The Educational-Industrial Complex

Sometimes in my academic & research reading, I run across the pejorative term “the military-industrial complex.” I can’t say how long it’s been around; I sense that it hails from the Cold War and the peace-driven protests of the 60s which prompted schools like MIT to withdraw from putting their research efforts into building bigger and better weapons for the nuclear arms race.

I’d like to coin a new pejorative term for what’s happening in education: “The educational-industrial complex.”

How ironic that as postmodernism sweeps away the dusty remnants of Modernist thinking, our schools have become MORE like factories, MORE like assembly lines, MORE like widget-production mills.

As employers bewail the dearth of skilled labor with flexible minds and good problem-solving skills, the federally encouraged and state-mandated testing culture strips our teachers and schools of the time and resources to do anything but test, test, test.

Test now. Test later. Test at the end of every unit, every quarter, every semester. Lose two weeks at the end of the year because you can’t do the big state assessments during the final week of school, but students know nothing really matters once that test is finished….so let’s just party and fill the days with fluff.

When did education become so quantifiable?

When it turned into a multi-billion dollar business.

“Reforming education” isn’t an issue for education professionals to discuss. bringing wisdom from countless hours in classrooms across the nation to bear on difficult problems of today’s educational landscape: like raising the bar for schools in poor neighborhoods, increasing access to education for the underserved, training our teachers better and paying them better, or balancing the arts and sciences in a core curriculum.

It’s now an issue for those who hold the Power.  And Money.

The companies who score the standardized tests pull in millions (billions?) of dollars every year from nearly every state in the nation. Schools who perform better get better funding, so what administrator can refuse the deluge of funds offered if you’re willing to play the game? States see wads of federal cash float before their eyes.

Neighborhoods with good schools and high incomes push against any encroachment in their funding by lesser-served districts of lower socio-economic classes.

If you don’t have the Power, you don’t have much of a voice.

This educational Industrial Revolution isn’t raising everyone’s standard of living or leading to innovation. Like the abuses of the turn of the 20th Century, where labor laws barely protected workers from harm or exploitation, our children and teachers bear the injuries of an educational system that’s now bent on perpetuating itself.

Our desire to make education a science, rather than acknowledging that a good teacher is as much an artist and an alchemist as researcher or scientist, has pushed our priorities down the wrong path.

It’s time to stop.

I’ll make some suggestions….tomorrow.

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