from educational Horizons Fall 1996

Private Business and Public Schooling

©1999 Gary K. Clabaugh

edited 9/2/11

Businessmen have always had a lot to say about public education. At the turn of the century, for instance, the National Association of Manufacturers successfully lobbied for industrial education programs that included a hefty dose of anti-unionism. Lately, however, things have gotten even better for corporate capitalists. Considerately not wasting the time of people representing other interests, 40 state governors brought just their favorite businessmen to the latest national education summit. Hosted by IBM at their conference center in Palisades, NY. Co-chaired by Wisconsin's Governor Tommy Thompson and IBM's chief executive Louis Gerstner, the conference produced the latest prescription for purging the nation's schools.

Previously these busy executives had to waste precious time pretending to listen to other, more selfish, interests. IBM's Gerstner, for instance, makes 5.7 million dollars a year. One can readily imagine the busy schedule he has to keep to merit that sort of pay. Nevertheless, Gerstner and dozens like him, set their obligations aside to attend education reform conferences.

It's great that such busy people are so willing to help; and I'll bet few if any of them even have kids in public schools. But I wonder if they are thinking as broadly as they should. They recommended, for instance, that their future employees meet higher educational standards and should be more familiar with technology. But these changes only meet the outlying needs of business. Satisfying corporate America's bedrock requirements requires more fundamental changes. Here are the type of proposals they should be considering:

To further enhance profits and boost stock prices, corporate chiefs now routinely require tens of thousands of employees to take advantage of "career change opportunities" through "involuntary separation from payroll" ­ usually at an age when they can't buy another job. Are public schools adequately getting kids ready for this? It seems unlikely. Why? Because every time a major corporation "strengthens its global effectiveness" through "reductions in force" former employees whine and carry on something fierce. Some even kill themselves. Clearly, public schooling is failing to adequately prepare kids to accept this new corporate order.

Here is a modest proposal for doing just that. Let youngsters progress to 12th grade; then, just when they anticipate graduation, initiate "force management." In other words, "right size" the school by imposing "involuntary severance" on all seniors ­ making certain, of course, that those "repositioned" don't find another school to graduate from. This measures will better prepare youngsters for layoffs late in their careers. Alternatively, educators might make "schedule adjustments" to achieve "focused reduction" a few kids at a time. This prepares them for the common corporate experience of suddenly finding the next cubicle vacant.

Executives are sometimes compelled to dip into their employee's pension funds. But employees, failing to understand this necessity, react angrily and create turmoil. (A few have even tried, largely unsuccessfully, to get law-makers to interfere.) What can public schools do to help corporate managers with this problem? Persuade students to start school-based college savings accounts, promising handsome earnings upon graduation. School officials could then spend this money and declare the school bankrupt. Do this to kids two or three times and you wouldn't have all this whining and complaining every time pension funds have to be sacrificed for the corporate good.

Corporate execs find it increasingly profitable to ship American jobs abroad. Unfortunately, foreign workers aren't always well-prepared for such employment; and American workers stubbornly resist the loss of their livelihood. What can be done? Let's begin closing American schools and use the savings to export schooling to developing nations. Third world kids consequently will be better prepared to work for American corporations, and Americans already displaced by foreign competition early in their lives while they still are developmentally receptive, will better understand the needs of Corporate America .

Business managers routinely find it necessary to promote the most ineffective workers to the level where they can do the least damage ­ management. Why not do the same thing in schools? Select the dumbest kids for promotion, making certain to fail any scholar who questions anything. The rise of multinational corporations also makes it necessary to eliminate the inculcation of patriotism. Presently, only the chiefs of multinational corporations seem to understand that nationalism is passé. Such awareness must be broadened. Let's begin by eliminating the traditional pledge of allegiance. Later we can move on to the social studies curriculum.

These and similar measures are essential if schools are to prepare kids to meet the needs of modern corporations. In fairness, though, public schooling already meets many of the most fundamental needs of corporate America. After a few years in elementary school, for instance, most kids have learned they have to go along to get along. Now that's solid preparation for corporate life ­ far more important than learning to solve quadratic equations or balance chemical reactions. Twelve years of public schooling also teaches kids to live with dumb rules, red tape and managerial double talk. This is basic to the needs of corporations.

Come to think of it, public schooling might be way "ahead of the curve" in meeting some corporate needs. For instance, business has only recently gotten into "densifying" the work environment -- moving employees out of their offices into a maze of relentlessly public cubicles. Public schools have been densified for years. Even teachers lack cubicles, much less the students. So school kids have long been prepared for densification. Similarly, corporate bosses only recently begun lurching from one management reform fad to another., Reform manias have staggered through public schooling for more than a century. By the time a youngster reaches twelfth grade, he or she has already lived through two or three improvement crazes. That's more than enough to prepare them for the new corporate America.

Even if these reform proposals are adopted, however, we've only minimally satisfied the real needs of modern corporate executives. For instance, when "Chainsaw Al" Dunlap fired 11,000 Scott Paper employees, sold the company to its chief rival and walked away with 100 million dollars, a lot of people utterly failed to realize that as chief executive "Chainsaw" had no obligations other than to make a profit. One newly fired thirty six year veteran of Scott even whined on national television that Dunlap, "... took my life and put it into his pocket ...". More effective public schooling would have brought this churlish fellow to realize that Dunlap was simply exercising corporate leadership.

It is a big, big job to school kids in a manner that allows them to properly appreciate "Chainsaw Al" and the modern corporate values he represents. However, it is not impossible. We could, for example, eliminate the teaching of sharing in grade school, instead substituting activities which inculcate Mr. Dunlap's guiding principle. He puts it this way. "The meek shall not inherit the earth; and, for sure, they won't get the mineral rights!"

To prepare kids for "Chainsaw's" world, we have to start early. Kindergarten and first grade teachers must stop teaching kids to share crayons, for instance, and encourage struggle for them instead. The victors should then be encouraged to sell crayons to the losers -- provided, of course, the losers can pay. We also must end all this folderol about "inclusion." Kids in inclusive classrooms sometimes start to enjoy helping others; and we all know what can happen to profits when you let that camel get its nose under the tent.

Yes, there is a lot left to do. But at least we can sleep better at night knowing that corporate executives now are shaping the future of public education.