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Power ÷ 22

PLAYERS IN THE SCHOOL GAME

FIRST CATEGORY: Government Agencies

1) State legislatures, particularly those politicians known in-house to specialize in educational matters

2) Ambitious politicians with high public visibility

3) Big-city school boards controlling lucrative contracts

4) The courts

5) Big-city departments of education

6) State departments of education

7) Federal Department of Education

8) Other government agencies (National Science Foundation, National Training Laboratories, Defense Department, HUD, Labor Department, Health and Human Services, and many more)

SECOND CATEGORY: Active Special Interests

1) Key private foundations.2 About a dozen of these curious entities have been the most important shapers of national education policy in this century, particularly those of Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller.

2) Giant corporations, acting through a private association called the Business Roundtable (BR), latest manifestation of a series of such associations dating back to the turn of the century. Some evidence of the centrality of business in the school mix was the composition of the New American Schools Development Corporation. Its makeup of eighteen members (which the uninitiated might assume would be drawn from a representative cross-section of parties interested in the shape of American schooling) was heavily weighted as follows: CEO, RJR Nabisco; CEO, Boeing; President, Exxon; CEO, AT&T; CEO, Ashland Oil; CEO, Martin Marietta; CEO, AMEX; CEO, Eastman Kodak; CEO, WARNACO; CEO, Honeywell; CEO, Ralston; CEO, Arvin; Chairman, BF Goodrich; two ex-governors, two publishers, a TV producer.

3) The United Nations through UNESCO, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, etc.

4) Other private associations, National Association of Manufacturers, Council on Economic Development, the Advertising Council, Council on Foreign Relations, Foreign Policy Association, etc.

5) Professional unions, National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, Council of Supervisory Associations, etc.

6) Private educational interest groups, Council on Basic Education, Progressive Education Association, etc.

7) Single-interest groups: abortion activists, pro and con; other advocates for
specific interests.

THIRD CATEGORY: The "Knowledge" Industry

1) Colleges and universities

2) Teacher training colleges

3) Researchers

4) Testing organizations

5) Materials producers (other than print)

6) Text publishers

7) "Knowledge" brokers, subsystem designers

Control of the educational enterprise is distributed among at least these twenty-two players, each of which can be subdivided into in-house warring factions which further remove the decision-making process from simple accessibility. The financial interests of these associational voices are served whether children learn to read or not.

There is little accountability. No matter how many assertions are made to the contrary, few penalties exist past a certain level on the organizational chart—unless a culprit runs afoul of the media—an explanation for the bitter truth whistle-blowers regularly discover when they tell all. Which explains why precious few experienced hands care to ruin themselves to act the hero. This is not to say sensitive, intelligent, moral, and concerned individuals aren’t distributed through each of the twenty-two categories, but the conflict of interest is so glaring between serving a system loyally and serving the public that it is finally overwhelming. Indeed, it isn’t hard to see that in strictly economic terms this edifice of competing and conflicting interests is better served by badly performing schools than by successful ones. On economic grounds alone a disincentive exists to improve schools. When schools are bad, demands for increased funding and personnel, and professional control removed from public oversight, can be pressed by simply pointing to the perilous state of the enterprise. But when things go well, getting an extra buck is like pulling teeth.

Some of this political impasse grew naturally from a maze of competing interests, some grew from more cynical calculations with exactly the end in mind we see, but whatever the formative motives, the net result is virtually impervious to democratically generated change. No large change can occur in-system without a complicated coalition of separate interests backing it, not one of which can actually be a primary advocate for children and parents.


2Ellen Condliffe Lagemann’s Private Power for the Public Good (Wesleyan, 1986) is an excellent place to start to experience what Bernard Bailyn meant when he said that twentieth-century schooling troubled many high-minded people. Miss Lagemann is a high-minded woman, obviously troubled by what she discovered poking around one of the Carnegie endowments, and director of Harvard’s Graduate Education School.

The pages devoted to Rockefeller’s General Education Board in Collier and Horowitz’s The Rockefellers: An American Dynasty make a good simple introduction to another private endowment which ultimately will repay a deeper look; also, the pages on true believer Frederick T. Gates, the man who actually directed the spending of Rockefeller’s money, bear close attention as well.

For a sharp look at how foundations shape our ideology, I recommend Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad, and for a hair-raising finale René Wormser’s Foundations: Their Power and Influence is essential. Wormser was a general counsel for the House Committee which set out to investigate tax-exempt organizations during the eighty-third Congress. Its stormy course and hair-raising disclosures are guaranteed to remove any lingering traces of innocence about the conduct of American education, international affairs, or what are called "the social sciences." Miss Lagemann’s bibliography will lead you further, if needed.

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