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Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Tue 10
Jul
2007

Free Money for Everyone

What Max Reckons I was going to let this slide, because calls for schools to chase the corporate dollar are nothing new. And I like to reserve my outrage for really odious new forms of marketing. Not just whacking ads on anything that moves, but the truly insidious slime you don’t really notice until it’s smiling you in the face. Like the “charm offensive” aimed at making the French more polite to tourists: now that gives me the heebie-jeebies. Polite French people? That’s just wrong. I like my French arrogant. If I ever step off a French airplane and hear, “Missing you already!,” I will take that as a sign of the Apocalypse.

But to schools. This particular push for big business to step in to educate young minds comes from Professor Brian Caldwell, who calls the public funding model “outdated thinking”:

He says partnerships with business could be valuable for both parties, for example in areas of science and technology.

“With a company like Rolls Royce you’re getting not only cash support but you’re also getting the opportunity of having top engineers work side by side with your teachers and your students and who also can provide marvellous work experience so yes there is self interest but it’s a self interest that matches the public interest,” he said.

Phew, that’s lucky. For a minute I was worried that the public interest in delivering quality education to children might not completely overlap with Rolls-Royce’s interest in stuffing great wads of cash into the pockets of its shareholders. Actually, I had thought that if we were brainstorming for large organizations with scads of money and an interest in public education, we might have thought of, you know, the frickin’ government. I mean, I don’t want to blow their cover, but government does occasionally provide services for the national good. Roads, bombing things, education; there’s a whole package.

What really bothers me here is the persistent idea that you can get money from companies for nothing:

Professor Caldwell doesn’t believe there is danger of too much interference, such as for example fast food companies influencing students’ diets.

Corporations are the most ruthlessly rational economic entities on the planet. They have to be, because if they aren’t, they die. They are subject to intense competitive pressure, and the evolutionary effect is that today’s corporate giants are the sharpest, most efficient wealth-generators in history. Anything they do, it’s because there’s a return.

I’m fine with that. But I’m not letting one loose in a school without asking: What does it get out of this? Or put another way: What are we selling?

Advertising is so pervasive is because everyone thinks it’s money for nothing: you put up some ads, you get paid, what’s the harm? The non-monetary side of the transaction can’t be measured. What’s the undivided attention of a twelve-year old worth? What’s the real cost of making our police dependent on ad revenue? What’s the final invoice on installing corporate patriotism in our kids?

I don’t know. But I bet it ends with smiling French people.

Comments

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Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 4368 days ago

Thanks to Jarrad, Dylan, Pen, and others for the links.

Machine Man subscriber Alex (#237)

Location: London, England
Quote: "We're today's scrambled creatures, locked in tomorrow's double feature (Bowie)"
Posted: 4368 days ago

Hmmm, in the case of Rolls Royce, they might indeed just want kids to grow up to be engineers working for them. And they get good publicity from it...It can works both ways.
Depends on the company really.

Jaime (#180)

Location: Philadelphia
Quote: "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"
Posted: 4368 days ago

You've seen the film The Corporation, right?

Karan (#1376)

Location: Sydney, Australia
Quote: "Quid Quid Latine Dictum Sit, Altum Viditur - Anything said in Latin sounds important"
Posted: 4368 days ago

Actually, helpful French people would be kinda disturbing.

towr (#1914)

Location: Netherlands
Posted: 4368 days ago

Companies would at least always get two things from sponsoring schools: an educated populace and good will. The question is whether they'd demand a higher return over time (especially when schools get used to regular donations it would become hard to refuse for fear of losing income).

Of course, either way, there is no free money. Either the companies will "tax" us extra so they can give money away, or the government taxes us for money to spend and/or waste. You ultimately pay for everything 'free' (Well, ok, not necessarily you, but some consumer has to pay the bill).

austin (#2462)

Location: rhode island
Quote: "hmmm...bleh..."
Posted: 4368 days ago

Corporations have been puttin their names on virtually anything and everything since the dawn of time. It was only a matter of time until they began invading the only "innocent" establishment that seemed to be immune to the stench of business.

But companies like Rolls Royce dont really serve a purpose in sponsoring schools, besides the fact that all schools need money, but no business will be coming from students attending said school.

Grace (#1225)

Location: Melbourne aka The Cliffs of Insanity
Quote: "I refuse to have a battle of wits with someone who is unarmed."
Posted: 4367 days ago

“With a company like Rolls Royce you’re getting not only cash support but you’re also getting the opportunity of having top engineers work side by side with your teachers and your students and who also can provide marvellous work experience so yes there is self interest but it’s a self interest that matches the public interest,”

According to Professor Caldwell's description child sweatshops could also be called 'an education opportunity'.
I wouldn't be surprised if that's how these 'schools' end up: A cheap source of labour and marketing information.
How much interest would Rolls Royce have in teaching children about the role of fossil fuels in global warming? Or literature, art and sports? (I am aware that many schools have already been forced to virtually given up on these topics due to lack of funds).

Here comes a smiling Frenchman with open arms...

Jennifer M. Dambeck (#3061)

Location: NJ, USA
Quote: "Rock on"
Posted: 4367 days ago

Ug! Around here we're trying to get fast food out of the schools, American obesity is epidemic 'specially in kids. Surprise! It's a bad idea for "Pizza Hut" to be a lunch choice.

