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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 4, March 2004

A modest proposal after Jonathan Swift

by Wayne Wiens

In dire times, dire solutions must be found; in modest times, modest solutions may serve us better. Some would argue that our public schools are facing severe cutbacks, which have begun already and which will soon be debilitating. They therefore eagerly propose dire solutions, falling short only at selling their grandmothers.

I have heard dire solutions proposed for the financial rescue of our public schools that involve the sale of school properties for high-rises or the leasing of prime sites to private schools and corporations. Stuff and nonsense say I. The problem is only a modest one in the great scheme of things, and thus worthy of only the most modest of solutions.

Here, then, is the crux of my modest proposal. Could we not do better by playing the corporate-sponsor game, as any self-respecting corporation would, by capitalizing on the raison d’être of such corporations that seek access to our schools and to our students, their potential consumers? By this I refer to nothing less than increased competition. Some would argue that the public school is no place for competition, but I demur, and wish only to suggest that such weak thinkers look no further than the grading system so well entrenched and respected in the self-same schools.

Would we not be better served in the new order of public school-private enterprise partnerships (PSPEPs, pronounced pisspeps) by offering a competitive process that will maximize school profits by enhancing corporate access to a captive student market? Why, I ask, settle for naming or renaming merely the schools? Why not, indeed, seek a myriad of sponsorships, each appropriate to an area or a component of the school and to the corporate product? This is what corporate marketers, I am told, refer to as a natural fit--intelligent and targeted marketing at its best, leading to premium pricing of what we have on offer. Competitive bids allow a choice of the most appropriate partnerships, and also the most lucrative ones. Thus, after the competitive-bid process is completed, I envision the following as examples of winning PSPEPs in the most appropriately renamed areas of the school:

  • A & B Sound Music Wing
  • Adidas Gym
  • CanWest/Global School Library and Media Centre
  • Chapters/Indigo English Wing
  • Dow Chemistry Lab
  • Ernst & Young Math Wing

As for the student cafeteria, multiple PSPEPs could be established. Thus on Mondays, we would have the McDonald’s Eatery, on Tuesdays, the A&W Diner, etc. In this way, we would also be keeping faith with our commitment to provide choice to our students by way of a varied, if not a nutritious, diet.

We could also reduce the cost of furnishing our classrooms and offices by seeking sponsorships for individual desks, in return for artfully placed logos.

And what would be left to sell? Why, I modestly propose, our students themselves. School uniforms are a perennial topic of discussion. Uniform jumpsuits with corporate logos on the breast pockets would likely be well received by parents for their economy and by administrators for their clarity. By colour-coding them, could we not calm the sometimes chaotic hallways, codify the adolescent pecking order, simplify the life of teachers, and clarify the world for school-building administrators? Competitive bidding would maximize our profits here as well, since we could identify our honour-roll students by their gold lamé jumpsuits sporting the logo of the highest bidder, silver lamé for the second honour-roll students, bronze lamé for the honourable mentions; lime green cotton for the majority of the students, purple for those in special education, and brown for the congenitally late students.

Teachers would appreciate this colour-coding, for in these days of larger classes and fewer support services, would it not be useful to provide a ready method to signal which students were more deserving of attention, and which were not? Administrators would also find this coding useful, since it would render more efficient the process by which they determine which students among those who commit misdemeanours would be deserving of punishment and which would be dealt with more leniently, since it is a well-known fact that good grades are an indication of good character, and, sadly, vice versa.

We could seek sponsorships to purchase suitable clothing and logos for our teachers; for example, in the Home Depot Industrial Education Wing, teachers could wear bright orange coveralls with the awesomely appropriate motto: You can do it; we can help. Similarly, why not seek input for a revised school motto? Our currently ambiguous Carpe Diem could become Dodge Trucks’ Grab Life by the Horns.

I should emphasize that this modest proposal is submitted by one who has dedicated his life to the well-being of students and schools. With nothing to gain from the submission, he prepares to leave the scholastic arena for the fields of retirement with one last contribution. Thus he offers this modest proposal as his final effort to enhance his life’s work and to improve schools for the students of the 21st century.

Wayne Wiens teaches at Argyle Secondary School, North Vancouver.

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