The Imprint of Business Norms on American Education

by Dameon V. Alexander


American education is at a critical juncture because the traditional skills taught in schools and universities might no longer be valid to prepare students for a global economy. This is a prevailing argument in the education reform debate. Corporations are now being turned to for the solution.

Regarding western educational discourse, transitional periods in education extend as far back as the Middle Ages in Europe. In America, since the turn of the century there has been an underpinning influence on education: the role of business. Yet, how often do we hold businesses accountable for their contributions to education? Business and education alliances can greatly benefit the system on both the K–12 and university levels. However, if the work that education is supposed to accomplish is underestimated and the plight of education is handed blindly over to a corporate paradigm, there might be more harm done than good.

For some, it might seem unsavory that education has turned into a profitable business. For others, it is a dream come true. Although several scholars have analyzed the correspondence between education and the economy, few have examined it using a British pedagogical framework combined with an economic typology of power. The goal of this book is to explore the existence of certain capitalist realities in the American education system to find a balance between the distinct ideologies of education and business.

This book is a theory-building exercise that centers on a descriptive multiple-case study of two senior high schools: a private, Jesuit school with a mission to educate students for university disciplines and a public charter school designed for career preparation, both located in Washington, D.C. A combination of survey, dialogic, observational, and documentary techniques was employed in a multi-methodological approach. This enterprise draws on Basil Bernstein’s pedagogical theory of symbolic educational knowledge codes while attempting to fill a gap in its theoretical apparatus. The endeavor highlights some effects of alliances between business and education, while exploring concepts of power, critical thinking, and knowledge. A realist theoretical lens is a key component in this study where business norms are conceptualized as a social entity ontologically effectual to educational processes. Traditional forms of education are revealed to be in competition with alternative forms of education, where the high-technology age is perceived as a contributor to educational change. One of the unique analyses drawn from the research fieldwork elucidates differences between a religious paradigm and a careerist pedagogical approach.

Ultimately, three contextual themes emerge from the data: entrepreneur ethics, social skills, and technology; all of these are indications of how business mores are apparent in education. The salient theme in this endeavor is the control of knowledge by institutions and/or individuals.

The Imprint of Business Norms on American Education is an important book for social entrepreneurs, education reformers, education and sociological studies.


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