Has the author of the article read "Jennifer Government"? Maybe I should send him a copy.

Is it going to be a movie soon? Maybe people would get it then.

blab (#1632)

Location: The Sandwich Isles
Quote: "Adventure is just poor planning"
Posted: 4367 days ago

First it was the offspring of plants when those itsy bitsy labels started apppearing on fruit; now corporations want our offspring. Maybe that barcode on JG's face was prescient -- or maybe you've just found the kernel for your next book!

Dave (#3198)

Location: Pennsylvania, USA
Quote: "There is no great genius without some touch of madness."
Posted: 4366 days ago

Just think of the possibilities: a McDonald's school! It wouldn't be as good as a Pepsi school but...you're a prophet, Max!

Djoules (#1553)

Location: Paris, France
Quote: "yes... maybe."
Posted: 4365 days ago

Hi, as i'm a french fan of Max, i must say that Doom is already there : i'm always happy to help foreigners lost in Paris, give advise, smile, just being nice because i like it that tourists find help when they need some in my town. I'm really sorry, i can't help it, i know it's evil but i'm just like that, and the most horrible is that i know MANY parisian people who are kind to tourists! We're doomed ;)

If some of you want to come to Paris, there are some basic expressions that you need to know, they are explained on this website : http://www.cestsoparis.com/

And about schools, we're not there yet, but french universities are about to get somme funding independancy so it shouldn't be long before Alcatel, Total, Orange, and other corporations start being present at the validation of universities' degrees...



Sven B. (#2792)

Location: Paris, FR
Quote: "If you did not make it, don't try to fix it."
Posted: 4365 days ago

Err... Will you please excuse me here, but... How come I've never ever heard even the slightest hint about this "Being polite to foreigners" stuff ? Not that I meet this much foreigners at all, but what with me working every week day in Paris, spending most of my week-ends here and freaking living in the Paris area, I'd think I should be aware of that. Well, maybe I just didn't get the memo...

Not that I would need it, anyway, cause, I'm quite as friendly as can be. The last two weeks, I spent a couple of evenings chatting with a guy from Detroit in a bar. He might be coming back by Fall.

Well, the one time I wasn't polite to a foreigner was when this guy, obviously some kind of redneck from the middle of nowhere in the US, went up past a friend and me and asked us : "You are french ?" We answered : "Well, yeah." And then he was all : "You know what ? Fuck you, people ! Fuck you and fuck your country !" Moments later, he went back, walking the other way and was still mumbling "Fuck you" all over the place. So I went and shouted at him "If you don't like this country, pal, please feel free to leave it".

Unless you really piss me off, that's quite the rudest I can get. And if you really piss me off, you don't want to be anywhere near me. Just saying.

About corporate school funding, yeah, that's quite scary. But yet. Score one more on the "Things I wrote and actually happened way later". Or maybe you should just wait for a MacDonald's school to open somewhere in the US.

Glendon Muir (#659)

Location: Ottawa, Canada
Quote: "True love never dies, kind of like zombies."
Posted: 4365 days ago

Well, if you privatize the entire system, then the corporations are responsible to public backlash. If some kid comes home having learned the benefits of the Big Mac and none of the multiplication tables, any right minded parent would pull them out and start them in a school that plays it as straight as possible.

Michael Ricksand (#2212)

Location: Terra
Quote: "You do not have a right to be stupid."
Posted: 4363 days ago

"If you ask me, it all started going downhill when we abolished taxes."

Celeste (#2590)

Location: St.L. MO, USA
Quote: "You can't child-proof the world, so world-proof the child."
Posted: 4359 days ago

Well, Max, I totally agree with you. The only problem is, the public education my child is getting isnt going to get him a job where he can actually support himself. In fact, High school has become so watered down and non-educational, that students now go to college prep classes at junior colleges before they go to real universities, because they actually dont learn enough in high school to take intro levels in college.

So, if a corporation is actually willing to put money into a school which will teach my child something that will get him a job with that company, so he isnt living on my couch playing video games while I try to upsell desserts so the hopefully 18% tip my diner customers might give me will be on something more than ten bucks (because my liberal arts degree didnt teach me any skills that would get me a job where I could, like, actually support myself) I am not arguing a whole heck of a lot (if he worked for Rolls Royce, he'd be able to afford to own a car- his big dream, at the moment).

Although, I have quit the diner job--I'm going back to school- to learn marketing. I got a job at a retail corporation. Having read Jennifer Government, I am tempted to introduce myself as Celeste ****** (name censored so as to make it clear I am not blogging as a representative of my place of employment). I am all kinds of amused as I watch all the corporate trainging videos & recognize how right you are- and how much I buy into it. And how hungry I am to play that game. And in my spare time, I volunteer with an environmental organization. That specifically goes after big corporate polluters. I am all kinds of amused.

Dead (#724)

Location: Ipswich, Australia
Quote: "5'4" and bulletproof."
Posted: 4353 days ago

Dear Max

I saw you on 9am and I have to ask... is David as big a prat as he looks? Also, I just got Company after waiting the longest time at our library for it. I've read three pages and I'm hooked. Damn you.

Love, Dead

Malid (#3225)

Location: Corporate America
Quote: "And Yet."
Posted: 4348 days ago

I printed that article out just to tape it to my wall. Thanks Max!

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