The year was 2006. A colleague of mine had a connection to a member of senior management with the Mosaic Potash Company. Seeing as students were engaged in a study of natural resources and mining, it seemed fitting to have him visit our classes. I knew very little about this company and found his presentation to the students very engaging. The speaker spent a full hour outlining the economic importance of potash to our province while providing great details surrounding the operations of a potash mine. He ended his presentation with a vague and cryptic statement: “watch for a big announcement from our company to be made public soon”. True to his words, a few weeks later the following announcement was to be made: The Mosaic company had purchased the naming-rights to the beloved home of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Effective June 23, 2006 the facility would become known as “Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field”.
I remember the initial shock, and in some cases, outrage many in the community expressed regarding the proposed name change. The Leader Post interviewed a number of longtime fans who were adamant that Roughrider fans would not embrace this name change, and that it would forever be “Taylor Field” for the true fans. The fact that Mosaic had paid 4 million dollars for the naming rights of the stadium (and not the actual playing surface) did little to console irate fans. Many were upset that management had “sold-out” a nationally beloved sports franchise. But, as they say, time heals old wounds. Ten years later, Regina is on the brink of opening a new stadium. Once again, the Mosaic Company has inked the rights to a 20 year naming rights deal, and this new stadium is slated to open as Mosaic Stadium. Period. No awkward, “Taylor Field at Mosaic Stadium”. And surprisingly , very little (if any) backlash from the community over the proposed name of the new facility. It appears that after a decade, the residents of Saskatchewan have become accustomed to the idea of corporate sponsorship for their team.
But the idea of corporate sponsorship in sports isn’t just taking place in CFL football. Over the past few decades, advertising in hockey has slowly crept from scoreboards to the rink boards, from the rink boards to the ice surface, and from the ice surface to players jerseys. There is a feeling that ads on NHL uniforms are just a matter of time. They have been part of European hockey for years already. And this spring, the NBA announced they will begin allowing advertising on their uniforms beginning with the 2017-2018 season. It appears that even the multi-billion dollar sports industry is looking for ways to generate additional funding.
Week six our EC&I 830 class tackled the topic, Public education has sold its soul to corporate interests in what amounts to a Faustian bargain.
Justine and Tyler argued the agree side, and provided many negative examples of incentive programs and sponsorships school divisions have entered into with large corporations. The video, The Big Business Behind Public School Testing-Glenn Beck Program offered a perspective on standardized testing I had never considered. The guest being interviewed spoke of Pearson Learning, and the money the company generates through involvement in standardized testing. Essentially it was suggested that Pearson lobbies the government arguing that more testing is required. As a result, they are paid to create more tests. It was argued that often the testing is punitive and addresses all students, with failure rates for these tests often hovering around 40%. Pearson gets paid every time a student takes the test, and if a test needs to be retaken, Pearson makes money on these retakes as well. In designing these test for students to fail, Pearson is positioned for large profits. In her blog post, Kelsie Lenihan posted a very cleaver image, in which she strategically placed an “X” across a portion of the Pearson logo, effectively transforming the slogan from “Learning Solutions” to “earning solutions”. She ended her blog by suggesting that as long as teachers are around to demand transparency in education, public schools have not yet sold their souls.
Our guest, Audrey Watters of Hack Education, further suggested that testing has been big business for 100 years. Unfortunately, “Schools have always been seen as failing.” This is not a new phenomenon just with education technology. In her blog, Nicole Putz ponders, if education systems are perceived in this way, how are we ever supposed to move away from the idea that we need to be saved by funding from outside of government?”
Dean Shareski of Discovery Education offered a number of strong statements for the disagree side. One point he argued is that “Schools aren’t businesses. We can learn some things from all kinds of places but not blindly apply the principles.” Government actions such as the LEAN Initiative may work in organizations dealing with “products”, but in people industries such as education and health care, many of these principles simply don’t work. Another statement he made was that there is a key difference in the way people (and governments) view education. Do you see it as an investment, or an expenditure? He further urged that all school divisions need outside support. However, he feels the conversation needs to be about the relationships between big-business and education, and the way the relationships are forged and understood. His advice for corporations looking to be involved in the the education sector was this: “We do good, by doing good”. The financials will follow when the main goal is to help students with learning.
In her blog, Janelle Henderson states, “Education is a public commodity. We are not directly charging students to come to our schools (unless you are private or charter), and we are offering the best education possible in tumultuous times.” She also states, “The argument shouldn’t be about selling our educational souls to corporations, but why we believe that standardized testing is actually telling us how we are doing.” Additionally, Shannon Fedorus notes that in Saskatchewan we are in the midst of a funding crisis due to a lack of commitment to education from our current government. As a result, she observes that “Educators tend to be resourceful by nature, and so when they can receive materials and equipment that fundamentally benefit kids, they are apt to take advantage of such, even if this means entering into unsavoury agreements with the corporations that are providing the much needed resources.”
In his closing statements, Dean reminded us that education is a highly relational thing. He argued, “the best things about schools are the people and the relationships with these people.” This is simply something corporations cannot buy.