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School Inc. : a performance ethnography of the effects of corporate sponsorship on public education Cook, Sean

Abstract

Over the past five years, a number of incidents in British Columbia, and throughout North America, have demonstrated the extent to which the corporate sponsorship of public education is influencing the curriculum-as-lived by students. With these examples in mind, I commenced researching the following question: what is the potential for ongoing and highly lucrative corporate sponsorship to have a detrimental impact on public schools and does this phenomenon compromise the integrity of public education? The methodology that I employed was performance ethnography. Performance provides a more effective means of exploring multiple truths in a way that promotes informed public dialogue concerning the various perspectives and attitudes that exist toward an issue. "School Inc." uses a multi-media drama to tell the story of Jim Freeman, a high school English teacher, who opposes his school's decision to enter a corporate sponsorship arrangement with "Cash-Cola". Over the course of three acts, the play explores how a school's entering into a corporate sponsorship,arrangement can impact members of the school community both professionally and personally. "School Inc." also explores how the trend toward increased corporate sponsorship of schools is connected to the global trend of rising corporate influence. While researching and writing "School Inc.", I began investigating the disabling of water fountains at the Faculty of Education, in the Scarfe Building , on the campus of the University of British Columbia. My investigation revealed a significant correlation between UBC signing a lucrative contract with the Coca-Cola Bottling Company in 1995 and the removing or disabling of forty-four percent (44%) of the fountains on the UBC campus during the following three years. From both the writing of "School Inc." and my inquiry into the water fountains on the UBC campus, I concluded that corporate sponsorship in education has a significant impact on the foundational values with which we understand the role of our educational institutions. Simply put, when schools and universities enter into corporate sponsorship agreements, the evidence suggests that they begin to adopt the values of the corporations that are sponsoring them. This poses a significant threat to the foundational values of public education and, by corollary, the democracies that depend on them. A first step toward halting this development is to formally recognize, both within educational institutions and the community-at-large, that our schools are fast approaching a critical juncture. If we continue on our current path, the seemingly small, well-intentioned compromises made for the sake of increased funding will dramatically alter the values that shape our understanding of the role our schools play. This reshaping presently favours an emerging corporate order that threatens the very foundations of our democratic values. It is this recognition that I strive to hasten with the writing (and future production) of the play "School Inc.".

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