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I'm an Associate Professor of English Education. My time is spent preparing to teach, teaching, reading, writing, working with pre-service and practicing teachers, serving on various committees, and trying to keep my office from over flowing into the hallway.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Lessons from Apple's Investment in Human Capital

Apple released a list of their suppliers for the first time. The Mashable article offers links to the company's 2012 business report and the list of 97% of their suppliers. The more than 150 companies, including Foxconn, have some pretty significant labor violation numbers. Perhaps moving in the right direction, Apple has joined the Fair Labor Organization. As many articles, blogs, and comments have pointed out, Apple is not the only one involved in the exploitation of the people of China. The comments on the Mashable article itself are crediting Tim Cook for the shift toward more transparency; whereas, the Facebook comments are looking at Daisey's monologue as the catalyst.


 "Human capital" is an unpleasant term to me, but I deal with the terms "cultural capital," "social capital," "linguistic capital," and "financial capital" regularly. I am human capital to someone; anyone who works producing goods and providing services for the human economy is being defined as human capital by someone. It makes me most  uncomfortable to think of myself as movable pawn, a cog in a machine, dispensable.


After I finished my post last night I read about a worker in the U.S. who committed suicide: a Chicago teacher. Mary Thorson, a 32 year old elementary school P.E. teacher and 8 year Army reservist, walked in front of a truck on a busy interstate on Thankgiving Day. In her car, she left a six page note that detailed the plight of the children in the district and the lack of resources and leadership to help them. Bullying from administration has been linked to this suicide. At a December 6th meeting, teachers were given opportunity to comment on Ms. Thorson's death:
      "People are afraid," Lena Watts-Drake, president of the District 169 teachers union, told 
       the board.  Other teachers in the crowd murmured "uh-huh" and nodded in agreement. 
       Jimerson said at the meeting  that teacher get chastised for taking sick days and are 
       worried they will lose their jobs if they speak up.  In an interview later, Jimerson said 
       some teachers are cornered and criticized by district administrators in hallways. Two 
       current teachers and one former teacher, who did not want to be named for fear of 
       retribution, made similar statements and agreed with Jimerson's description of the 
       atmosphere.
So, no one likes to feel like human capital, whether it's the person who teaches your children or the person who makes your iPod. 
Nicholas Kristof has the most emailed Op-ed piece on the NYTimes this week: The Value of Teachers. This article, based on the results of a Harvard study titled The long term impacts of teachers: Teacher value-added and student outcomes in adulthood, praises the impact of excellent teachers on students. Kristof highlights that the study shows "that parents should pay a bad teacher $100,000 to retire (assuming the replacement is of average quality) because a weak teacher holds children back so much."  To unpack this statement would take another post, but it fits with the idea that we are all dispensable in the eyes of the "a tough-minded business investment."  When teacher's are labeled "good" and "bad" based on standardized tests, our human capital quotient becomes even more unsavory.

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