My Father's Clouds - Classroom Charlatans by John Borowski
"Corporate America has recognized that the greatest threat to neo-liberalism and globalization is an educated public."
If a society is judged by how it protects its children, then we better take a hard, introspective look at our failing effort. Nowhere is this failure more apparent than in the classrooms of our public schools. Corporations have literally invaded this sacred public space, marketing to and treating our children as "customers". The ramifications will haunt society for generations to come.
Each day, "Channel One" broadcasts a 12 minute mind- numbing newscast into the classrooms of nearly nine million children. This shallow "news", absent of challenging stories, lulls its intended targets almost to sleep, but there is a catch. Primedia, and its "Channel One" programs, provides free monitors and cable hookup to the school, in exchange for this captive audience of young, impressionable minds. Two minutes of commercials are aired daily, urging consumption of soda pop, clothes, candy, etc.
How many parents are aware their children are being sold this "bill of goods", right in their own classrooms? School is the place where "truth" is bestowed, any good parent knows that; or as my own daughter recants with ultimate pride and confidence, "Teacher said," and "Did you know what my teacher told us today?"
These "corporate-sponsors" have no shame. Primedia is now negotiating a merger with "About.com", another internet powerhouse. But there's a dark side to this possible union. About.com peddles pornography on some of its websites, especially, teenage pornography. I don't see how they can have it both ways, pushing teen programming in the schools and teen porn over the internet. But then again, maybe this is only fitting, because this wholesale commercialization of our schools is just another form of prostitution, where quarterly profits outweigh all other values.
But it doesn't stop with Channel One. Corporate America has recognized that the greatest threat to neo-liberalism and globalization is an educated public. The timber industry now funds a program called, innocently enough, "Project Learning Tree." Bankrolled by the most egregious despoilers of forests, (e.g. Pacific Lumber & Sierra Pacific), Project Learning Tree focuses on the benefits of tree farms and industrial forestry. Where is consideration of the values of ancient forests, or discussion of the deforestation of public lands and the hard data on clearcutting? It is mysteriously absent.
The "Greening Earth Society", funded by electric conglomerates, distributes videos and teachers' guides on the "fallacies" of global warming. Their material is professionally done, with an aura of "well intentioned data", but is incredibly shrill and misleading. How many young teachers, burdened with students and lesson plans, have the time, experience or ability to research this "ready-to-go" lesson?
Corporate lesson plans may help our students in the world of standardized tests, but ultimately, questions about life can't be answered on a multiple-choice basis. When our education system cops out and goes "the expedient" route, we are not challenging our children to ponder, to think about connections and revel in the joy of knowledge. Kids should be on field trips to tidal pools, diving into classic novels and contemplating the lessons of history. Instead, we are turning schools into malls, providing a foundation of materialism to build the next generation upon. There is little doubt that our children will be doomed to a shallow life of constant yearning, because materialism is insatiable and always will be.
I revel in the creativity and energy of our children, and I recognize the pivotal experience our public schools provide them. School unites children of different races, creeds, color, sexual preferences and different social strata—it brings them together to "live and learn" about their roles and responsibilities as young citizens in a diverse society. Philip Morris, Weyerhauser & Monsanto should not be there promoting corporate agendas as "educational tools".
The time is ripe for parents, teachers and society at large to "just say no." We must expose these shills for the calculating opportunists they are. We should embrace corporate dollars as charitable gifts, but say no to strings. When it comes to corporate freebies, communities must discuss the same type of "review filters" used for adopting textbooks. We must shame the likes of About.com and restore the true meaning of public education.
Join teachers like myself in making a New Year's resolution to take back the public schools; to fund them so classes are smaller; to bestow education and thinking on all who enter its magical doors. And this year I will not promote Nike, Revlon or Exxon in my classroom. Instead it will be a celebration of Rachel Carson, David Brower, John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Noam Chomsky.
John Borowski is a teacher at North Salem High School in Salem, Oregon.
cover art © Leo Wyman