The three scholarly articles on the relationship between educational institutions and students are very insightful. The centre of their attention is the influence of student’s economic class on the quality and content of education received. But more importantly, class continues to influence and determine the quality and nature of an individual’s life beyond and after schooling years. In other words, the three authors posit in three different ways that economic class that an American is born into predetermines their course of life. The rest of this essay will flesh out this thesis.
The essay titled The Educated Global Citizen or Student Global Consumer? raises several important questions about the culture of education that has come to be accepted. Far from the ideal notions of education that the founding fathers of the nation envisioned, what we have today is the corporate takeover of schools and academies. The concept of advertising and sponsored programs have become so entrenched in the system that they no longer elicit a response of shock. Parents and educators have become desensitized to instructional video programs that contain embedded advertisements. The legitimacy of the classroom, with the authoritative figure of the teacher overseeing the program, students come to believe the content of the advertisement as truth. They are prone to believe that what they learn about science, mathematics and literature is on par with the content of the advertisement that is presented to them. Even common spaces within the premises of a school – such as a canteen – are not spared the blight of intrusive commercialization. For example, most school and college administrations have a deal with either Coca-Cola or Pepsi to be the official soft-drink provider within the campus. The same applies to the presence of McDonalds, StarBucks, Subway, etc in school canteens. Brand monopolies are thus allowed to exist in what is supposed to be a place for enlightenment. What business corporations are trying to achieve is to indoctrinate young minds into accepting certain brand loyalties. ‘If you catch them young they stay with you forever’ seems to be the motto of the major brands. While business interests profit and secure themselves of a young, loyal consumer base, the social consequences are disastrous. Instead of illuminating and stimulating young impressionable minds for creative thought and experimentation, our schools have turned into assembly lines for producing the next generation of passive obedient consumers. Hence, I totally agree with the views presented in Benjamin Barber’s essay.
The analytical essay by Gregory Mantsios takes up the manifestation of class differentials in the education system. The author goes on to demystify some prevalent myths and denials surrounding educational opportunities. One of the chief denials blighting American culture is its refusal to accept class divisions in society. As he notes wryly, America has turned into a nation of middle-class people. It then begs the question what are the two ends of the spectrum that this great middle-class is placed in between? There are political reasons behind the propaganda of the ‘middle-class nation’. But evidence from the ground suggests that class is a significant determinant of several indicators of life. Primary among them are opportunity to education and quality of education. Upon these two factors impinge several social, economic and health consequences. To illustrate, those who were fortunate enough to graduate from Ivy League institutions have higher life expectancy, lesser instances of accidents, better rates of recovery from illnesses, live a more luxurious lifestyle, lesser chances of incarceration or prison terms, etc. So what Mantsios makes abundantly clear is that entry into prestigious educational institutions ensures a decidedly superior subsequent life experience for those fortunate students. For the rest, or the great majority of the nation’s children, the future is not as rosy. What we are witnessing here is an antagonistic relationship between education providers (in this case Ivy League institutions) and the vast majority of the population who are denied entry to them.
In the third article perused for this essay, Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work, author Jean Anyon talks about the variation in educational content across different schools. While Mantsios and Barber talk about the differentials in ‘quality’ of education, it is Anyon who expounds on what it entails. The common understanding is that schools in low socio-economic localities have poor amenities and facilities. While this is true, the most troubling aspect of these schools is how their curricula are markedly different to prestigious schools. It seems that poor students who are enrolled here are prepared for a career in clerical or other blue-collar jobs. This is in contrast with posh schools where the curricula are designed to prepare the next generation of doctors, lawyers and business leaders. Hence the very precept upon which the founding fathers emphasized the role of education in society stands defeated. Jean Anyon’s illustration of this ‘vocational’ imperative in curricular design strengthens the deep fissures along class lines in American society.
In sum, all the three essays underscore the problematic or dysfunctional relationship between educators and students in American schools.
Benjamin R. Barber, The Education Global Citizen or Student Global Consumer? Liberal Education, Spring 2002, p.22+
Gregory Mantsios, Class in America – 2003, Money and Success, p.307+
Jean Anyon, Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work, Journal of Education, Vol. 162, no. 1, Fall 1980.