"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Education in the Corporate States of America

Education in the Corporate States of America

In Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut (1963) introduces into his fictional world Bokononism, a religion in which its messiah through the sacred text, The Books of Bokonon, confesses: "'All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies'" (p. 5).

The country of San Lorenzo finds it stability built on a fabricated conflict between General McCabe and the founder of Bokononism, Bokonon:
"'Well, when it became evident that no governmental or economic reform was going to make the people much less miserable, the religion became the one real instrument of hope. Truth was the enemy of the people, because the truth was so terrible, so Bokonon made it his business to provide the people with better and better lies.'" (p. 172)
The charade driven by McCabe outlawing Bokononism and declaring Bokonon a fugitive continues at the expense of McCabe and Bokonon as men until their faux war between the righteous McCabe and renegade holy man Bokonon becomes essential itself:
"'McCabe was always sane enough to realize that without the holy man to war against, he himself would become meaningless.'" (p. 175)
While science fiction, or better described as speculative fiction, tends to be more a commentary on its time rather than an attempt to predict some certain future, Vonnegut offers here a stark insight into the current false political dichotomy of Democrats and Republicans in the U.S.

Democrats and Republicans: Two Sides of the Same Corporate Coin

Anyone who believes that the U.S. has a two-party system is living in a delusion similar to the people of San Lorenzo; at best, we have Corporate Democrats and Corporate Republicans. And these two enemies, like McCabe and Bokonon, put on a simplistic passion play with both sides pretending to be the great messiahs and the ultimate sacrificial lambs seeking to preserve or save the U.S. of A.

Except their claims are nothing more than veneer for their corporate interests that lie only millimeters apart while the Democrats accuse the Republicans of being Fat Cats who care nothing for the regular person (failing to acknowledge that the Democrats themselves tend to be Fat Cats as well, pockets lined with corporate affiliations and allegiances) and the Republicans call the Democrats socialists (failing to acknowledge that the Republicans want government to bail out Wall Street and big banks when capitalism fails and that the slandered Democrats are too deep in the market even to see a socialist). Yes, this is all drama, designed to distract and mask that Democrats and Republicans embrace the worst that corporate paradigms have to offer—dehumanizing practices built on hierarchies, authoritarianism, and mechanistic views of humans as interchangeable parts in the great machine of the economy.

The reality that Americans are trapped in a one-party Corporate States of America can be seen directly in the debate over public education stretching back to the early 1980s when President Ronald Reagan simultaneously called for abolishing the U.S. Department of Education and initiated the Republican (and even Democrat) plan to use that same department to impose corporate federalism on the states through public education.

Education in the Corporate States of America

Florida has served as one of the most aggressive states embracing the accountability movement and represents the role of school policy as a lever for rebuilding a state in the image of the governor's political party and corporate commitments.

Former Governor Jeb Bush provided President George W. Bush the state model, along with Texas after George W. Bush was governor, for merging federal and state government in a corporate allegiance. Now, we have Governor Rick Scott taking Florida to new heights:
Florida's unpopular tea party governor, Rick Scott, wants more of the state's youths to pick up college degrees...but only if the degrees are useful to corporations and don't teach students to question social norms. "You know what? They need to get education in areas where they can get jobs," Scott told a right-wing radio host Monday morning. He continued: 
"You know, we don't need a lot more anthropologists in the state. It's a great degree if people want to get it, but we don't need them here. I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering, math degrees. That's what our kids need to focus all their time and attention on. Those type of degrees. So when they get out of school, they can get a job."
Education reform—starting with Reagan and including George H. W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Obama—represents the unmasking of the false battle that Democrats and Republicans often wage over health care, abortion, capital punishment, war, and a whole host of hot button issues that generally change very little in the lives of Americas but serve as pedestals upon which both parties can cry, "Crisis!"

The people of San Lorenzo are drawn to one powerful aspect of Bokononism, foma, defined as harmless lies. But even in this fictional world, Vonnegut shows that the greatest threat to the lies and the fabrications is knowledge—learning, specifically the writing down of history:
"I record that fact for whatever it may be worth. 'Write it all down,' Bokonon tells us. He is really telling us, of course, how futile it is to write or read histories. 'Without accurate records of the past, how can men and women be expected to avoid making serious mistakes in the future?' he asks ironically." (p. 237)
So in 2011, well into the presidency of a Democrat, we are faced with the harsh evidence that both political parties claim to be seeking public education reform by creating a school system that is privatized, teachers who are de-professionalized as members of the service industry, and students who are trained to be compliant—even after attending college where they shouldn't be thinking but learning how to fit into the Corporate States of America.

And here it seems appropriate to switch to another classic work from Vonnegut: So it goes.


Vonnegut, K. (1963). Cat's cradle. New York: Delta.

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