Behind your perhaps unassuming neighborhood public schools is a true leviathan of money, power, politics and influence that supports (or feeds on, depending on your point of view) the maintenance of a national institution that manages the compulsory twelve years of schooling for some 50 million American kids. An institution that may employ as many as 25 million adults in the school system itself and the plethora of vendors that support it in various ways.
According to education blogger Dave Chandler from his piece “More of the Same: Obama and Schools”…
Our ‘education’ establishment is very much about preserving a multi-hundred-billion-dollar spending machine. Corporations make tremendous profit from selling high tech hardware and software to virtually every school district in the nation. Textbook companies and testing companies and education consulting companies and pension investment advising companies and public relations firms and bond dealers… Then there are the politicians who get campaign contributions from the above mentioned special interests and the ‘educrat’ administrators who make hundred thousand dollar a year salaries.
I found it thought provoking to read some of the text from Eisenhower’s 1961 speech from the Wikipedia article on the “Military Industrial Complex”…
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we mus not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.
I regularly scan the articles featured on-line in Education Week magazine, which I understand to be the most widely read education “industry” publication in the country. Its pieces focus on developing and implementing curricula, training and managing teachers and principals, standardized testing and how to finance it all. Given that all these things are intended to facilitate student success, there seems to be very little in its pages directly about those students.
“Our schools are … factories in which the raw products (children) are to be shaped and fashioned …. And it is the business of the school to build its pupils according to the specifications laid down.”
My fear is expressed by social critic H.L. Mencken’s words from The American Mercury in 1924…
The aim of public education is not to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. … Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim … is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.