Educational Politics: Sheep, Special Interests, and Perks

[Note: An earlier version of this article first appeared as a comment (10.12.11) on Jim Shimabukuro’s “University Leaders Beginning to Flex Their eMuscles” (10.7.11). -Editor]

One image that comes to mind when I attend conferences is that of sheep, that is, the people who go to the conferences thinking that the featured speakers know all of the answers and are willing to pay them big money to be “educated.” Not so obvious is the fact that, often, the major conference providers are promoting the resources of the private sector groups who contribute to their conference and who exhibit in their hall.

Many of the stars at these conferences are what I call educational entertainers. Sometimes the keynote speakers are quite entertaining. Sometimes they are educators of note, but all too often most of them have NEVER taught in a classroom. It is a cut throat business so the emphasis is on being entertaining rather than enlightening.

Then there is the hill walk. There are great things to be accomplished going to the hill. I had never heard of it mainly because I am from DC. My friends from other states educated me about going directly to the people who represent you: make an appointment, and go talk with them. The hill walks are sometimes organized by special interest groups to “help” politicians learn about education. It is an interesting process if you have never done it, and there are things to be gained.

In “Free Trips Raise Issues for Officials in Education,” Michael Winerip reports on influence-peddling in public-private collaborations (New York Times., 10.9.11). The article is interesting, but it covers just one of many different types of perks that school officials can get. I am sure that many of you can think of perks that are obtained if one buys a certain curriculum or is able to demonstrate a service or app that’s associated with a major vendor. So the world of education exists in a kind of ideational scaffolding somewhat fueled by money and influence. Maybe it was never any different. Maybe I am naive.

2 Responses

  1. Thank you, Bonnie.

    Well, the emperor’s clothes are really missing. Conferences, sales to schools, and what else? I’ve been hesitant to originate this sort of commentary because of my limited experience. I’ve seen a few examples but am not a frequent conference attendee and don’t get involved with sales to schools, except of my own online service. I’m also loathe to put myself in the position of complainer or, worse, whiner.

    Nevertheless, it all rings true.

    I’ll just put in a couple of pennies worth of my views.

    1. I believe that plenty of very worthy learning stuff is out there just waiting for your clever web search to find it, but it’s not pounding at your door because of the very steep climb required for smaller companies to enter the education marketplace.

    2. Larger companies, with their higher volume and profit margins, love to shower small benefits on their customers, benefits that smaller companies cannot afford.

    Smaller companies do have strategies do overcome the large deficit they have in marketing to education, but these take lots of time and money. I have to wonder how many small companies had the next great idea in education ready to go but failed due to lack of money, marketing expertise, or staying power. We cannot afford to lose great ideas. Not now.

  2. Thanks for this. I particularly liked the last part of your comment. Sometimes the next great idea is not presented because they are not a platinum sponsor. Too bad for us that there is this gating of ideas.


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