Businesses became very active in promoting free enterprise values in schools. Local businessmen were encouraged to find ways ‘by which the concept of private enterprise and the details of its operation may be taught in the schools.’ The use of school education to educate children to appreciate the free enterprise system was carefully thought out and a conscious strategy to win people over at an early and impressionable age.
When educators had become more critical of the free enterprise system during the Depression, some business people feared a growing socialist influence in schools.
Of particular concern to them were textbooks that they believed were critical of business and free enterprise. Several textbooks were condemned by organizations such as the American Legion and the Advertising Federation of America. Some texts were banned and even ceremoniously burned in a few communities.
In 1940 NAM commissioned a review of social studies text books to find those that were anti-business or questioned the ideology of free enterprise. It also announced its intention to launch a major propaganda assault on schools throughout the US. Although most teachers were not communists surveys showed that teachers tended to be more sympathetic than other groups to price controls, government ownership of utilities and railways, progressive taxation and the role of unions. So NAM and other business leaders sought to win these teachers over with financial support and personal meetings and tours.
NAM set up an Education Department in 1949 especially for targeting schools and colleges. School students received posters, pamphlets with titles like ‘Who Profits from Profits?’ and leaflets that told ‘in few words the cogent facts about profits, productivity, safety, individual freedom, taxes, security and other timely subjects.’ NAM met with college presidents, deans, professors, school superintendents, student leaders and educational foundations and hosted college students and professors at their Annual Congress.
NAM continued to distribute its own materials into schools throughout the 1940s including about forty different pamphlets, and six motion pictures with titles such as ‘The Price of Freedom’, shown in 1946 to about a million students. A monthly magazine called Trends was also distributed to teachers promoting NAM policies with regard to labour, taxation, price control and inflation. NAM also adapted for high school students an educational course originally designed for employees entitled ‘How Our Business System Operates’ (HOBSO). The course identified economic freedom with political freedom and championed individual achievement over collective achievement through government measures. Some two thousand teachers attended a one week training course in the early 1950s to learn how to use the HOBSO materials correctly. One in eight high schools used another package ‘How we live in America’ which was also adapted from employee education materials.
Corporations took advantage of the need private colleges and universities had for funds to offer financial support and gain influence. The executives of a group of large corporations, including General Motors, Standard Oil, Ford Motor Company, International Harvester and United States Steel Corporation, formed the Council for Financial Aid to Education in 1952 to generate funds for this purpose and they succeeded in raising business donations from $24 million in 1948 to $280 million in 1965.
In particular corporations began to fund liberal arts and social sciences on top of their traditional support for science and technical courses in the hope of changing the political climate on campuses and winning educators to their cause, or at least winning their gratitude. This was aided by the activities of the Foundation for Economic Education and individual companies that set up exchange programs, company tours, business speakers, conferences and seminars. These aimed to facilitate social contact between educators and businesspeople and to give company executives the opportunity to promote free enterprise philosophy. Companies that became involved in these activities included DuPont, Alcoa, Firestone Tire and Rubber, Ford, Gulf Oil, Nabisco, Sears and Westinghouse and over one hundred others. NAM speakers were also active on campuses around the country reaching some 200,000 students each year in the mid 1950s.
A number of individual corporations also developed educational materials. For example Coca-Cola prepared and distributed eight units of curriculum material on ‘Our America’ to some 30 million elementary school children, including posters and booklets and graphic material on various industry sectors such as transportation, electricity, steel, glass and oil. International Harvester and the American Petroleum Institute sponsored educational materials on the development of the US economy produced by the advertising agency, Byron G. Moon Company and distributed them for free.
General Mills decided that even elementary school students were not too young to be taught free market economics and it sponsored materials such as silk-screen panels telling the story of marketing bread; film strips; and a comic book on ‘Freedom of Choice’. Although General Mills avoided advertising in the teaching materials, it recognized that there was advertising value with teachers in providing useful teaching aids. It was also interested in ‘the formation of young minds in the direction of truth and clear economic thinking is an intangible but nonetheless valuable asset which amply repays the investment.’ Vice-President of General Mills, Samuel Gale, was confident that ‘given all the facts, teachers and students will arrive at sound conclusions’ about ‘the basic elements of our democracy’.
Other companies pumping materials into schools—texts, filmstrips, teaching kits, movies—included U.S. Steel, General Electric, General Motors, American Cyanamid, Standard Oil and many others. In fact one in five corporations did so. In 1954 corporations were supplying about $50 million worth of free materials to schools compared with an annual expenditure on regular textbooks in schools of $100 million. Fortune Magazine observed that ‘by 1950 the interest in selling free enterprise had grown so intense that many executives seemed to be spending more time considering comic books extolling profits than the more mundane problem of making profits.’
Essay contests were held for school students offering large prizes for winning essays on topics like ‘Worker and Employer, Partners in Business’ or ‘What do Strikes Cost the Worker?’ or ‘Freedom is Everybody’s Job’. Also Junior Achievement Inc ran workshops for high school students where they played at being entrepreneurs and learned to ‘appreciate the profit system’. Junior Achievement, a scheme that had been started in 1919 and was funded by corporations, had become very involved in selling the principles of free enterprise to teenagers.
Other business initiatives included:
• Business-Industry-Education Day when schools would close and teachers visit factories, meet company executives and discuss business and economics issues relating to the firm and to the wider economic system;
• individual plant tours for teachers and students where ‘a working model of capitalism in action’ could be demonstrated;
• multi-plant tours;
• executive-teacher meetings; and
• company courses in economics for teachers.
Such activities were shown to improve the attitude of teachers and students towards business. During the 1950s teachers were going on annual factory tours in over seven hundred localities.
Consumer education in schools, which had been heavily influenced by Consumers’ Union reports, was also seen as a threat to business as ‘students were learning to defend themselves against business.’ This was viewed as an ‘unhealthy attitude’ towards business and therefore ‘not good education. Accordingly, a number of interested executives asked the National Better Business Bureau—an agency maintained by business for the protection of consumers—to step into the picture and determine what could be done in the way of improvement.
The Bureau arranged through the National Association of Secondary School Principals for a Consumer Education Study in 1943 to develop more pro-business curriculum materials for consumer education in schools. The Consumer Education Study prepared and published textbooks on consumer education based on advice and information provided by the Bureau, and approved by the Bureau as being completely fair to business. This was all funded by more than fifty businesses who willingly donated resources with ‘little or no publicity’.