Teaching for corporate America

We skip.

…And after reading Summertime, I am ready to pack up my bags, catch the next flight to Adelaide, sit on his front stoop, offer to scrub toilets, do laundry, clean house, prepare dinner, select wine, bake him some bread, and perform any other services that might help him celebrate the winter of his life…

We dance.

…Perhaps my mother was right. Perhaps Woman was designed for nothing more than to fetch and to serve and to pleasure Man…

We sing.

Okay, there is no singing in this one, but I am interested in collaborating with musicians or foley artists who are actively working on problems in education or issues related to identity. Or, best of all, where those two areas intersect, interweave, entwine.

teach for corporate america: rotten to the core from studio6other on Vimeo.

Documenting the summer’s action at Apple Retail gave me new insight into the multivalent problems in education.

Visually analyzing the composition from the point of view in front of the store reveals the simplicity of the business plan for the corporate takeover of public education. Distracted by our desire for new technologies (Apple), duped by a marketing scheme that seems both patriotic and philanthropic on its surface (Teach for America), we neglect to notice what is transpiring before our very eyes (seen in the window’s reflection, a new store opening across the parking lot: Microsoft, coming soon).

For those readers unwilling to sacrifice one hundred and eleven minutes of their lives at the altar of technology billionaire Bill Gates and now deposed Cruella de Vil of DC schools Michelle Rhee, the following bullet points outline corporate America’s business plan for the takeover of public education, as promoted by the beautifully composed infomercial Waiting for Superman:

  • Lobby to pass bipartisan legislation setting contradictory, unfunded, and thus impossible-to-meet expectations for the public school system
  • Appropriate the language to redefine responsibility as blame and deflect corporate responsibility onto:
  • Key terms in the appropriated language:
    • “accountability” (another word for blame)
    • “tracking”
    • “achievement gap”
    • “teacher effectiveness”
  • Introduce “miracle” solutions
    • technology
    • charter schools that look and sound a lot like corporate motivational retreats or cult camps
  • Manufacture desire for these miracle solutions by making the object accessible only to a select few via a lottery system for “acceptance” into corporate youth retreats

While the weavers continue spinning their magic cloth, witness the authentic response of a small child, who first stares in fascination, then turns and runs, fleeing in some ambiguous combination of glee and horror, the innocent figure who observes that the emperor is wearing no clothes.

Looking closer, the composition at Apple Retail also shows the complexities in education, the tensions between corporate and democratic ideals, between inclusion and exclusion, between self and other, no simple black and white dichotomies, these, but complex interrelations when we pause to reflect that the corporation includes not just the caricatured despotic CEO, but also anonymous shareholders, a board of directors, middle managers, supervisors, workers, and of course customers, consumers of corporate products. Looking closer still, each of us likely performs more than one of these roles, which makes the problem neither a simple designation of wrong versus right, nor even a pendulum swinging across a linear spectrum from public to private, but a complex interwoven plane of four or maybe five or even six dimensions, the core of our social fabric, sometimes rumpled, sometimes aloft, always intricately pleated and beaded, and the only hope we have of seeing it is when those baubles catch the light.

Difficult to compose stop-action when there is so little action to stop. No singing. No dancing. No performing of skits. A drum, unbeaten, its drummer narcissistically whining, “Will you take pictures of me?” and pouting at my refusal, when I point out that I am documenting the action outside the store, and pouting some more when I refuse to stop working to watch her things. (Your things are not moving.) Somewhere in Seattle, kindergarteners are being taught to pout to get what they want, just in case their parents didn’t already model that manipulative, self-absorbed behavior for them.

Posters hastily scrawled in Sharpie marker, for the second action of the summer disregarding my design advice, signs nearly illegible from even a short distance away, and one-sided, as if the whole world is before us, right in front of our faces. Have we forgotten how to imagine a pluralistic world beyond our personal screens or to see other people as human beings, not simply as data points or means to our own personal ends?

Handouts that include clip art, an oxymoronic term that has everything to do with clipping and nothing to do with anything I would describe as art, depicting an apple with – Is that a penis coming out of that apple, or are you just happy to see me? – visual communication suggested by an elementary school art teacher, which should pretty much guarantee another generation that is visually illiterate, lacking in empathy, and unable to think critically by the time they reach college. If they graduate from high school.

Parent-teacher-activists inactively congregate as gathering for something of a dysfunctional family portrait before they break into arguments, talking over and talking down to still other parent-teacher-activists who arrive to defend the goals of corporate education.

Should parents be permitted to design elementary and secondary education curricula? Are they qualified to do so? Should all children receive the education that any one set of parents wants for their own children? What about parents who neglect or abuse their children? At what point should the state intervene?

For every “bad” parent or “bad” teacher story, I could tell you ten or a hundred “good” teacher stories. For every trader who served his two years as a Teach for America recruit before waltzing off to amass his personal Wall Street fortune, there are likely tens or hundreds more who remain in the teaching profession, dedicated to their students, families, and neighborhoods. Five weeks of Teach for America training sounds about four weeks and five days longer than the teacher training I received from public education prior to being tossed a poorly written, poorly designed, badly printed, and poorly bound textbook utterly worthless on the resale market, a syllabus, and into my own college classroom with the instruction to “make it fun” – graduate teaching assistants providing the cheap wage solution to tenured faculty trimmed from academic budgets by bureaucratic administrators ever conscious of the bottom line.

What is that line?

What is the line between democratic and fascistic society? What is okay, and what is not okay? What line have we crossed and when did we cross it exactly? Is it too late to retrace our steps along that razor edge? And is that edge drawn in Sharpie marker, a clear delineation between good and bad, or is that line a blur of charcoal, the halftone screen of offset presses, a film of gauzy fabric fluttering on the breeze?

If a sign is illegible to your audience, is it still a sign?

Or are we just talking to ourselves, telling our own personal wounds; in the language of psychology and art theory, telling our traumas to ourselves with no intention of communicating with others, no comprehension of the multiplicity of voices required for a healthy democratic chorus?

Stamping our feet and insisting on our own rightness assumes a simple dichotomy that the other must therefore be wrong, and seems to me an ineffective method for attaining democracy in our society. If to meet in a democratic society means to be able to imagine in both self and other inner faculties of thought and emotion, as described by philosopher and educator Martha Nussbaum, the ability to see others as human beings, not simply as objects or means to achieve our own personal ends, then I have to agree with the carefully crafted corporate message that our system of public education has failed.

Exactly as it was designed to fail.

Maybe the fix is not rotten. Maybe rotten apples can be turned into wine, if enough peasant feet stomp on them.

I am serious about the socks.

Pull up your bootstraps, our national leaders told us three years ago. But what do you do when your wardrobe no longer includes a pair of boots? Barefoot and naked as the emperor, I beg:

Send socks.

Please send socks to:
PO Box 61352
Seattle, WA 98141-6352 USA

If I receive enough socks, I will use them in a subsequent stop-motion. If I receive more socks than I can use, I will give them to a local shelter or homeless American children.


7 thoughts on “Teaching for corporate America

  1. Pingback: In praise of data « journal6other

    1. journal6other Post author

      Well, I do not post often, as writing is difficult for me, thus time-consuming, but thank you for the double compliment. I enjoyed your contemplations of teaching FOR America, with that emphasis on the preposition. It seems too popular these days, especially in education, that we do not pause to reflect on what are we doing this FOR?

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