This Little Kiddy Went to Market

Issue section: 
(339)

Sharon Beder, Pluto; £15.99

Young people living in affluent nations are "less content, more stressed and less healthy than any previous generation". How, in the 21st century, can our young people be made to feel so inadequate and unhappy? Sharon Beder goes on to examine this paradox in great detail, backed up by a wealth of research and statistics.

Beder investigates how corporations attempt to sell goods to children and the methods they use to maximise their share of the market. The book focuses largely on how big business has collaborated to deliberately steer education away from the "progressive paradigm" developed in the 1960s and 1970s and towards a business agenda.

As a teacher I am familiar with the education "reforms" that have given us the national curriculum, SATs and academy schools. But this book places these changes in an international context, where it is not governments making decisions but networks of capitalists forcing a business agenda onto education and admitting that the end goal is to privatise.

In the US, where the assault is the sharpest, the US Business Round Table coordinated a campaign to "reform" education, because mistakes in literacy and numeracy were costing them money. They lobbied to get national testing into schools, and if you want to have a standard test, you need to enforce a national curriculum. The US has led the way with privatising schools in the form of charter schools, where business has more and more of an influence and where a culture of testing, discipline and low teacher morale are key features. The Labour government in this country, despite their poor results and financial scandals, enthusiastically adopted this policy in the form of the academies programme.

Finally the book charts how dealing with the "bad behaviour" of pupils struggling to conform to this rigid testing regime is itself turned into a marketing opportunity.

Beder depicts brilliantly who really influences the direction of education. She lays bare the reasons why schools are run by "managers", not teachers, with "outcomes", not learning. The euphemisms "reform", "back to basics" and "excellence" really refer to a "business-determined standard" and a narrow and rigid curriculum.

The book is well structured and very readable. The conclusion is short, and while there is reference throughout the book to union opposition, there is little sense of the possibility of working class organisations combating the direction in which education is moving. The forthcoming possible boycott of SATs by teachers in England is one example of these progressive forces flexing their muscle. This book gives us a huge amount of ammunition to use in that fight.