At the turn of the last Century, Upton Sinclair wrote a novel that horrified the nation with its depiction of the meat packing industry. As part of his research for this novel, The Jungle, Sinclair spent over 6 months working in the industry and documenting their practices. His intent was to reveal how immigrants were treated but what captured the attention of the nation was his matter-of-fact recounting of pigs hoisted into the air by their feet as their throats we slit to spew their lifeblood in assembly line efficiency, tales of employees falling into the rendering vats, dying and not being retrieved, and shovels full meat scraps, rats and feces being methodically swept and shoveled into meat hoppers storing meat scraps to be made into sausages.
There was never the least attention paid to what was cut up for sausage; there would come all the way back from Europe old sausage that had been rejected, and that was moldy and white–it would be dosed with borax and glycerine, and dumped into the hoppers, and made over again for home consumption. There would be meat that had tumbled out on the floor, in the dirt and sawdust, where the workers had tramped and spit uncounted billions of consumption germs. There would be meat stored in great piles in rooms; and the water from leaky roofs would drip over it, and thousands of rats would race about on it. It was too dark in these storage places to see well, but a man could run his hand over these piles of meat and sweep off handfuls of the dried dung of rats. These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put poisoned bread out for them; they would die, and then rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together. This is no fairy story and no joke; the meat would be shoveled into carts, and the man who did the shoveling would not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw one– there were things that went into the sausage in comparison with which a poisoned rat was a tidbit. There was no place for the men to wash their hands before they ate their dinner, and so they made a practice of washing them in the water that was to be ladled into the sausage. There were the butt-ends of smoked meat, and the scraps of corned beef, and all the odds and ends of the waste of the plants, that would be dumped into old barrels in the cellar and left there. Under the system of rigid economy which the packers enforced, there were some jobs that it only paid to do once in a long time, and among these was the cleaning out of the waste barrels. Every spring they did it; and in the barrels would be dirt and rust and old nails and stale water–and cartload after cartload of it would be taken up and dumped into the hoppers with fresh meat, and sent out to the public’s breakfast. Some of it they would make into “smoked” sausage–but as the smoking took time, and was therefore expensive, they would call upon their chemistry department, and preserve it with borax and color it with gelatine to make it brown. All of their sausage came out of the same bowl, but when they came to wrap it they would stamp some of it “special,” and for this they would charge two cents more a pound. (from Chapter 14 of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair)
The phase, “Everything but the squeal” was documented in Sinclair’s work as a prominent and prideful boast of meat processors – testament to their ability to extract every last bit of value from the farm animals they had groomed to exploit and process and a favorite claim of one of the chief pioneers of assembly line animal disassembly Gustavus Franklin Swift. Of course as you can see below, not much has changed today for the animals (this is one of the least horrifying pictures of slaughterhouse processing I could find), although conditions for workers improved over the next decades with the creation and ascendency of trade and labor unions in the early 20th century and sanitation was improved with the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act (which paved the way for the creation of today’s FDA) in large part due to the success and outrage over Sinclair’s signature debuting muckraker novel.
Nevertheless, the claim was both impressive and valid. Some of the products produced in addition to meats and sausages were oleomargarine, soap, glue, instrument strings, fertilizer, hairbrushes, buttons, knife handles, and pharmaceutical preparations such as pepsin and insulin. Low-grade meats were canned in products like pork and beans.
This was capitalism performing at its finest, employing thousands of workers methodically slaughtering and sorting animals and animal pieces and by-products to support millions of people. While even today most of us would turn away and be disgusted by the practices of slaughterhouses, nevertheless the basic model invented at the turn of the 19th century is still employed today in the 21st century. These methods are used to supply billions of people with food and byproducts for countless industries. As a society and people we have come to accept that there are basic differences between the rights of animals, and products, and the rights of people. (Although before labor unions the rights of immigrants and generationally poor people were sometimes indistinguishable from the rights, or lack thereof, we afforded animals.)
Today we are much more civilized. We treat our immigrants that we depend upon for harvesting and producing our food supply well, seldom eating them if they fall into vats of rendering solutions and we almost always retrieve them from the fields if they expire while picking our fruits and vegetables for less than minimum wage. If we had immigrant labor unions, immigrants would have to be paid living wages, sanitary work conditions, time-wasting perks like work breaks and lunches, and they would probably face competition from American born workers who might be inspired to pick up a shovel instead of a welfare check. Obviously the marginalization and elimination of labor unions has been a boon for our illegal immigrants as well as our stomachs.
When capitalism is unshackled, everyone wins. That is why some of our most brilliant and moneyed minds of the 21st century have shrewdly focused in on the opportunities, efficiencies and profits to be made in the education sector.
The public education sector is quaint, but antiquated. For centuries Americans have resisted the impulse to turn schools into production facilities, and to treat children as valuable resources that can be turned into products and traded like commodities. At least 19th Century Americans had an excuse, child labor and prostitution allowed them to extract something of value from children. As so called “civilized” societies passed laws that prevented child slavery a great deal of wealth was left untapped and children became valued as something other than resources. As a result the birth rate in our country dropped off precipitously, as children became resource hogs, rather than resources in their own rights.
