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 and Finland second and might not realize Finland is smaller than Montana. It’s not much of a “threat” to America’s 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?
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 really 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 America’s 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 today. Why do we need more charter schools, more standardized testing and 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 and 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 actually 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.