Cory Roush

Dissonance and tension plus reflection and resolution equal intellectual growth

Yes, Let's Encourage Big Business to Further Influence Public Education

Ugh, Fast Company. When I saw this headline, I expected that a trip to The Onion was in order. I hadn't heard the news of AT&T's investment in educational games yet, but I was certain that this article was lampooning whatever decision had actually been made in an AT&T boardroom somewhere.

But I was wrong, and this article was dead serious. The authors, Judah Schiller and Christine Arena, are the founders of AIKO, an "intelligent agency" (no, seriously, their website states their intelligence right in the header) that basically consults with large corporations seeking to improve their public image by taking on causes important to their customers. In this case, they chose to pat AT&T on the back for giving a grant to GameDesk, a nonprofit/startup focusing on educational games for children. A disclaimer on the article also notes that GameDesk is one of AIKO's flagship partners. Just sayin'.

My beef, so you know, is not with GameDesk (or the larger goal of AIKO). My problem is with Schiller and Arena taking a relatively small example of corporate philanthropy, raising it up in significance above a "tried and true" donation to the United Way (apparently as long as kids are playing games, they won't be worried about their parents' unemployment and their inequitable access to healthcare), and then giving AT&T executives all the credit for disrupting education. Furthermore, we're supposed to believe that other companies should follow this trend and start giving more money to so-called disruptors in education.

Can we all start to agree that the problem with our public education system has nothing to do with games?

I may be especially cranky these days, but this just reeks of the same "investments" and "innovation" that companies like Apple, McGraw-Hill, and Pearson are bringing to the table these days. All of which end in huge profits for those companies and fodder for articles about how ebooks and tablets are going to ensure that every child graduates high school and competes with China lives a happy, successful life.

Educators know best the realities of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and it can be applied to organizations and communities just as easily as it can be applied to individual lives. Until our basic needs are met (by combatting rising inequity between minorities in schools, widespread budget cuts to districts, and a baffling disrespect for teachers and education professionals in the media) we can't even begin to ponder the ways that games and tablets are going to revolutionize education. Apple doesn't profit from hiring more teachers, and Pearson's massive testing centers actually benefit from a populace who believes the people teaching their children need to be vetted better. So remind me again why we should be looking to those companies for the secret solution to our problems?

The answer to my question comes from another one of Schiller and Arena's blog posts earlier this year:

We expect to see many more companies invest deeply in education, not simply as a cause du jour, but as a means of innovation and marketplace survival.

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