Friday, April 27, 2012

ExxonMobil Announces Commitment to Fixing U. S. Education

IF YOU HAVENT SEEN IT yet check out ExxonMobil's commerical on YouTube announcing support for America’s teachers and the company’s commitment to fixing what ails American education.  

I know, if you’re like me, your first reaction is probably, “Who better to understand the needs of children than oil executives?” 

It’s a slick thirty seconds, focusing on the dismal ranking of U. S. students in math compared to kids from around the world. You see a row of nations, white outlines on a blue background. (I believe it’s meant to hint at a patriotic theme.) The outlines are anatomically correct but not to scale. So you have South Korea first in math. Finland is second; but you might not realize Finland is smaller than Montana. It’s not much of a “threat” to Americas standing in the world with 5.4 million people. And don’t get me started on Belgium (8th), Estonia (11th) or Slovenia (14th). 

It only takes thirteen seconds—and then the camera draws back to reveal a long line of white countries, with the USA in red (again that red, white and blue theme) way back at the end of the line, in 25th, out of thirty-odd nations.

That's right:  Luxembourg!!!!
My god! What if they invade?
Adding insult to injury, and proving that the U.S. is pretty much screwed and tattooed if we don’t act soon, whose kids do you think come in just ahead of ours? Luxembourg! We’re behind Luxembourg, 24th, a country smaller than Rhode Island. 

So, why does this commercial bother me? Why should it bother all public school teachers? Hey, ExxonMobil wants to help. How can that be bad? 

The problem is it paints a far bleaker picture than we should see. It implies that if we don’t fix public schools and don’t let corporations help, we’re pretty much crap-out-of-luck, economically speaking.

It’s a subtle message; but businesses like to imply that Americas schools are failing, because if the schools are failing it’s not their fault when the U. S. economy is struggling. 

“I didn’t spill that oil in the Gulf,” so to speak. “Teachers did it.” 

IF THAT SOUNDS STUPID it’s no different than the logic that underpins most of the “school crisis” clamor in this country.

Why do we need more charter schools, more standardized testing, more privatization in education? Well: because we’re getting killed economically.

Seriously? By Finland?

Isn’t it disingenuous to imply that America is doomed because we’re 25th in math? Is it a problem that Luxembourg is beating us? 

Iceland is 12th in math (see list for 2010 provided). Icelanders have recently watched their nation go into bankruptcy. Mexico is 34th. That doesn’t stop Ford Motors from shipping engine assembly jobs south of the border. 

If you’re old enough to remember the paranoia that swept the United States in the 80s, you may recall that Japan was going to dominate the future—because Japanese schools were turning out superior “products.” And then you might begin to wonder if there isn’t something else at work to explain America’s economic decline besides how the nation’s math teachers are doing. It might just be that education isn’t the key to growth. Japan has lost 1/3rd of its factory jobs in the last twenty-five years and the Japanese economy hasn’t grown at all in two decades. Apparently, it hasn’t helped to be fourth in math. 

When it comes right down to it, it’s time to quit crying about the failure of U. S. education and consider a few numbers that truly matter:  “22,” for one. That’s the average pay, per day, in China, a college graduate can expect to make at FoxConn, which makes iPads for Apple. In fact, what a dream world we would live in if only we could convince our young, just coming out of Yale, or Tulane, or Ohio State, saddled with an average of $25,000 in tuition loan debt, to work for $22 per day. Think of all the jobs we could bring back to America if we could pull off a trick like that! 

Maybe there’s more, in 2013, to what ails the nation’s economy than the “failure” of a few teachers who teach math.  

Maybe when you take a closer look, the real problem is corporate accounting. 

P. S. IT MIGHT BE WORTH REMINDING CRITICS of public schools that the international comparison of 15-year-old students in 2010 focused on kids from sixty-five nations, with ours finishing 14th in reading and 17th in science. 

That’s not great.  

It’s not Mayan-level cultural disintegration either.

If you found this post interesting, I poke all kinds of holes in the anti-teacher logic in my book. I explain what good teachers can do, which is much, but also outline the kinds of problems we inevitably face.



  1. Brilliant!! Bravo, every person in the US should read this!

  2. Great post! I mentioned it and linked it in my recent discussion called "Leonardo, are you out there?" on

  3. Thank you, John, for helping all of us who see this slick series of ads on the telly to put this "crisis" in perspective. For example, I'm all for accountability. But I keep thinking that America has to realize that the Test-test-and-more-testing pendulum has swung way too far (to the right?) over the years. It now should be on its way back to center, but it is taking such a long time.

    And yes, we do know what works. But where have we found the sustained political will to put them all into place long enough to make a difference?

    The only saving grace comes from those who are willing to roll up their sleeves to solve this, not just add an expense item to the marketing account. And those willing folks are the teachers and the people in the community that are willing to support the efforts of those teachers, not just stand back and throw rocks.

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  5. "....businesses like to imply that America’s schools are failing, because if the schools are failing, it’s not their fault when the U. S. economy is struggling."

    If the public is focused on schools, maybe they won't notice the continued outsourcing of good jobs, or the offshoring of corporate profits to avoid paying US taxes? That could work!