Conspiracy Theory of Education Reform

When I indulge my cynical self and develop conspiracy theories of education I imagine elite corporate bosses paying off government officials to implement an educational system that guarantees a vast supply of super-box-store drones capable of mentally tallying a customer's purchase but no developed ability to think critically, question, or be creative. Control curriculum, quash teacher autonomy, implement rigorous testing to ensure a consistent product. Some independent thinkers will get through who get to be low level managers.

After all, the nation's continued economic growth depends on increasing profits which is most easily achieved by slashing employee wages and benefits. Keep the masses controlled and minimally prepared for independence (but maximally prepared for a life of labour), and you achieve sustained growth in corporate earnings.

For the most part, my cynical self lives in the back of my mind while my blithely naive optimistic self sees me through the day with a smile on my face and joy in my heart. As I read about reforms to teacher compensation in Australia's state of New South Wales, and read about the enormous criticism and challenge to the profession in America, I got to wonder about models of teaching excellence as portrayed in film.

  • Sidney Poitier as Mark Thackeray in "To Sir, With Love" ditched the curriculum, focused on the individuals and pushed them to hold themselves to a higher personal standard while fighting pressures to conform from the top.
  • Robin Williams as John Keating in "Dead Poets Society" communicated the joy in literature in unconventional ways, inspiring his students to embrace poetry as a source of human truths and higher thinking and is fired for doing so.
  • Jon Voight as Pat Conroy in "Conrack", who recognized the needs of his students extend beyond the curriculum and took the time to help them meet those needs despite the dismissive attitudes of the higher administration.
  • Hilary Swank as Erin Gruwell in "Freedom Writers" who takes on a tough group of underachieving and racially divided students seeking ways to create community, hope and a future for her students.
  • Edward James Olmos as Jaime Escalante who leaves a lucrative job to teach challenged youth in an at-risk school.

Some of these are based on real-life stories. How many of them would still have happened in a climate of high stakes standards testing and performance based pay?

When you stifle creativity, when you make education about the test rather than the student, when autonomy and discretion are stripped away from teachers, education is reduced to an assembly line where diplomas might as well be replaced with "Inspected by A7G-22" stickers.

Despite being an avid reader of history and familiar with political and economic systems, it is still easy for me to be the optimist and believe that everyone involved on all sides of education are in it for the right reasons. Right?



  1. Hi Miles,

    I'm happy to have found this entry and your blog. I look forward to continuing to connect with your thinking along the way!!

  2. Mary says:

    You better believe, Miles. What is the other option?

  3. I love the "cynical self wrestling with the naive, optimisitc self" imagery. I think we all deal with a certain amount of that. Frankly, I can't quite get on board with a conspiracy of this scale, though I don't doubt it's the motivation of some. There's still too much local control in education for that to really be the case. Even as more and more decisions are made at the national level, the practical implementation of of those policies still falls with local decision makers. As such, I'd like to believe there are FAR more people associated with education who are doing it for the right reasons than the contrary. Coupled with the fact that there are still far more jobs in which higher education is preferential than there are the labor intensive jobs greedy would-be profit-mongers would encourage (automation has made it even cheaper to have no workforce than a low paid one) and I'm still more naitve optimist than cynic. But I have my days to be sure. Nice read, thanks for sharing.

    • milesmac says:

      Thoughtful response, Mark. Like you, I tend to believe people are doing things for the right reason, even if the philosophies and strategies are different. Cheers!

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