Book Details Corporate Power, Smart Technologies and  the Undoing of Public Education

Book Details Corporate Power, Smart Technologies and the Undoing of Public Education

When it comes to defending public education and fighting back against the billionaire technocrats whose mission is to privatize our public schools, one name comes to mind – Diane Ravitch.

But there is another name many are not familiar with who is just as powerful a writer and professor of education who details the absurdity of the corporate mission to destroy the public schools and make billions of dollars in profits.

Ken Saltman, a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, has written a powerful book called Scripted Bodies that examines how corporeal control has expanded in education, how it impacts the mind and thinking, and the ways that new technologies are integral to the expansion of control.

Scripted Bodies contends that the rise in repression must be understood in relation to the broader economic, political, and cultural forces that have produced an increasingly authoritarian society. This book details how these new forms of corporeal control shut down the possibility of public schools developing as places where thinking becomes the organizing principal needed to contribute to a more equal, just and democratic society.

This book brought back unpleasant memories of Obama’s Race to the Top education plan written by the billionaires’ think tanks to destroy public schools via forcing more charter schools, scripted lessons, high-stakes testing, and other mind-numbing ideas to privatize the public schools. As a public school teacher for 14 years, I have lived through the excesses of the neoliberal dream that both the Democrats and Republicans have embraced via the millions of dollars rained on them from the corporate sector that look to the public commons to feed the beast.

This short book is scary: it details and criticizes a number of new repressive educational technologies, including drugging children to compete in examinations, applying behaviorist techniques of bodily control (grit), measuring teacher performance by wiring children to biometric measurement devices, and replacing teachers and professors with hardware and software.

Saltman points out that the Common Core State Standards and the student teaching assessment platform edTPA turn knowledge into a deliverable commodity, teachers into delivery agents and students into knowledge consumers.

Saltman also takes aim at the big picture and the problem with capitalism in general that forces such repressive pedagogy onto our student bodies. “The capitalist crisis of overaccumulation results in conditions whereby the private sector pillages the public sector as it seeks out new markets.”

In a world of increasingly precarious economic conditions – declining incomes and lack of a safety net, there is an investment in the “punishing state” to increasingly subject workers to repressive control. Charter schools focus on obedience to authority at the expense of a critical education that questions the world.

“These repressive approaches to teaching aim to not only make docile workers who are expected to follow orders but they also teach everyone that the unequal distribution of power and opportunity is deserved and natural rather than being the effect of a system designed to preserve class and group privilege and exclusion,” Saltman writes.

Saltman contends that these oppressive methods used to privatize education turn schooling into an accumulation of knowledge rather than thinking. “Only a society of thinking people stands a chance of making a more ethical and humane world.”

This is a powerful book that cannot be read lightly. It is written by an academic so you need to plod through carefully. It is important to know exactly what is being done to education today and this book lays it out perfectly.

The book is broken into five short but impactful chapters. The first is Smart Drugs: Corporate Profit and Corporeal Control, which details the rise of drugs like Ritalin to control Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD) to force students to sit through perhaps boring or irrelevant instruction. “Professional class students learn that they must self-administer the instruments of bodily control for educational competition towards the end of economic competition.”

The second chapter is entitled The Austerity School: Grit, Character and the Privatization of Public Education and it focuses on charter schools with scripted lessons, centralized data-tracking of numerical test measures, and value-added assessments that measure teacher and student performance based on test scores over time. Teachers in the Chicago Public Schools devote an hour each week to analyzing data based on tests, and God help us if those test scores don’t go up! Grit pedagogy is based upon the false promise made to poor children that if they learn the tools of self-control and endure drudgery, then they can compete with rich children for scarce economic resources. “Grit mystifies the sources of individual alienation by biologizing and naturalizing class inequality.”

The third chapter Biometric Analytic Pedagogy details how the Gates Foundation funded research which collected students’ physical reactions to teachers’ lessons, including facial recognition algorithms that measure the students’ facial expressions with webcams, analyze facial movement and generates feedback reports to teachers. Facebook is doing it to us too. Scary indeed!  The fourth chapter entitled Corporate Educational Reform and the Making of 

the New Forced Consumption notes that while the emphasis is on school choice in a consumer market, there will be no choice once all the public schools are closed, as the plan dictates. Plus, the promise of technology in the schools is empty when most of the engineering jobs have been outsourced to India.

The fifth chapter is called Learning To Be a Psychopath and details how the corporation acts like a psychopath in which profit is sacrosanct, the lives of its workers and consumers be damned. The leading scholar on psychopaths, Bob Hare, the book notes, contends that psychopaths are over-represented four-fold relative to the general population in the ranks of business leadership.

And that, my dear reader, is who is leading the school reform movement that Obama and now Trump will drive forward with if we, the people, do not stop it.

By Jim Vail