EDPS 360 (A2) Fall 2013

Big Business in the Classroom

In Cooperative Blog Posts on October 16, 2013 at 8:00 pm

By Nathan, Kaitlin, Daneka, and Cheyenne

Andrew Hodgkins, author of, “Petrol’s Paid Pipers” (2011), is a local boy.  He comes from northern Canada and is doing his doctoral studies at the U of A in Educational Policy Studies.  Hodgkins studies a vast number of ideas from vocational education and training partnerships, resource development, to Aboriginal governance.  His background in both education and resource development allows him to really focus his discussion on the topic of big business funding education.

John B. Thompson on the other hand,
is a Professor of Sociology and wrote “Ideology and Modern Culture” (1990).  Some of his main areas of interest are contemporary social and political theory, sociology of the media and modern culture, and the social and political impact of information and communication technologies.

Where Thompson’s (1990) book really relates to Hodgkins (2011) article is in his quote “there is little reason to suppose that the stability of complex industrial societies requires and depends upon a consensus concerning particular values and norms” (p. 8). Because essentially what Hodgkins is suggesting is that our provincial government uses propaganda to perpetuate the belief that the Oilsands in Alberta is universally benefit to all of those living in Alberta.  Where according to Thompson people are most easily influenced by relations of power and domination in a social setting, that is at school, work, or at home.  This is where people develop their own ideas, values and belief systems, but what if these social settings are being influenced by political ideology?  Are our education systems ‘contaminated’ by political influence? Are education policy makers embedding hidden agendas into our education curriculum in order to align our future generations beliefs with their own political ideologies? Why should Alberta have a lack of oil sands education because it will be “biting the hand that feeds so many” (Hodgkins, 2011, p. 56)?

However, how is it possible to teachers to teach critical thinking skills when corporate influence in education has been common practice now for several years, like the McDonald’s example Hodgkins’ article. The problem with these practices is that it does not provide opportunities for students to develop their critical thinking skills.  Hodgkin’s statement of “how corporate presence in education gets normalized and legitimized to the point that educators can become staunch champions of these mercenary Trojan horses” (p.54) presents a valid point.  It is absolutely a part of the teacher’s job to encourage students to challenge and critically think about any information that comes their way because it will be beneficial to their roles in society and as a global citizen.  The earlier these skills are enacted in our students by teachers, and even at home, the better off they will be.

As a group we wanted to give you all a chance to think about two questions that we thought were very important.  1) As future (presumably Albertan) teachers, would you take your potential class on one of these corporately sponsored field trips, like the one offered at the Athabasca tar sands? And 2) if programs like Energy in Action are in the curriculum and are offered through schools, how as teachers can we avoid corporate influence in the classroom?

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  1. It seems to me that if you have programs in place that are clearly working under a specific agenda, such as corporately sponsored field trips or Energy in Action, that you could use these as a platform for discussion in your classroom. These discussions could be a great way to develop critical thinking skills on the issues both presented and hidden within these programs (and of the issues of the program itself). I feel like this could also be one way to start combating potential corporate influence, both in and out of the classroom.

    • Perhaps so. Note that Hodgkins lists a number of aspects of present day classrooms that make this kind of critical engagement difficult. It’s not discussed explicitly in his article, but we should also ask whether our undergrad teacher education programs create teachers with the capacity to do that kind of critical activity. Do they?

  2. 1. I would take my students to a field trip to the oil sands. To show them a different perspective on the issue. When I taught about the environment in my grade 9 social studies class I used the oil sands as an example. Its easy to say how bad the oil sands are and how it wrecks the environment. It is harder to actually defend the oil sands aside from stating economic benefits. I don’t want my students to looking at issues such as this in only one perspective, that encompasses a sense of bias from the teacher. Teachers can also be bias if they only show one side of an issue to their students. I would take them to the field trip so that they may learn the other side of a perspective. It allows students to learn something other than a teacher all the time.

    2. It depends on the instructor and their beliefs. This can’t be generalized, depends on each person. Teachers can be biased to and can be bought out or bribed. There was an article a few years back, where a school was offered by a corporation to pay for hdtvs and computers so long as they allow for advertisement within the school. The principal declined saying it was to protect the sanctity of the school and education. But what about the teachers? I’m pretty sure some of them would have taken the deal especially if it meant more tools to use for teaching? Teachers are humans too.

