itself.

The Language of Economics As Culture

If the "corporate culture" position is accepted, including its behaviorist and functionalist foundations, schools should act as institutions in which culture is determined by the aforementioned educational managers in order to support the national economy. Schools should meet the criteria set by those who favor the business perspective, which supports identifying certain "skills" that will make high school and college graduates more "marketable" and businesses more profitable.

In its widely discussed report, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, the National Commission on Excellence in Education proclaimed that educational success is needed to preserve "the slim competitive edge we still retain in world markets." The Task Force on Education for Economic Growth agreed; it claimed that schools are not doing "an adequate job of education for today's requirements in the workplace." Indeed, this line of reasoning employs a distinct vocabulary normally seen in the annual market reports of major businesses.

This language of economics is utilized to advance the idea that schools should serve to supply businesses with qualified workers. At the same time, a vocabulary of culture is used to mask the promotion of economics. Included in this vocabulary are such words and phrases as choice, free markets, core curricula, accountability, cultural literacy and competency testing. Such concepts reflect the views of those who believe that the success of American culture is based mainly on the United States' economic success in the world marketplace.

In their influential Brookings Review article, "America's Public Schools: Choice Is a Panacea," John E. Chubb and Terry Moe demonstrate this confusion of culture with economics when they discuss "choice" and "competition" in the public-school arena. Simplistically equating democracy with capitalism, Chubb and Moe make their appeal to populist zeal about the necessity for "choice," then shift quickly to capitalist materialism. Any discussion of the culture(s) of school becomes minimized to touting test scores and "organizational effectiveness" in order to lure more and more potential consumers.

In their book Cultural Conservatism: Toward a New National Agenda, William Lind and William Marshner support the idea of a core curriculum because it allows schools to "reinforce and inculcate [cultural] virtues such as punctuality, impulse control, respect for legitimate authority, and sound work habits." The idea of cultural literacy is promoted by E. D. Hirsch, who seeks a more efficient method of communication between business executives. Culturally literate individuals would, according to Hirsch, have common backgrounds from which to convey ideas and thoughts in economical, effective ways. Along with "basic skills" and "cultural literacy," competencies are advocated by those who claim they have the knowledge and ability to prescribe what is needed by subordinates in corporations and students in schools. Businesses support this orthodoxy because it maintains the authority of corporate leaders to dictate standards which mainly benefit their situations.

The California Business Roundtable, for example, joined others to lobby lawmakers in their state, resulting in a major education bill, SB-813, calling for reform. Their generalized recommendations are representative of the corporate theory of education. The roundtable of chief executive officers called for, among other things, the adoption of the following aims: "establishing accountability based on performance and choice, upgrading instruction, and capitalizing on diversity."

Once again, hegemony is the result: large numbers of citizens consciously use and champion a language of economics as culture. What makes such usage hegemonic is not only the consciousness of those involved but the effects of reducing culture to simple-minded "efficiency" schemes.

An Alternative Perspective: Schools As Democratic Public Spheres

Some educational theorists have argued that, in place of the reductionist business-oriented perspective, schools should be viewed as democratic public spheres. For instance, Henry Giroux, in his book Schooling and the Struggle for Public Life: Critical Pedagogy in the Modern Age, advocates a public philosophy of education that "links the purpose of schooling to the development of forms of knowledge and moral character in which citizenship is defined as an ethical compact, not [solely] a commercial contract." In the school arena, "empowerment is related to forms of self- and social formation that encourages people to participate critically in shaping public life."

Implicit in this understanding is the notion that students living in a democracy should have (and not "be given") the freedom to question, probe, initiate, and even dissent. These terms form the vocabulary of a free society. Without this nomenclature and its changing contextual meaning, a democratic state would cease to be. In its place would rise an establishment that would promote consumption void of conscience. In The Dialectic of Freedom, Maxine Greene offers her hope for the future of schooling when she indicts contemporary educational practice for emphasizing the antithesis of individual interpretive thinking:

There is . . . an implicit encouragement of the tendency to accede to the given, to view what exists around us as an objective "reality," impervious to individual interpretation. Finding it difficult to stand forth from what is officially (or by means of media) defined as real, unable to perceive themselves in interpretive relation to it, the young (like their elders) are all too likely to remain immersed in the taken-for-granted and the everyday. For many this means an unreflective consumerism; for others, it means a preoccupation with having more rather than being more.

In order to foster reflective thinking, schools must be charged with the task of promoting interpersonal relationships between teachers and students. No longer should it be acceptable to have the teacher serve as an authoritarian engaged in a one-directional methodology - from the teacher to the student. Although students would be guided by their teachers, they would not be relegated to positions of passive receptivity but, instead, would assume the role of active participants with the teachers and other students.

Not surprisingly, corporatist policymakers argue that such a paradigm would undermine authority and promote lack of discipline. Consider, however, that current educational policy supports strong discipline and upholds the authority of administrators and control officers. Given the extent to which this mentality exists, why are national drop-out rates in substantive double-digits? Why are vast numbers of students frustrated with schooling? Is it because they are free to interact with teachers and each other in an environment that respects their voice, history, and culture? Or is it because American schools today instead place a premium on job marketability, competencies, "basic skills," and student suppression?

Democracy engenders participation. If young people find themselves in positions of passivity throughout their formal educational life, how can they be expected to participate in the so-called real world? Instead, they find themselves merely reacting to external stimuli. Never engaging in socially acceptable roles, some turn their attention to anti-societal activities, which, in turn, fuel behaviorist arguments for increased control and discipline. Regression becomes infinite.

The argument for schools as democratic public spheres is not void of consideration for businesses and corporations, however. Interaction and participation should not imply the downfall of an economy. Instead, businesses and corporations stand to gain. If the foundations of corporate America were severely ruptured to the extent that those who are traditionally seen as workers - or mere subordinates - authentically participate (as opposed to Deming or any version of "Total Quality Management"), not only would new and creative ideas emerge but, more importantly, participation within a given organization would translate into participation in the overall society. It is this discourse that defines democracy. Of course, such a discourse will not be neat, concise, or uncomplicated. It is, as Aronowitz and Giroux have stated, "a political and pedagogical movement that speaks to life, to future generations; it is a call that chooses life and takes as its first principle the value and possibilities inherent in human struggles."

The insurgence of business and corporate interests in educational policy is not a new development. A rejuvenated call for critiques of the dominant language may serve, however, as an initial step in aiding younger generations to redefine schooling in the United States. These young people have grown up in a period of time in which the dominant language has been influenced by functionalist, neo-conservative voices. This is not to say that functionalist or business voices have no place in the discussion. A reflective language takes as its foundation the plurality of ideas to be found in a true democracy. By encouraging such diversity through its schools, America would be able to achieve an actualization of its democratic tenets.

Deron Robert Boyles is an assistant professor specializing in philosophy of education in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at Georgia State University.
COPYRIGHT 1995 American Humanist Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Boyles, Deron Robert
Publication:The Humanist
Date:May 1, 1995
Previous Article:Elvis' DNA: the gene as a cultural icon.
Next Article:"Coherence lost": education, modernity, and fractured meaning.

Related Articles
Merger pace slows but prices stay high.
Takeover expenses: National Starch and the IRS add new wrinkles.
School board relations: collaboration instead of mayoral takeover is best for urban school districts.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters