Pope John Paul II spoke against an epidemic trend in modern education — and particularly education in North America: to treat children not as growing persons, but as potential employees.
“Financial needs often induce people to give priority to academic learning, to the detriment of the integral education of the young,” he said in his 2004 Address to the Participants in the Symposium on Catholic Education. “Wherever students live, education must help them each day to grow into more and more mature men and women, and ‘to be’ better rather than ‘to have’ more.”
The mainstream media regularly raise a hue and cry against corporate sponsorships in public schools. The logic of the complaint is that if Pepsi Cola is paying for the gymnasium and IBM is paying for the computer lab, then the agendas of those corporations will obviously be pushed on unwary children.
This is absolutely correct. The Learning Company — a corporation that boasts of being able to reach the minds of 63 million American schoolchildren — offers learning materials to public schools at little to no costs. A quick read through their publicity materials leaves little doubt as to what is lurking in the mouth of the gift-horse: “School,” they tell their corporate customers, “is the ideal time to influence attitudes, build long-term loyalties, introduce new products, test-market, promote sampling and trial usage — and above all — to generate immediate sales.”
The problem in public education is not that it has sold out to corporate sponsorship, but that it was bought and paid for by big-business philanthropy from the beginning.
Prior to large-scale public schooling in America, there were community schools.
These were funded and built by the communities that they served; the teachers had to meet the approval of the parents whose children were placed in their care, and parents were free to remove their children from school at any time. There were also the parochial schools, governed by churches and under the authority of the local bishops. Fortunate parents are still able to send their children to such institutions today.
The shift from the community school to the government school board involved a massive campaign — one that received most of its funding and impetus from wealthy men, such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. This took place at the beginning of the 20th century, during a time when rampant scientific optimism promised an earthly utopia based on scientific reasoning and social engineering.
Utopian thinkers from Plato onward have seen schooling as a necessary foundation for their dreams of social reconstruction. They have, nearly without exception, also agreed on several dubious premises: that most people cannot be trained to be good unless they are lied to and deliberately misinformed, that the breakdown of children into intellectual or social classes is necessary to a smoothly functioning society, and that the good of the individual ought to be subordinated to the good of the state. People are seen as fulfilling a social function rather than as complete persons.
In the early part of the last century, a small group of wealthy financiers saw the opportunity to realize such a vision through the application of grants and foundations that would be the engine for creating a new kind of society.
Modern public schooling was one of the first of a series of “rational” social innovations that included forcible eugenic sterilizations in the ’20s, Alfred Kinsey’s “landmark studies” in human sexuality in the ’40s and legalized abortion in the ’70s. It is arguable that without the public schools, the rest would have been impossible.
This connection is, in some cases, quite direct: Public schools allowed eugenicists to subject children to the intelligence testing and medical examinations necessary to identify the “unfit”; they provided many of the youngest subjects for Kinsey’s interviews; and they continue to teach children about contraception, abortion, and sexuality without respect for the concerns of parents or the primacy of the family in forming sexual consciences.
Ultimately, there is no such a thing as corporate charity. There is corporate “philanthropy,” but as commentators since Oscar Wilde and G.K. Chesterton have noted, “philanthropy” is often a euphemism applied to self-serving, inhuman ideologies.
In the next installment, we’ll take a look at some typical modern curricula to find out.
Melinda Selmys is a staff writer