Not sure who coined the phrase “Education Industrial Complex”, a play off the more famous “Military Industrial Complex” used by President Eisenhower in a 1961 speech. It appears to be
Anthony G. Picciano, who wrote an article in 1994 about the growing role of computer technology in schools…
Behind your perhaps unassuming neighborhood public schools is a true leviathan of money, power, politics and influence that supports (or feeds on, depending on your point of view) the maintenance of a national institution that manages the compulsory twelve years of schooling for some 50 million American kids. An institution that may employ as many as 25 million adults in the school system itself and the plethora of vendors that support it in various ways.
According to education blogger Dave Chandler from his piece “More of the Same: Obama and Schools”…
Our ‘education’ establishment is very much about preserving a multi-hundred-billion-dollar spending machine. Corporations make tremendous profit from selling high tech hardware and software to virtually every school district in the nation. Textbook companies and testing companies and education consulting companies and pension investment advising companies and public relations firms and bond dealers… Then there are the politicians who get campaign contributions from the above mentioned special interests and the ‘educrat’ administrators who make hundred thousand dollar a year salaries.
Like any other area where so much money is involved, the effort tends to be torqued towards protecting (if not outright corrupted by) the vested interests that reap a financial reward from maintaining the status quo. In the case of the American public school system, that business as usual seems to have become a perpetual inside-the-box “reform” that involves the development, marketing and mass consumption of the latest textbooks and social-science-based learning programs and an entrenched bureaucratic hierarchy of educational staff above and beyond the actual teachers that interact with the actual students.
I found it thought provoking to read some of the text from Eisenhower’s 1961 speech from the Wikipedia article on the “Military Industrial Complex”…
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we mus not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.
What Eisenhower called out as new in 1961 appears to be replicating in the business of education, for not unlike defense spending, it is difficult for any politician on either side of the political spectrum to oppose ever increasing funding.
I regularly scan the articles featured on-line in Education Week magazine, which I understand to be the most widely read education “industry” publication in the country. Its pieces focus on developing and implementing curricula, training and managing teachers and principals, standardized testing and how to finance it all. Given that all these things are intended to facilitate student success, there seems to be very little in its pages directly about those students.
All this focus on education as big business I think leads to the kind of thinking expressed by Ellwood P. Cubberley, Dean of Stanford’s School of Education and a textbook editor at Houghton Mifflin, in the 1922 edition of his book Public School Administration…
“Our schools are … factories in which the raw products (children) are to be shaped and fashioned …. And it is the business of the school to build its pupils according to the specifications laid down.”
What I find particularly disturbing as a parent (whose kids spent a number of years in public schools) is that with all this focus on education as a major “industry”, I fear that the development of individual young human beings gets lost in the shuffle of focus on making incremental improvements in standardized testing statistics of large populations of our youth. How does that translate into a unique young soul having an enriched environment to pursue their own development?
My fear is expressed by social critic H.L. Mencken’s words from The American Mercury in 1924…
The aim of public education is not to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. … Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim … is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.
As a parent I don’t think we should have to surrender our kids to a huge impersonal system that is more about its financial bottom line, political posturing and testing statistics than providing an enriched environment for our youth to best pursue their own development.
For a continuation of this thread, see my follow-up piece, The Human Pursuit of Learning in the Education Industrial Complex.