Corporate America Continues to Treat Students as Widgets

January 15, 2019

by Karen R. Effrem, MD


Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, gave a speech last week on the “State of American Business,” in which he described the Chamber’s views and plans on education:

The first big issue centers on the American workforce.

We must have a steady supply of talented and hard-working people to do the work of a modern economy so our nation can compete and lead. And we need the right policies, systems, and opportunities in place to prepare those people so that they can compete and succeed.

It’s no secret that our nation is currently falling short on both of those imperatives. We have people without jobs—who lack the skills or education to fill open positions. And we have jobs without people—employers tell us positions are sitting vacant because they can’t find the workers they need, when and where they need them.

The Chamber is at the center of this complex challenge. We’re working to strengthen the foundation of opportunity by focusing on early learning and K-12 education. We’re promoting smart choices in post-secondary education or training so that students can get a return on their investment and earn credentials of value in the market.

We believe that the future requires lifelong learning. So we must change the way we think about, accredit, and fund post-secondary education. Businesses can help by regularly training and retraining their employees so that their skills remain sharp and relevant.

The Chamber’s Foundation is creating business-led solutions, like Talent Pipeline Management, and has launched academies in 26 states to help businesses source and train workers.

There are at least three major problems with this approach. The first is that corporate America has always treated the purpose of education as merely job training for them at the taxpayer’s expense. This is evident in the Chamber’s promotion of federal laws like the School to Work Opportunities Act, the Workforce Investment Act, and the Carl Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. All of these laws promote a managed economy by allowing workforce boards composed of government bureaucrats and corporate cronies to determine which companies receive tax incentives and project how many of which types of workers should be trained in given areas of the country. It has been a miserable failure in the U.S. under the Gates Foundation’s billion-dollar Smaller Learning Communities initiative, where students were slotted into career paths as early as 6th grade, and in countries around the world such as Russia, Japan, and Germany.

This education-as-workforce-preparation approach has also led to the imposition of Common Core, competency-based/personalized learning with its machine-based skills training, and the massive data collection and social emotional/personality profiling via education technology occurring in many schools. As chronicled here and other places in detail, this is all very dangerous to academic achievement, privacy, freedom of conscience, and being able to choose one’s own destiny.

The second major problem with the Chamber’s approach is the corporate “lifelong learning” push. Their desire to meddle in education starting in preschool is enormously problematic. Regarding effectiveness, there have been dozens of studies about the failures of preschool and Head Start. There are many studies coming out about the failure of Common Core that has so adversely affected K-12 education, including new data from New York about the spike in high school failures.

But most importantly, it is not the right or the function of corporations or the federal government to treat people like widgets for their own use. Donohue mentioned in his speech that the Chamber is involved in what he terms the “Talent Pipeline Management.” This is analogous to former Exxon Mobil CEO and major Common Core proponent Rex Tillerson’s description of a student as a “product at the end of that high school graduation…Now is that product in a form that we, the customer, can use it? Or is it defective, and we’re not interested?”

These businesses and organizations do not have the right or authority to treat our children as mere links in their labor supply chain and to manipulate sensitive data (including social emotional and personality data often collected without consent via murky algorithms) to slot and shunt people into jobs according to the desires of Big Business and Big Government. Joy Pullman at The Federalist explains just how egregious and dangerous to our children and country this crony control really is:

First, this is horribly offensive to the billions—and vast majority of people—who adhere to any of the world’s major religions, whose ethics all teach that humans have souls and are therefore highly distinct from mere objects that people may flick about like so many chess pieces…Elkind writes that “the executive mind-set on the issue—favoring consistency, efficiency, and accountability—has clashed with the American tradition of local control.” Let’s get one thing straight, big business dudes. You are entirely allowed to be the king of your own business. Inside the corridors of your business, boss away.

And ain’t nobody elected these CEOs to pursue the admittedly “efficient” scheme of “let’s just make everyone do what I want.” Even if we had elected you, there are these little things called “laws” and “natural rights enshrined in state and national constitutions” that would restrict your ability to tyrannize us.

As parents and citizens, we must continue to call out and oppose this horrific idea, whether it be from government or business, that our children are mere objects to be, as Pullman puts it, “grist in the mill of industry” whose destiny is determined by those outside of the children and families themselves. Mama and Papa Bears unite! The battle rages on.


Dr. Karen Effrem and her husband have three children. She is trained as a pediatrician and serves as national education issues chairman for Eagle Forum and president of Education Liberty Watch.

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