Tuesday, September 29, 2015

EpiPens, Peanut Allegries and Big Corporate Education

Why, oh why, am I afraid of corporate education? Do I have some unknown communist gene? Have I failed to grasp reality? What could go wrong if rapacious business types took over every American school?

If you listen to Fox News you know what the “benefits” of this process will supposedly be. The corporations will bring “business efficiency” to schools. The “evil teachers’ unions” will be crushed. Operating costs will plummet. Taxpayers will enjoy huge savings and yet profits will also go up. 

Profits will go up a lot!

Even standardized test scores will soar. (As we shall see in a moment, Volkswagen Group will see to that.)

Why am I so skeptical? 

I’m a retired history teacher. I know what history shows. If you can buy it and sell it, it will be bought and sold, often with little or no attention paid to ethical considerations or societal good. Slave traders, cigarette manufacturers, ivory poachers and international drug cartels all prove that point.

Corporations exist to make a profit. When profits are paramount the safety of workers and the safety of children are secondary considerations.

Or: no consideration at all.

Consider recent stories about EpiPens, used in emergency situations to treat bee stings, food-allergy reactions and diabetic shock. According to FiercePharma, an industry website, the price of these pens has increased dramatically since 2007, which in a corporate world is the best possible news. Eight years ago a company called Mylan bought the rights to the EpiPen. Each pen delivers $1 worth of the hormone epinephrine to counteract the effects of allergic reactions. The pens can save lives. Naturally, the industry website focuses on Mylan’s “marketing savvy,” which has led to a five-fold increase in sales.

Clever advertising, designed to feed into and fuel parental concerns, has convinced many families to buy multiple pens. You need one for mom’s purse. You need another for dad’s car. You need one for grandma’s house, one for school, and one for the coach of your child’s soccer team.

After all, your child’s life could hang in the balance. Or, as a business reporter notes “they [Mylan] really have a captive audience.” In this country, after insurance discounts, a package of two pens currently goes for $415. In 2007, the same pen, with the same $1 worth of hormones, was $57.

An ordinary educator or school nurse or any other decent human being interested in the welfare of children might argue: “Such increases are obscene. There are many families that cannot afford these life-saving pens at these astronomical prices.”

In the corporate world, however, such considerations are irrelevant. Mylan isn’t operating a charitable foundation. Mylan exists to make money.

The more money Mylan makes the better.

So, as you can clearly see (cough, cough), we need corporations just like Mylan to run America’s schools. Just imagine: Mylan High School. Maybe the mascot can be a big green dollar sign with arms and legs.

It’s not just the Mylan example that worries me. We know childhood asthma problems are on the rise all across the United States. But unlike the “efficient” corporate types, ordinary educators weren’t smart enough to see the vast profit-making possibilities. So why not address this issue with the same can-do spirit as the Volkswagen Group? Since air pollution exacerbates asthma, why not make it look like the cars you are selling reduce exhaust emissions? You don’t need to reduce emissions. You only need to create computer software that allows engines to run with power, to emit high levels of pollutants, and simultaneously fake out state and federal emissions inspectors.

Asthma? Smasthma. Our cars don’t cause pollution at all—and we have the test scores to prove it!

You don’t have to look high or low to find all kinds of stories like these. You want “business efficiency” in schools? Then, I am seeing a bright future for the Peanut Corporation of America in providing fine products to school cafeterias across this great land.

Okay, sure, if you want to quibble, it’s true. A handful of people did die after eating peanut butter contaminated with salmonella from a Peanut Corporation factory in Georgia. But only nine! Really, is that so bad? The other 700 victims, who fell ill, almost half of them children, did manage to recover.

Yes, a jury did recently convict Stewart Parnell, former owner of the Peanut Corporation of America, “on dozens of felony counts.” They did sentence him to 28 years in jail. It doesn’t matter. We’ve got to save America’s schools. We’ve got to let the giant corporations take charge.

You want business efficiency in schools? Well, kids, enjoy a little salmonella with your peanut butter and jelly. Emails in the Parnell trial showed the company hid the dangers for years. They knew products were contaminated. They didn’t care. Lab results were often falsified. (That’s how efficient corporations raise scores!) On another occasion, when lab results were slow coming in, Mr. Parnell told employees via email: “Shit, just ship it. I cannot afford to loose [sic] another customer.”

(Not counting those who get killed.)

In the end, a brave new world of corporate education lies ahead. And if your child’s asthma kicks up because of all the polluted air, or he or she gets a bit of bad Peanut Corporation product in his or her lunch, don’t worry!

The school clinic at Big Corporate Elementary School will have EpiPens for sale. Two for only $415.

It’s going to be great.


(Think this is exaggerated? For evidence of what to expect, related to for-profit colleges, consider the “success” of Corinthian and the University of Phoenix when it comes to piling up dough.)


  1. Love the post, Dad!

    Glucagon (not EpiPen) is the emergency medication for people with type 1 diabetes and it is also absurdly expensive ($~160 per kit last I checked, and parents are instructed to get one for home and one for school, it also expires every year). Craziness!

  2. Thanks, coolest daughter in America (tied with sisters and Ellora).