Critical Friends or Critical Frenemies?

Public education has sold its soul to corporate interests in what amounts to be a Faustian bargain.  

Agree or disagree? 

Quite a loaded statement! Although in the end I understood just how loaded it truly was, at the onset, I found this debate to be one of the most difficult in which to engage, just like some of my peers. I guess I had never critically thought about this idea because, at least in my case, I feel as though it was hidden, found behind the scenes, whereas the others debate topics where very much present in my everyday life.


Photo Credit: Hernan Piñera via Compfight cc

That being said, I was very naive. Corporate interests in education are present – and very much so in my everyday life – I just wasn’t looking for them. I use Pearson textbooks, for example, almost on a daily basis in my Math classroom. I have used their Science textbooks before, as well, and even though the Social Studies textbooks do not exist in French for my grade level, I know many colleagues who have used them to gather ideas for their lessons. Furthermore, after reading through the extensive list of occasions and places we can find corporations in our classroom, I realized as well that I have fallen consistently for the sponsorship of activities, programs, and challenges that are offered through corporations. For example, I have used SaskPower’s  wonderful units about saving energy and power before and I recently participated in the Plastic Grab Bag Challenge put on by Wal-Mart. I felt – in doing these lessons and activities – that my school, my class, and I were the main ones benefiting from these pre-made units and challenges. Could that be so?

My colleagues further opened up my eyes when they, too, noted the variety of corporation-based products they use. Like Amy mentioning the Scholastic usage with her position as a Teacher Librarian, or Stephanie with the myriad of uses of Google in her classroom. I use Google every day. Every single day. Without fail. Google Drive, Google Classroom, Google Read and Write, and even just Google as a preferred search engine have become mainstays in my classroom this year. At first, I thought this was great. My students had constant access to all of their assignments as well as anything they created themselves. No more losing homework, and no more forgetting the assignment directions at school. How great!

But what’s the cost in return?

Many colleagues, like Kelsie and Ainsley, have spoken this week about the dangers of having corporations too involved in education. Even short videos like the one below show how dangerous corporations we think have the right motives can be in our schools.

There are other troubling aspects with Pearson Education as well, particularly when it comes to the decision of who is qualified to teach in the United States. This is where my naivety really struck me in the face; I obviously knew Pearson was a well-established corporation, but I had no idea the power it had over education as a whole. These were well-argued points from the agree team this past week, made up of Justine and Tyler.

After ruminating on all of this negativity towards corporations in education – which is not unwarranted – I really had to reflect on how I felt about it. Like some peers, I do see the enhancements these relationships can bring to the table. As previously mentioned, I use resources created by corporations ridiculously often in my classroom. Not only that, but there are a multitude of ways you can use said resources to enhance your learning and instruction. Furthermore, scary statistics on school successes and possible corporate funding to help really make you think about what good is coming out (or can come out) of relationships built with those big-name companies. They have the resources and allocations that aren’t being provided in our schools at the moment. Even just recently we have seen further budgetary cuts to Saskatchewan Education funding. If we want to incorporate all those wonderful things we hear about, like SmartBoards (which, I have to say, I love and use constantly) and chromebooks (which I have seen greatly help students with their work and, particularly, the quality of work being submitted), or any of the assistive tech we have recently spoken to in class, we need funding. Even simply for more help with training. We do our best, and we adapt and change everything we need to continue to see success with our students, but funding and resources can go a long way in helping us further our own educational goals. I’m not going to lie; using Math textbooks, not as a sole resource but as a companion to my lessons, is incredibly useful. When I see competitions being organized to get students more aware of their environment and engaged in their learning, or when I can get my hands on resources (especially in French!) that align with curricula goals, I snatch them up quickly and use them fervently. Even if they are funded or created by those big corporations.


Photo Credit: BigEasySavings via Compfight cc


Photo Credit: ryanstraube via Compfight cc

It was really what Dean Shareski said that hit home with me: we would be arrogant to think that we have no need for critical friends. He and his team, made up of Kyle Schutt and David Fisher, were incredibly convincing for the disagree side of this debate. Fact is, I can’t do everything alone. I work with every possible co-worker I can to improve my teaching and instruction for the good of my students. Without those friendships, and without the help that was given to me over the first four years of my career, I have no idea where I would be at the moment. Those relationships have been crucial in the growth and development of my career, and in the growth and development of my students. I wonder where we would be if, on a larger scale, we didn’t have any relationships with corporations? What would my classroom be without a Pearson textbook, Google classroom, or a chromebook? I’m not saying these are the be-all and end-all of teaching – and they definitely should not be. But they do help in the elaboration of engaging and exciting lesson plans, even if they are the mere starting off point. I know my first year I was put into a classroom and I was told to teach classes for which I had no idea where to begin. These tools, funded by corporations, were a starting off point, for me, to simply get my bearings. This, I appreciated. These “critical friends” have helped me along the way.

Now, as Dean mentioned, we should use these relationships with a grain of salt. They should be based on aligned goals and curricula, and should be used first and foremost for a the improvement of student success and engagement in the learning of prescribed curricula. Standardized testing should not be the basis of these relationships, nor should the bottom line (although, again, here comes my naivety; I understand the bottom line is the goal for most businesses). As Audrey Watters from Hack Education pointed out, edtech is a huge industry (in the billions of dollars), and education as a whole is an industry in the trillions of dollars. It is a huge part of our society, and requires funding for it to function. We currently have relationships with companies to achieve such funding goals, but that is nothing new. We have always had relationships with companies. However, we must remain vigilant in looking at these relationships and seeing how they change and grow over time. We can’t always analyze education simply as a business industry – as investments or expenditures – nor can we ignore that aspect of it either.


Photo Credit: sandklef via Compfight cc

Education is a complicated matter, and the more I discuss it, the more confused I get. The more I study, the more I question. That is one of the main elements this class has really brought to light with these debates, and I come out of it with more knowledge, yet more things I do not know as well.

In the end, I think Dean summed it up quite nicely: the best thing about schools is people and relationships. This is why ed is so awesome and why it works. It is also the one thing that should never change, and that is something about which I am certain (although there isn’t much else about which I am certain at this time).

Where do you stand when it comes to corporations in the classroom? Are they our critical friends, or critical frenemies?


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2 Responses to Critical Friends or Critical Frenemies?

  1. Pingback: “Test 1 2 3, Anything but that” – Ellen Lague

  2. dalesh1 says:

    I really liked that you took what Dean said in class about friends and interrogated the question of whether these companies are our friends or frenemies? I thought this was not only brilliant, but also engaging to read! Great idea this week!


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