When I think about all of the hype going on in education, I often connect it to the time I worked in sales and marketing in the business software-systems industry. To compete in that industry, I quickly learned that the name of the game was about how a business portrayed itself in the marketplace. So, often times, the company who had the slickest marketing, sales and PR machines in place were able to position themselves as the “biggest gun” worthy of the millions of dollars in contracts. My job was to help my clients reach the decision makers who controlled the million-dollar budgets and who had a problem that they needed to solve. All I had to do was find out who the decision makers were, what the problem was, how much budget was available, and then turn the potential client over to the sales rep for a meeting. This process is one that happens in business, everyday. Problems are defined, meetings are set up, and business deals are made.
In the industry that I worked in, sometimes the business deals that were set up were not made with the most honest or truthful intentions. In fact, it was well known in those “circles” that many heavy-hitter sales pros landed their companies millions of dollars in sales for software that their companies hadn’t even made yet. A really great “super-star sales rep” could sell anything, even if it didn’t exist. In those sales and marketing circles, when a person sold software solutions that didn’t exist, it was called “vaporware”, and many companies hocked their software made of vapor to keep their competitors at bay and to ensure their foothold in the marketplace. All that the unsuspecting customer had to know was that their existing software problem would be fixed and that systems-expert consultants would work side-by-side with them to solve their complex problems. It was quite a game that created a heavy burden for the unsuspecting company who needed its software problem solved quickly in order to streamline efficiencies and get product out the door. Vaporware became a bragging point for some of these super-star sales reps. They were proud that they could sell anyone on anything, and much damage and frustration came out of those deals. There were many businesses negatively impacted by the lies that were sold. Eventually, I found that industry to be a hollow, cutthroat way to make a living and I didn’t want to be around it anymore. A few years later, I decided that chasing money didn’t make me happy and I made the jump into teaching, where hopefully, I could be a part of shaping and molding our world into a less selfish, money-making, cutthroat society.
Once I left the software industry behind to become a teacher, I didn’t realize that I was entering an industry somewhat similar to the one I had just worked in. When I first started out, I didn’t view education as a business. I didn’t think in terms of competitiveness. I just want to maximize the learning and well being of my students, and make a difference in their lives. There were elements of business that I supported being present in the education environment. Common business words like, teamwork, efficiencies, productivity, and customer service, were terms I embraced in the education arena and believed in their usefulness in helping our education system improve. However, I didn’t see a need for competitiveness within a school, and I have seen how that business concept has done more harm than good in education.
My first three years of teaching, which were in a Title I middle school in San Diego, were an eye opener for me. I saw how business infiltrates education like a seedy underbelly that secretly drives just about everything. I saw millions of dollars spent on textbooks that we were asked not to use. I saw tech purchases made without teacher input or need, and over-paid people in high positions serve as agitators to purposely prompt teacher turnover. I realized that the American education system wasn’t necessarily about truly educating our young people; it was just another arena in which to do business and rake in a lot of dough. It was a heart-wrenching lesson to learn.
I’m now a teacher in Florida and I see the same thing happening, except this time, business has a stronghold on our education system throughout America, not just in certain school districts. Our nation’s economy has taken a hit recently, and businesses and government are scrambling to come up with ideas to create jobs, cut costs, and make money. The education industry is a prime target and has actually been so, for many years. I just didn’t realize it. I wasn’t close enough to the “circles” of decision making to realize that the name of the game isn’t truly about improving the knowledge of children; it’s more about profits, creating efficiencies at any cost, political platforms, the stroking of egos, and future workforce training. From the results we are seeing in many of our schools, we can tell that the education of our future workforce doesn’t call for many deep thinking, creative individuals – just compliant test takers who can point and click.
I often see the learning and well being of students negatively impacted by business. There’s nothing wrong with selling a product or service that fills a need, but when I see super-star sales reps sell district decision makers and federal government figureheads on the latest solution to address a problem in education, I think back to my time in the software-systems industry and ask myself, “Ok, who’s going to profit from this?”
The education industry is becoming no different than the software industry; it’s a place to make some lucrative deals and fluff the feathers of some super star sales people. Unfortunately, the unsuspecting stakeholders in this game who are being negatively impacted are children, their teachers, principals, parents and society. We are being sold a bill of goods, or “vaporeducation”, much akin to the vaporware sold in the software-systems industry.
The superstar sales people who are selling us on the new vaporeducation/ed reform solution are Bill Gates (who, interestingly, received a Golden Vaporware award for his “late release” of his company’s version of Windows in 1985), Eli Broad, Rupert Murdoch, and the Walton family – all folks who’ve made billions on selling things to people. Only now, they conduct their brilliant public relations and marketing tactics under the guise of “philanthropy”, which is the new way to make money while creating a favorable impression upon society. These “venture philanthropists” use their existing PR and marketing expertise to sell the public on their ed reform ideas, all the while they are setting up profit centers to bring in a lot of money and garner tax breaks. It’s all a game and the only ones who win are the business people who go after the money, while ignoring the true needs of the children who they propose to better educate. This whole ed reform push is not to better educate kids; but rather, it is “vaporeducation” (or “vapored”), which is a promise of better education. In my opinion, it’s nothing more than pure vapor.