Have Public Schools Sold Their Souls to Corporate Interest?


The day has come–it is my turn to present my debate. I’ll save you all the excitement:  I lost. Despite the loss, I really can’t be all that upset. Liz rocked this debate. She had Pro–yes, public schools have sold their souls to corporate interest, which left me with Con. So, where did we start?

Mine (before destruction) I look at this picture and think of a meme: 10 Photos Taken Just Before Disaster. I’m just being dramatic (sort of). Initially, Liz and I were half and half, which I believe was expected. I myself voted for Liz. I may have been fighting that public schools haven’t sold their soul, I personally believed, and still do, that corporations have too much influence over public schools. And in Liz’s debate, she further cemented this belief.

Liz argued five main points:

  1. Common Core Standards
  2. The Push for Standardized Testing
  3. Companies Dictating Educational Content
  4. Health Effects Caused by Public Sponsorship
  5. Major Universities Becoming Businesses

For comparison, this was my debate video, where I argued four main points:

  1. Technology in the Classroom
  2. Determining What To Use
  3. Moving Away from Bad Businesses
  4. Ethical Consumption

First, let’s look deeper into Liz’s debate.

Some of you may be confused about Common Core Standards, so I’ll help explain. Basically, in the United States, education policies are a state issue, but Bill Gates was able to change that. After being approached by Gene Wilhoit and David Coleman, Gates developed a national-standard education policy, and those standards were adopted by almost every state in America. What’s wrong with this? Well, as Liz points out, curriculum is typically developed and changed based on regions. If we compare Manitoba to Saskatchewan, for example, Manitoba has a much higher focus on Louis Riel in the curriculum because of how prominent a figure he is in Manitoban history. Common Core standards essentially eliminate this differentiation. Also, since this is funded through Bill Gates, the principal founder of Microsoft, this can lead to a generation of lifelong consumers. If all students are used to is Windows computers and Microsoft technology, they will stick with it into adulthood. This was a point I tried to argue in the debate, saying that just because a student is exposed to a Windows computer doesn’t mean they aren’t going to use an Apple laptop or Playstation later in life, but admittedly that was a poor argument. Making lifetime consumers is something that many companies try to accomplish, and by infiltrating education Bill Gates may have found the easiest demographic to influence.

Speaking of lifetime consumers, Liz also mentions the dangers of having companies like Coca-Cola or Pepsi sponsoring schools (and I’ll let you know right now… Coke is better). According to Tom Philpott, “nearly half of all public elementary schools and about 80 percent of public high schools operated under pouring rights contracts,” where a “pouring rights contract” is when there is an exclusive contract with a beverage company to sell their products. The key-word here is “exclusive”. By having only one company sell their products in a school, and other products are not allowed to be sold because of the contract, students are exposed to the products day in and day out, and can lead to them becoming lifetime consumers. Regarding pop beverages, this can increase major health issues, such as diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, so on and so on. Having these beverages being sold in schools shouldn’t be allowed solely for health risks, especially in elementary schools. But since schools are strapped for money, there is little they can do. However, the biggest issue with corporations in schools isn’t about creating potential lifetime consumers.

Having companies in schools can lead to companies dictating what can and cannot be taught in schools. If schools want to keep their contracts and keep running with the money those companies are giving them, they have to give in to company demands. There are many things that companies may not want schools teaching students, like how Coca-Cola fired over a hundred employees in Turkey because of union activity, or how Pepsi was using water in areas of India where there were major water shortages. These companies, to put it simply, have an agenda that they can spread if they gain sponsorships in schools which can be detrimental to education.

Possibly the biggest issue is standardized testing. Companies like Pearson make money off of the number of standardized tests that are written, and in America, that number has risen since the early 2000s. On average, students write about 113 standardized tests throughout their school career in the United States. These tests sometimes are incredibly hard and stressful, resulting in many students failing. However, companies like Pearson benefit from students failing because those students have to re-write the test, resulting in more revenue for the company. Standardized tests can lead to extreme stress and pressure, so much so that there’s a procedure in case a student gets sick on their exam. John Oliver put it best when he said “Something is wrong with our system if we just assume a certain number of kids will vomit,” because there is so much pressure to perform well. Standardized tests went from a way to assess learning to a way to make money off of student performance, and that is not what should be happening in our schools.

So, what did I bring to the table? In my first point, I mention that technology is unavoidable, and schools can’t disregard its uses. However, in underfunded schools, this can be hard to attain. Many schools turn to companies, like Google, to provide them with those tools so that they can get effective tech for their students. Just because schools cannot afford technology doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve it, which is why many may have to turn to companies and corporations.

I also highlighted how many schools are recognizing the issues with Pearson. Pearson has been losing contracts with schools in New York, Florida, and even Texas where they used to hold a three-decade monopoly. Because of this direct hit, this can affect the standardized testing business (because, let’s be real, it’s a business). Not does this directly hurt standardized tests, but it also affects the Common Core curriculum. Pearson is responsible for making tests for Common Core, and this is a great example of how schools have been moving away from these practices. However, and this is very important to note, that while schools have been moving away from Pearson, they have been gravitating towards other companies that essentially do the same thing, and Pearson still remains the top educational company. It’s hard to say that schools aren’t selling out when they drop one company just to side with another that is just as corrupt.

My biggest argument was the idea of ethical consumption. Canada and the United States, the two countries we focused on the most during our debate, are countries that heavily rely on capitalism. This reliance means that companies and corporations are engrained in essentially everything we do. I made the point that we all have cell phones that make money off of our usage, that have plans and contracts tied to other companies. We all have laptops, tied to companies, and meet in class once a week using an app, owned by a company, that makes money off our class. Really, it’s hard for us to escape companies in our life, and so if we agree that schools are sell-outs, we also have to agree that we as humans are too. Of course, this is no fault of our own. It’s not something we can control. Have you tried boycotting a company? It doesn’t really work when they own other subsidiaries that you rely on daily. For example, if you tried boycotting Microsoft by selling your Xbox and switching to an Apple computer, you’d also have to stop using Skype, get rid of your LinkedIn, stop using Microsoft Office and Outlook. Or with Pepsi, you’d have to stop eating Quaker products and Lays Chips and Tropicana Orange Juice. Schools making deals with companies is just a result of the society we live in.

Alright, get ready for the cursed image.

My debate

I lost #bigtime.

Really, I can’t be all that upset that I lost (especially considering I still sided with Liz at the end of our debate). But what do I think the true conclusion is?

I don’t think it’s schools that are to blame.

If a school has to turn to companies because they are underfunded, shouldn’t we be looking at the people responsible for funding rather than the school? It reminds me of an analogy that my prof, Katia, loves to use. If you see a bunch of babies floating in a river, are you going to dive in and catch all the babies, or are you going to do upstream and see who is sending the babies down the river? One solution is temporary while the other is long term. Having contracts with companies is temporary until the government gives education more funding so that we don’t have to worry about schools selling their souls to corporate interest. And that’s that on #that.

2 Replies to “Have Public Schools Sold Their Souls to Corporate Interest?”

  1. Hey Shaleen!
    I just wanted to start by saying even though you may not have “won” this debate, you definitely made some great arguments! You had a hard side to support so I think you should be very happy with your results! I agree with you that there is a larger over-arching issue here that needs to be addressed. Schools are turning to corporations for funding because they are underfunded. We need to start looking at this from the top and work out way down! I think you’ve really highlighted that in this post so that’s great!


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