Today’s school reformers and entrepreneurs have wisely recognized the nascent value we’ve overlooked for so long – but no longer. Today’s students are both more challenging but potentially rewarding that any we’ve had before. The key is in perfecting and refining the value extraction process. There may be more than one way to skin a cat (although I’m not sure why you’d want to) but there are virtually infinite ways to make money off of children and the public education system. I can’t hope to cover them all in a single piece, but I have jotted down a few.
One of the latest profit extracting innovations is the charter school. (Frankly you have to be pretty incompetent not to make money off of children with a charter school.) Charter schools get their facilities for free, (usually rent free while the home district is still making payments on the bonds issued to build them), insurance free, and with plenty of grant money to fix them up into tip top shape (or pocket if they find the shape they are in is tip top enough for their liking.) Numerous private donors line up to give “grants” and donations to new charter schools. In turn, many of these charter schools are free to contract with their “donors” for professional services paid for by state or federal funds that cannot go directly to a charter. While some may see this as a kickback, these arrangements are perfectly legal in most cases so long as there is no documented quid pro quo. And even if they aren’t, who would be able to look at that kind of thing? Charter schools can partner with IT shops and vendors, or form their own subsidiary companies to take advantage of the millions of dollars in e-rate technology grants and special purpose department of Ed grants. It’s no coincidence that many of the biggest donors to the charter movement are IT companies or heads like Michael and Susan Dell and Bill Gates. (Can you say captive hardware and software clients and increased market share?)
The last time I checked the largest company in terms of market capitalization was Google. Google makes its money by collecting data on everyone, by sending robot cars up and down everyone’s streets endlessly taking pictures and selling and aggregating that data and targeted advertising. What Google gathers over the internet is information that is freely provided by people. It may or may not be complete, but there is no guarantee it is honest, complete and unflattering. Yet, with what they have, they still have been able to produce a very profitable empire! However, what the next generation of information aggregators hopes to gather is so much more impressive. They intend to gather everything about everyone who has ever attended any public school. (Eventually private schools will be enticed to do the same in exchange for free software or hardware perhaps.) This will reach back decades and will eventually include everything from phone numbers, pictures, parents names and addresses, discipline records, health and disability records, performance metrics, subjects taken and every interest or altercation ever recorded. Companies like inBloom, Ed-Fi, Amplify, Wireless Generation, and countless others are lining up at the trough to gorge themselves on student data that can be used to personally enrich themselves by creating new products, much as the airline industry charges ala-cart fees for everything from not sitting next to crying babies, to boarding a few minutes earlier, to picking up your luggage at your destination, sitting with your family or sitting on the wings or in the cargo holds. (Those last two are under discussion.)
But this is just the beginning. Shrewd reformers are only just beginning to tap into the full profit potential of children. A cottage industry of curriculum and test administration has sprung up called Common Core, or CCSS that dramatically expands the data points collected, charges states exorbitant amounts of money to test all children (as much as 4 times as much for a single administration), and opens up an unlimited market for instructional materials, supplemental guides, tutoring services, learning “games”, etc. While most of the biggest information players like Rupert Murdoch, Michael Bloomberg, Michael Dell, Bill Gates, and Pearson Education, are already positioned to reap the most rewards and profits, there will be numerous opportunities for information prospectors to pan for education dollars from the scraps they leave behind or let fall from the table (after their grinding.)
Now politicians can enjoy school too. With the privatization of what was formally the public sector, anyone can be a political hack as long as they accept money from privatizing forces and agree to do anything they say and ignore any evidence that reveals their schemes. In fact, much as intelligence and curiosity will have little to do with schooling in the charter school of the today and future, intelligence, curiosity and ethics are now a real detriment to a politician. Politicians free of these trappings will be able to accept more money, more readily, and with none of the guilt or reservations someone with a soul, conscience, or sense of decency might experience.
Even big-box retailers like Walmart can extract some value from the charter school system of the future. Employees with personalities and extraneous knowledge and experiences can be a real drag, and robots are expensive. This is why the Waltons, have gotten in on the charter chuck wagon. Now rather than train their own employees with minimal skills and interests to perform tedious tasks, Walmart can rely on a ready supply of perfectly prepared recruits to staff its stores and warehouses. These recruits of the future will be force-fed CCSS Miltonian Economic philosophy so as to prepare them for a life of minimum wage (or perhaps no wages if we can lift that productivity killing handicap) zero benefits, repetition injuries, and the planned obsolescence of their positions (eventually the cost of robots will come down if the Japanese have anything to say about it.)
Thankfully schooling is more than about just school, it’s about making your transition from school to a life of silos and cubicles:
” I am a Rocketship Rocketeer at home, at school, and in my community. . .”
As this daily mantra explains, soon we can all be rocketships at home, school and in our communities. And when we’re all rocketships, this will seem normal. Then we will finally have been “Reformed” and ready to accept any new ways we can be used to make money for our charter operators.
I only wish I had a chance to have my full potential drained and distributed like those lucky pigs, in the first photo and todays charter student pioneers.