17 April, 2007

NO LOGO by Naomi Klein

As part of a research paper on the privatization of public schools, specifically commercialization through school-business "partnerships," I began reading No Logo by Naomi Klein. Note my use of the word "began;" I got as far as Chapter 4, "The Branding of Learning," which has helped me understand how the traditional line between the pubic and private sectors has become blurred in recent years. As a whole, the book rests on the thesis that an underground revolution is simmering and a whole generation of anticorporate radicals and global citizens will rise up and reclaim our "sold planet" from the Starbucks and the Wal-marts. Maybe I'll finish the book before all that happens.

My reason for mentioning No Logo here is the connection Klein draws between the privatization of education and instructional technology. Klein theorizes that commercialism in schools is directly correlated to an increase in "info-tech hype" that started in the 1990s. During that decade, American marketers waged a successful campaign in which they appealed to the desire of many local communities and school boards to provide state-of-the-art classrooms to schoolchildren despite perennial budget shortfalls:
It was technology that lent a new urgency to nineties chronic underfunding: at the same time as schools were facing ever-deeper budget cuts, the costs of delivering a modern education were steeply rising, forcing many educators to look to alternative funding sources for help. . . . Schools that couldn't afford up-to-date textbooks were suddenly expected to provide students with audiovisual equipment, video cameras, classroom computers, desktop publishing capacity, the latest educational software programs, Internet access -- even, at some schools, video-conferencing. (p. 88)

This equation enabled the multinational brands (Coke, Disney, etc.) to essentially eliminate "the barrier between ads and education." Wow. So, it seems that instructional technologists, school reformers, administrators, teachers, really ANYONE who opens the classroom door to corporate funding needs to be able to discern what is hype and what is not hype. My guess is it's HYPE if the objective is to put a SmartBoard in every classroom or a laptop in the hands of every child. It's NOT hype if a teacher in Danbury, Texas, writes and wins a $2500 grant from Best Buy to start a student film festival. (Thanks to my mom for the newspaper clipping!)

Interesting side note: Knox County's most visible partnership with business is the annual coupon book drive, in which local and national companies sponsor money-saving coupons bound in a chunky, little book that, in turn, elementary and middle school students hawk all over the county at $10 a pop. According to the KCS website, the 2006 campaign raised a $1.5 million dollar profit. The county returns 75 percent of the funds to the schools who sell the books. Of the 67 elementary and middle schools who participated, 82 percent reported using this money to buy -- you guessed it -- technology, software, and computer upgrades. Less than 20 percent report using coupon book proceeds on the arts, playground improvements, and field trips.

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