… is the increasing use of schools as marketing channels for corporations trying to reach new generations of potential customer.
OK, this kind of thing was not going on when Illich wrote his book, so he can't be faulted for "missing" it. But look at what's happening as schooling "goes digital" and turns into a battleground fought over by traditional textbook publishers and now, reports the New York Times, media companies, too:
… And then there is the Walt Disney Company. It is building a chain of language schools in China big enough to enroll more than 150,000 children annually. The schools, which weave Disney characters into the curriculum, are not going to move the profit needle at a company with $41 billion in annual revenue. But they could play a vital role in creating a consumer base as Disney builds a $4.4 billion theme park and resort in Shanghai.
This is from a news story titled, "Media Companies, Seeing Profit Slip, Push Into Education." The story states: "Conventional textbooks for kindergarten through 12th grade are a $3 billion business in the United States, according to the Association of American Publishers, with an additional $4 billion spent on teacher guides, testing resources and reference materials. And almost all that printed material, educators say, will eventually be replaced by digital versions." The fight to capture the spoils is underway.
Using teaching materials as a way to market brands and branded products to young children is nothing new, of course. A few years ago, a textbook was published that taught children to count and do simply arithmetic in terms of Cheerios, a donut-shaped breakfast cereal. Apple and Microsoft have long been slugging it out in the market for school computers, too. Many brochures and textbooks supplied by corporations are used by cash-strapped high schools to teach other subjects, such as personal health. Marketing wisdom has it, of course, that if a brand manages to make a strong impression on people when they are young, they will quite likely to remain loyal to the brand as they grow older. Hence the billions spent on marketing to pre-teens and teens, albeit mostly outside of school.
If nothing else, using branded textbooks and developing branded schools fits into Illich's general observation that school is where children learn to be consumers. And the use of such teaching materials seems inevitable as the pressure for educational reform mounts, school budgets shrink, and society doubles down on education as a way to help "make America more competitive in the global economy." There is a kind of desperation in the air and corporations are more than glad to step in and help out, and to use the situation to their own ends, as well. It helps, too, that there is a growing call to privatize more of public schooling as a way to slash costs and make it more effective.