    • What I mean to say is that everyone has different beliefs it really depends on the teacher and factors motivating their stances on an issue. Its up to the teacher whether they want to avoid corporate commercialism within their classroom. Especially when it is heavily present within our society.

  3. The relationship between a school and the corporate world is a way for students to be prepared for the real world. Teachers that give students the opportunities to explore all aspects of the oil sands help develop fully-rounded students. We should not protect our students from what is around them. Instead as a teacher I would prepare my students to explore their surroundings. I would provide them with all the resources and content (both sides of the scale) and have them think for themselves. Moreover, people’s perception of things change as they change, and over time, their values and belief systems can also change. Therefore, taking students on a field trip to the oil sand reserves can be both harmful and beneficial, depending on your perspective on them. With that in mind, protecting students from something that you perceive as harmful will not help the student.

  4. I would take my students on the trip if I had the opportunity to do so. However, I would use the trip as an opportunity to help my students develop their critical thinking. Critical thinking to me is exploring the world around us and asking questions about it and not just accepting everything at face value or how its presented to us but reading between the lines as well. Asking “how” the oil sands are being represented, “who” is presenting it this way (and who’s perspectives are absent), “why” the oil sands are being represented in a certain way, “what” is being said (what biases are coming to light, what are own biases, and what facts/information is absent)…. This discussion would be introduced before the trip but taken up in greater detail afterwards.

  5. 1.I think taking students to a corporately sponsored field trip could be beneficial for students to see a side to a particular issue. Whether we, as teachers, agree with the view espoused by the corporate entity should not be a determining factor in whether students are permitted to go. For example, if a teacher does not allow a tour of the oil sands (or tar sands, depending on your perspective) because they disagree with their development due to the environmental impacts, then they are not allowing students exposure to another viewpoint. These teachers run the risk of being as biased as the corporate entities themselves.

    2.Although I personally take issue with the idea of corporate sponsorship in our education system, there are things that we, as educutors, can do to mitigate the effects of corporate influence. For example, although the Energy in Action program gives a fairly biased view of the energy development sector in Alberta, this view can be balanced by an introduction of competing views from other soutrces. This will give students something to think about instead of just accepting everything told and shown to them as fact.

  6. I would take my students on the corporately sponsored field trip because this is an educational field trip that sets up learning opportunities that cannot be paralleled in the classroom. These field trip opportunities provide a more hands on approach then a typical classroom learning experience. The field trip would be a great way to incorporate the three main learning styles: auditory, visual and kinesthetic. I feel that by not taking the field trips that would be offered by corporations it is doing the students a disservice and they may feel that there is information being hidden from them. However, I also understand that by going on these field trips the students are typically getting one view and they feel that this is an ‘experts’ view and must therefore be the only one. To ensure that the students realize there are more then the corporation’s views and realities with my class I would first discuss any biases or thoughts before going on the field trip and then have a class discussion afterwards. In the class discussion we would reflect on what they experienced and the viewpoints they witnessed. I would then bring in more information and possible experts that do not necessarily correspond with the information provided by the corporations so that multiple perspectives could be seen. The students would then be expected to critically analyze all viewpoints and come to their own conclusions and opinions and defend them.

    In response to the second question I would use the materials provided but I would make sure that they are not the only materials the students are interacting with. I would present other materials that have an objective or viewpoint that does not necessarily align with that of the corporate materials. The students would then be expected to analyze all viewpoints, with assistance from myself and the other students, to develop a critical opinion of the messages being delivered. The students will be introduced to and expected to see multiple perspectives and not just what the corporations wants students to believe.

    I think as a teacher it is doing the students a disservice to pass up on educational opportunities or additional educational resources that may assist in furthering student knowledge. However, it is important to make sure the students realize that they need to look critically at materials presented and realize that there is always more then one side of the story.

  7. Perhaps you could ask students to write down their opinion before bombarding them with any information of knowledge on the subject or topic. Have them decide and back up their opinion. Then you could show them the corporate views to show how they might be trying to change or influence how they might feel. The field trips could also support this discussion in that you could show them in action what they are willing to show you and then dig out what they aren’t. I also liked from class the point that we should maybe look at how the message is coming across and what media is being used to show us.

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