August 10, 2001

Commentary

Big Businesss in Education, has a negative affect on Minority students

By Edward M. Olivos, President
Greater San Diego, California Association of Bilingual Education

During the last six months we have seen an alarming level of discontent among our communities in regards to the educational reforms currently underway in San Diego City Schools (SDCS). Much of the blame is placed on the current Superintendent Alan Bersin, his Chancellor of Education, Anthony Alvarado, and the Board majority of Ed Lopez, Sue Braun, and Ron Ottinger. Specifically, they point to the exclusionary and paternalistic relationships they have with SDCS teachers, community members, parents, and students. This relationship has resulted in a demoralized teaching force in which over 93% of teachers polled voted No Confidence in Bersin, Alvarado, and the Board majority. Parents have taken to the streets in communities such as Sherman Heights and Golden Hill. Yet, in spite of all the criticisms and growing opposition to his administration, Bersin and Co. continue on their path of educational "reform." Why is that?

Behind Alan Bersin, the Board majority, and these so-called education reforms and hostile community relations lies The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation, a.k.a. The Business Roundtable for Education (BRE). This group, made up of San Diego business "leaders" was, according to their website, "created in 1993 to advocate for educational excellence and to support educational reform measures." It could be argued, though, that these reforms were not intended to include the communities of the parents they serve, but instead the interests of big business owners in San Diego.

A closer look at the BRE vision demonstrates this group's economical interest in education. In fact, they specifically state "The mission of The Chamber Foundation is to work in partnership with the San Diego business community to improve the quality of education in the San Diego region." No mention at all is made to include the voices or opinions of the communities that these schools serve. In fact, their "collaboration" is limited to the "regional business and educational communities to research, communicate, and implement programs that improve the quality of education throughout the region." So, where do Latino, African-American, and low-income communities fit in? That's a good question. Up to now, it appears that they don't fit in at all - at least not yet.

Educational research in the field of educational sociology, anthropology, and economic interests demonstrate that the presence of big business in public education often has a negative effect on low-income and minority student populations. Specifically, this "need for a knowledgeable and competent workforce" often manifests itself in the identification and tracking of minority students into remedial, compensatory classes (e.g. Genre Studies) and ultimately into low-paying, manual labor jobs. Indeed, in our society there remains a strong cultural pressure to fill servant jobs with Black and Latino workers (Young, 1990, p.52) and the public schools are the places where these workers are produced.

When organizations such as the BRE maintain a direct interest in public education, inner city schools become outposts for the economic interests of these businesses. In fact, contradictions and questions arise when one realizes that many of these businesses that wish to dictate to these communities how their children will be educated refuse to open up branches or headquarters in these barrios or ghettos. Furthermore, insult is added to injury when these communities are completely excluded from the educational process. Principals and administrators completely unfamiliar and unrepresentative of these communities come in to impose reform on their children, often times threatening, intimidating, and humiliating those parents and community members that wish to become involved beyond low-impact rhetoric. Such is the case in the one-way communication mode that the current SDCS administration conducts business. Indeed, I doubt that any knowledgeable business leader would treat their employees, or most importantly their customers, the way Bersin and Co. treat the SDCS teaching community, including parents.

The presence of the BRE in SDCS, though, cannot be completely seen as oppressive, exploitative, and/or unwanted. Indeed, and authentic collaboration between "in power" and low-income communities can provide much needed resources for these areas. Yet, the current state of SDCS reflects a disturbing trend, one in which education is used for alienation instead of inclusion.

Reform within SDCS must be collaborative and mutually respectful, that is, democratic. Therefore, the BRE must begin redirecting its efforts toward authentic school reform in which all students are provided the opportunity to succeed under different learning conditions. The one-size-fits-all elements of the Blueprint and the top-down administrative style of the current administration must be questioned, and soon. To the contrary, discontent among San Diegans may soon spread out of the hallways of the schools (as has happened in recent months) and into the economic interests of these business owners. There should be no doubt that San Diego parents, teachers, and community leaders will continue putting children above profit.

Reference: Young, I.M. (1990) Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton, N.J.:Princeton University Press.

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