Skip to content

Offering up students to the Captains of Industry: Betsy DeVos, Talent Pipelines and the Neoliberal model of education

January 27, 2019

Public education historians have always recognized that schools in the US were designed in part as a mechanism to socialize children to follow orders and have the necessary skills to function as workers. (See a well researched history of public education in the US, by teacher and researcher John Taylor Gatto, The Underground History of American Education, Volume I: An Intimate Investigation Into the Prison of Modern Schooling.)

However, in recent decades there has been an increasing desire upon the part the capitalist class to push education systems to create a more deliberate talent pipeline. Translated, this simply means that the business community wants education systems to provide them with more influence and more access to schools in order to groom the future workforce.

This message is exactly what Betsy DeVos delivered at the 87th annual Mayor’s Conference last week, held in Washington, DC. You can read her speech by going to this link, but what follows are the most relevant quotes related to the theme that DeVos addressed. 

First, DeVos promotes the link between the neoliberal capitalist economy and education:

Despite a booming economy with record-low unemployment, employer after employer reports that they cannot find enough qualified people to hire. I’m sure you’ve heard the same. There is a disconnect between education and the economy, just as there is often a disconnect between a child and the school they’re assigned to.

Second, DeVos enrolls mayors from across the country to assist the business community by pushing the talent pipeline mantra:

As mayors, you have an important opportunity to build relationships between employers and educators. Today giant silos exist between educators and employers, between students and success. But students are better prepared for what comes next when their teachers learn from and partner with their community’s builders and doers.

Third, DeVos provides examples of where these business/education partnerships already exist, when she says:

At Harper College outside Chicago, I was impressed by the non-traditional apprenticeships, like ones in banking, insurance, and supply-chain management. These kinds of apprenticeships are common in other parts of the world, but aren’t yet here. They need to be.

Then there’s Mercedes and BFGoodrich which partner with Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to offer students excellent opportunities to upskill in their current profession or start a new one. Employers and educators working hand-in-hand to develop stronger community – in every sense of the word.

These examples are encouraging. Students need more of them. Many more! Employers need them, as do educators. Most importantly, your communities need them.

Of course, this is nothing new coming from Betsy DeVos. For the past 20 years, she and other members of the DeVos family have been pushing for a great role for the business community to play in public education. This philosophy of creating a talent pipeline from schools to businesses was a cornerstone in the DeVos creation of the Great Lakes Education Project, which was designed to influence education policy in Michigan. DeVos has also been part of the creation of other regional organizations across the country that have also sought to influence both state and federal education policy, as we documented when Trump nominated her as Secretary of Education

We have also reported on these dynamic in West Michigan, both within the Grand Rapids Public Schools and the business-dominated groups that are seeking to create a larger, more institutional talent pipeline in the area. Groups like Believe 2 Become, Talent 2025 and the West Michigan Policy Forum.

In 2017, a report was produced locally, Workforce Opportunity in West Michigan:Connecting a Qualified Workforce to High-Growth Opportunities, which demonstrates that the local power structure sees students primarily as workers they can make money off of.

The contemporary business community uses terms like talent management and workforce development, but these are essentially modern terms for what 19th century writers would refer to as wage slaves.

Look at these comments from Business Leaders and you can see how they view students:

Each of these members of the capitalist class make it clear that the function of education is to prepare people to be good and obedient workers.

The talent management group Talent 2025 has identified these three goals (on the right) for West Michigan, if the economy is to grow.

These goals are instructive, since they make it clear that education should serve business interests, corporate funding should drive greater economic opportunities and the education system should change, meaning it should become more privatized to serve business needs.

It is crucial that we all not buy into the Orwellian use of language and promote talent creation, talent management or workforce development. This language is simply meant to deceive us into believing the lies of an economic system that only benefits a small percentage of people, like the DeVos family and other members of the capitalist class.

%d bloggers like this: