I hadn’t talked with Marshbaum for a couple of years, ever since he left newspaper journalism for more lucrative work in the fast food industry. But here he was in my office to ask if I would publicize his new educational adventure.
“That’s great!” I said. “You’re finishing the last three years of college.”
“I own the school. CEO of Little Minds Charter and Voucher Corp. We’re on the leading edge of the trend to privatize schools.”
“How does mumbling into a broken speaker box make you qualified to run a school?” I asked.
“Interpersonal communication skills,” he replied. “That, and knowing how to count change and arrange work schedules for the three minimum-wage high school kids on my late night shift. It’s all administration and proper marketing.” He thrust a full-color, three-panel promotional flyer at me. Buried in small print was the tuition cost.
“That’s a bit high, isn’t it?” I asked.
“With loans, grants, and governmental assistance, it’s almost affordable.”
“We’d be bankrupt if we didn’t get it,” said Marshbaum. “Because the state wants to privatize everything, it gives families a yearly check to send their uncultured little cookie crumblers wherever they want. Family gives us the money, and we teach their children the importance of sexual abstinence and the free enterprise system.”
“I suppose you’re making radical changes in education,” I snickered. Marshbaum didn’t disappoint me.
“You bet your Number 2 we are. We’re on track to become the state’s most cost-effective school. Conservative politicians love us. Cutting expenses is where it’s at.”
“What did you cut?”
“First thing we did was order our classroom supplies from China. That saved us over 50 percent. Got a great deal on ugly desk-chairs.”
“You obviously don’t understand the concept of ‘Buy American,’” I suggested.
“Not true, Ink Breath. We get our school uniforms from Wal-Mart. An all-American company.”
“You are aware,” I pointed out, “that most of the clothing in Big Box stores is made by exploited children and their impoverished parents in Third World countries.”
“Exactly!” beamed Marshbaum. “Cheaper that way. Besides, we use the labels to teach about world geography. That’s a two-fer!”
“How else are you re-defining education?” I asked, knowing Marshbaum wouldn’t disappoint me.
“Downsized the faculty. All those rich college graduates were hurting our bottom line. Hated to downsize Greenblatt, though. Thirty years on the job. Twice recognized as the state’s best history teacher”
“You fired a tenured history teacher?”
“Had to. He was at the top of the salary schedule. Besides, he was teaching about the rise of the middle class and how unions helped get better wages and benefits for the masses. That’s just downright unpatriotic. He refused to be a team player.”
“What you did is probably illegal!” I said.
“We’re a corporation,” said Marshbaum smugly. “We can do anything we want. We’ll be dumping math next.”
“That’s absurd! Of the industrialized nations, the U.S. is already near the bottom in math and science.”
“No one gives a rotten apple’s core about when trains at different speeds leave their stations and pass each other in Wichita.”
“So you don’t have any faculty?” I asked incredulously.
“Don’t be ridiculous. We outsourced our teaching. There’s Bierschmaltz in Austria and Wang Lin in Laos and—”
“I suppose you have them lecturing by speaker phone,” I said sarcastically.
“Even better. They create the lessons, have some teenage videohead record them, and the students can see it on their own computers. Distance Education and Technology is where it’s at. Besides, it’s cheaper than paying live people who demand a lunch break after five classes, and call off sick just because they broke a hip or some other useless joint.”
“If you’re dumping courses, downsizing and outsourcing, how are you going to improve the scores?”
“Not a problem,” Marshbaum said, explaining that the state has specific questions to which the students must know the answers. “We just make sure we drill the students on what they’ll be tested on.”
“That’s not education, that’s teaching to the test. Your students may get high scores, but they probably won’t get much knowledge.”
“So where’s the problem?”
And with that, Marshbaum grabbed his backpack and went out to recruit more voucher-laden students.
Walter Brasch spent 30 years as a university professor of mass communications, while continuing his work as a journalist. Now retired from teaching, he continues as a journalist/columnist. His latest of 17 books is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at critical social issues through the eyes of a ’60s self-described “hippie chick” teacher who is still protesting war, and fighting for the environment, due process issues, and the rights of all citizens to have adequate health care.