A New Year–and More of the Old Education Show

Once again, the education news reported in the Post (this time, via Fortune) became a little, um, personal for me.

In promoting the Common Core, the chairman of ExxonMobil was quoted as saying that he was not sure if public schools understand that the entirety of the business community is their “customer”:

“What they don’t understand is they are producing 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?”

Setting aside the idea of living, breathing human beings as products–defective, uninteresting, and/or attractive–I could only think that this version of the business community was at a pretty far remove from the Mobil I knew as an actual public school student, which was staffed by a whole lot of folks educated in public schools.

You see, as I knew it, that corporation was a local employer in southern New Jersey of many workers, including my father, who worked at its Paulsboro research department for over 50 years. He was educated in American public schools, as I was and as had been his parents.

In fact, on the strength of that public school education, my father was able to get acceptance offers from great universities–and for more than 50 years was a valued member of the Paulsboro Mobil staff, many of whom were educated at local public schools.

While in high school, I often visited that Mobil facility, which sponsored tours for public school students. I don’t recall anyone there speaking of us kids as products or noting that we needed to become better students or master a specific curriculum for the purpose of attracting the notice of corporate “customers” at Mobil.

Rather, the tours were part of a gesture that Mobil extended throughout the year to people in the surrounding communities, opening its halls and labs to visitors. Mobil’s vast Paulsboro facility, occupying hundred of acres of land and riverfront along the Delaware River, was quite a local spectacle, with hundreds of workers, a port, and a 24/7 refinery. My dad happily worked alongside the creator of the first synthetic motor oil, Mobil 1–and collected for his kids the fine, light Saudi Arabian sand that arrived serendipitously from the field with the samples of crude oil that he assayed.

Today, that facility is no longer part of ExxonMobil; it was sold off shortly before Mobil merged with Exxon.

Now, in light of the ExxonMobil chairman’s recent comments, I can only think a bit more than one refinery was done away with in that merger–say, the idea of education as a process of enriching people, not corporations, and the idea of public education as funded and controlled by the public, not corporations or private groups.

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