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BEWARE: Corporate Consumerism Culture and the Rise of the National Curriculum

"Without social activism that will confront and change the economic system that has generated one educational reform charade after another," argues Gerald Coles, "continued generations of poor children will be doomed to wretched adulthood."

That economic system, one that pervades every aspect of American culture including our foundational democratic institutions such as universal public education, is best described as corporate consumerism—although the most fervent proponent of that corporate consumerism (the winners) have successfully masked that culture as "the free market."

"Free" is far more compelling than "consuming" for Americans, but without a doubt, we are voracious consumers whose appetite feeds corporate America.

Free marketeers have, as well, successfully demonized the essentially democratic and communal values inherent in socialism and communism by conflating these philosophical views of humanity and the world with totalitarianism.

But the corrosive nature of the corporate consumer culture is more than mere branding, or mislabeling. It is exactly the danger Coles identifies by asking:

"Willhelm's assessment is now truer than ever for both poor blacks and many whites who constitute part of the potential U.S. workforce within global capitalism. Were he to update his book, the title would likely be 'Who Needs the Poor and Much of What Had Been Called the Middle-Class?' Since overseas labor is less costly, fewer U.S. workers are needed for the jobs that are and will be available in this country. Why spend money to provide U.S. poor children with adequate food, clothing, healthcare and other basics of life, along with the full funding needed to educate them? For business needs it would be a waste of money."

Americans need not be fearful of the claimed socialism (or even communism) lurking beneath President Barack Obama, but Americans certainly should be fearful of the ever-increasing merging of government and corporate America, particularly as that merger involves the capitalizing of public education.

I am not sure Henry David Thoreau could have envisioned the threat identified by Coles, but the libertarian streak in Thoreau's view of government certainly applies:

"I heartily accept the motto, — 'That government is best which governs least'; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, — 'That government is best which governs not at all'; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient."

Government as an agent of corporate America is now poised to be, not expedient or "least," but bureaucratic and more, notably in the form of the rise of national standards, Common Core State Standards (CCSS).


The Hypnotic Allure of National Standards in a Corporate Consumer Culture

The history is long that justifies education and education reform as essential for preparing a world-class workforce. But that myopic focus has greatly intensified during the last thirty years of high-stakes accountability. Just as the free marketeers have masked corporate consumerism behind "free market" and demonized community by conflating socialism with totalitarianism, "standardization" and "high standards" have been pounded into the American psyche as the common good, despite both concepts being antithetical to our democratic ideals and our claimed faith in human agency.

The corporate consumer culture is driven by a pervasive atmosphere of fear and crisis—an atmosphere that supports what appears to be reasonable calls for national standards. Let's consider how easily we fall prey to the Siren's song of national standards.

Troutfishing, at Daily Kos, has exposed and connected the very real danger that Mitt Romney's conservative ideology could impact negatively what we teach and why in an expose that examines the warped science curriculum being promoted in religiously-based science textbooks:

"The texts are typically anti-gay and have been criticized by leading academics for ignoring and disparaging the roles that African-Americans, women, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, working-class Americans, and religious minorities have played in American history....

"One of the textbooks, United States History For Christian Schools, has qualified praise for some of the Ku Klux Klan's activities and blandly states that the organization 'resorted to violence and intimidation' without mentioning the Klan's extensive pattern of savage lynchings (see footnote); another text, from A Beka Books, suggests that, prior to their conversion to Christianity, Africans brought to America to be slaves were not yet spiritually ready for freedom."

Doesn't it seem logical that the antidote to religious zealotry corrupting academic integrity would include national standards that insure all children (including the children trapped in poverty and seemingly ignored as Coles explains) have access to the same high-quality content in their education?

Only if we fail to heed Thoreau's pleas about the best of governments.

The problem identified in what may happen if Romney's ideology opens the door to creationism in the science classroom is not Mitt Romney, but the abdication of professional autonomy to any government authority.

In the crisis and fear environment of corporate consumerism that repeatedly calls for science education to step up to the plate and produce, finally, a world-class work force, science educators have fallen into the trap of national standards as a defense against the false demon of creationism science. Corporate consumerism thrives on false wars being fought that keep everyone from looking squarely at "the economic system that has generated one educational reform charade after another," as Coles calls it.

Government as an agent of corporate consumerism is not the antidote to faux science. Science is the antidote to faux science.

The current CCSS movement is a government movement driven by corporate consumerism. National standards as an extension of government can never be anything except a corruption of academic integrity because it removes the agency of the experts in the fields and replaces that with fire-breathing dinosaurs.

America's corporate consumer culture has indoctrinated the masses to believe that the purpose of public education is to produce workers. Corporate America wants and needs compliant workers, thus public education has gradually devolved into primarily an institution inculcating compliance.

It is far past time to heed Coles' warning about the inextricable link between corporate consumerism and "one educational reform charade after another"—the most dangerous one being the rise of the national curriculum.

It is also far past time to heed Thoreau as well:

"This American government — what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity? It has not the vitality and force of a single living man; for a single man can bend it to his will. It is a sort of wooden gun to the people themselves. But it is not the less necessary for this; for the people must have some complicated machinery or other, and hear its din, to satisfy that idea of government which they have. Governments show thus how successfully men can be imposed on, even impose on themselves, for their own advantage. It is excellent, we must all allow. Yet this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way. It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It does not educate. The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way."

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P.L. Thomas

P. L. Thomas, Professor of Education (Furman University, Greenville SC), taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to teacher educati...