K. Webster on the undue influence of businessmen on our public schools


Kathleen Webster engages with Jonathan Alter on his attack on Diane Ravitch and his praise of Bill Gates and the other Billionaire Boys Club for their involvement in  public education. For earlier critiques of Alter's attack , see here and here.  Kathleen points out that at the same time Gates and other corporate mavens are seeking to impose their favorite policies on our schools, they are contributing to hugebudget cuts here in NYC and throughout the country, by not paying their fair share of taxes. Thus their irresponsible behavior is causing a double whammy to our public schools. Microsoft, Gates' company, is one of the nation's prime experts in tax evasion; for more on this, see here and here.

To Mr. Alter: I leave it to others to debunk the absurdities of the rest of this article. But, Re: "what’s wrong with business executives ... devoting time and money to public schools? " If businesses executives would shoulder their share of the tax burden instead of milking this country for all its worth we would not need their "largesse" to fund our schools. And public schools could get back to the business of supporting the minds of our children to handle the complexities of this world.

So, "what's wrong with it"?  We don't want business executives in charge of the ethos of our education system by buying their way into positions of influence.  Because, speaking of your ironic comment, "That went well for this country...," I think we all know how that ethos has played out for everyone else.  K Webster
On Jun 5, 2011, at 11:23 AM, alterjonathan@gmail.com wrote: In your view, What's the motive of business in this context?

K's response: Thanks. Fair question.  But whether the motives are sinister or utterly based on good intentions, has no bearing on the prospect of undue influence of an outside interest in a public school. Everyone comes to this issue with a perspective honed by their life and outlook. I do too.

For example, those of us who are white and/or those of you who come from moneyed backgrounds will have an ethos (spoken, acknowledged, known, aware - or not) out of which decisions get made that  impact those who are, for example: not white, not moneyed. And frankly, we are not smart enough to be making those decisions. Business has a vested interest and a belief that their method, their ethos is the way forward. I understand that - of course they would! I fiercely disagree with that ethos for many reasons. 

The number one reason is that it doesn't work. It is not even working in the business world - except for the very very few. I think that no single influence should hold sway in schools, and certainly no influence without a thorough, ongoing and transparent vetting by the communities and teaching staff that a school intends to serve or employ. 

We've seen over and over again the presumption of "rightness" of a dominant and dominating culture/class/race/gender that gets proven so wrong in the light of progress.  But probably more insidious in all of this, is the gutting of public funding for education, which leaves parents and those who would fight for children (especially children who have been targeted by racism or economic depravation) hunting for the "goodies" that corporate sponsorship has in abundance. How do you turn down that offer? Even if you don't understand it or have time to investigate the long-range consequences of it?

Many small businesses in my community have stepped up and do step up to share their wealth because they believe in the principals who work hard to make the local schools excellent. They give her the money and assume she will know how to spend it. Of course businesses large and small should donate funds to schools!  
But not as a substitute for the paying of a fair share of their taxes so that WE the public and those who run our schools get to determine what gets spent where and for what.  The destruction of the infrastructure needed to create schools that are truly open and public is in no one's best interests. Everyone's ethos ends up being too narrow to be allowed to determine a school in any way. That takes a collaborative effort with all minds engaged, but particularly those who are most impacted by the end results.

Thanks for asking. Yours, K Webster
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