Special Report

The Business of American Business Is Education

From corporate donations to workplace restrictions, what’s taught in the classroom has always been influenced by American industry

Industrialist Andrew Carnegie (front row, center) financially supported the Tuskegee Institute and its faculty members, pictured here. Carnegie lauded the efforts of Booker T. Washington, who opened the school in 1881, shown here with his wife Margaret next to the businessman. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divison)

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The emphasis on “college for all”—and on viewing the individual teacher, as opposed to the neighborhood or community, as the locus of educational change—has pushed aside other, potentially worthy goals, from integrating schools to giving students more opportunities for on-the-job learning outside traditional classrooms. The influence of technocratic philanthropists has changed the course of American education policy over the past decade, all without any major new federal legislation on school reform. So while the American educational system is highly localized, its policies are certainly driven at the national level, and in large part by private institutions. There is nothing new about business influence over public education.

Dana Goldstein is a journalist based in Brooklyn. She is a Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation and a Puffin Fellow at the Nation Institute. Her book on the political history of American public school teaching will be published by Doubleday in 2014.


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