In less than 30 seconds, eighth grader Daniel Mai from Acton, Massachusetts, solved a math problem that would likely intimidate most people: “What is the quotient of 5,040 divided by the product of its unique prime factors?” With his correct answer of 24, Mai won the 2019 Raytheon MATHCOUNTS National Championship, a competition showcasing the most mathematically gifted middle schoolers in the country.
From the very first competition in 1984, MATHCOUNTS has remained committed to instilling in students a love of math. The organization has been recognized by every sitting president during its 30-plus-year existence and lauded as a model charity encouraging students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
Since 2009, The Raytheon Company, a multinational weapons manufacturer, has served as the title sponsor of the MATHCOUNTS National Championship. Now the second-largest defense corporation in the United States thanks to its recent merger with United Technologies Corporation, the soon-to-be-renamed Raytheon Technologies Corporation hopes to inspire young minds to pursue STEM jobs, in an ever-changing world where industrialized countries place a premium on strengthening defense.
Increasingly, major weapons manufacturers are getting into the lucrative business of education. Raytheon’s sponsorship of mathlete competitions is only one example of defense contractors’ citing a corporate responsibility to educate young people on the benefits of STEM. Boeing and Lockheed Martin, along with Raytheon, have served as sponsors or strategic partners of math competitions, robotics competitions, computer coding tutorials, traveling STEM exhibits, after-school programs, and cyberdefense championships. Supporting these competitions and programs, in the name of closing a widely rumored STEM shortage, enables a corporation like Raytheon to snag students early in their lives, guide them toward STEM fields, and hopefully strengthen its workforce by recruiting future employees to one day build weapons of war.
Raytheon launders many of its educational endeavors through MathMovesU, a STEM engagement initiative that boasts numerous programs aimed at young people. By 2010, Raytheon and its army of 5,000 MathMovesU volunteers had “engaged with” some 50,000 American students. That same year, the company launched the Raytheon U.S. STEM Education Model in accordance with President Obama’s public-private organization Change the Equation. Raytheon pledged to get kids interested in STEM by gifting each state its own educational model that would influence how policy-makers shape public education at the state level. A detailed and subsidized plan for the corporate takeover of public learning, the STEM Education Model was a major step in the contractor’s infiltration of the US education system.
The company cites the dearth of women in STEM fields as a driving force behind its educational ventures. One of its projects is the “Think Like a Programmer” Journey, a Girl Scouts activity sponsored by Raytheon that’s designed to encourage young women to “pursue computer science careers in fields such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, robotics, and data science” by thinking like computer engineers. Encouraging young women to seek STEM careers offers a wider pool of candidates to one day design weaponry for the company while conveniently providing a bulwark against any accusations of gender inequity.
Raytheon’s mission to reach youth is not confined to the West. In 2014, the company’s MathAlive! traveling exhibition debuted in the Middle East, where it made stops in Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. Raytheon’s presence in the region dates back 50 years, and over that time the corporation has sold Patriots (a guided surface-to-air missile system) to all the aforementioned countries. And in 2017, Raytheon scored a deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars to aid in the development of Saudi Arabia’s defense.
At some point in the early-2000s, Raytheon started sponsoring high school student teams competing at the FIRST Robotics Championship. Co-chaired by Robert Tuttle, a former Raytheon executive who helped design the Patriot system, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a STEM engagement program for students from kindergarten to high school, and the robotics competition is its most popular event. Each year, the championship chooses a theme and schedules several district and regional events that lead up to it. The 2016 program theme was entitled “Stronghold,” a castle storming game described by Raytheon as “Star Wars meets Game of Thrones.” Over 20,000 students, hundreds of which Raytheon supported, competed at the regional and district events during the season.
Raytheon entices the public with the elegance and parsimony of STEM (mixed with a little showmanship), while papering over the human costs: attention economies, climatological destruction thanks to corporate megaprojects, and endless war. The company’s website is distended with statistics boasting the number of students reached, the hours served, and the employees volunteered. Everything is quantified to ensure ever greater growth and, eventually, ever greater automation. This means inventing increasingly powerful superweapons guided by numbers, not people. Having already achieved lethal autonomy during Desert Storm, Raytheon’s Patriot system can now operate with “little or minimal direct human oversight.”
The evidence indicates there is no STEM gap. Rather, there are too many graduates with STEM degrees and not enough jobs for them. Those with the bleakest career prospects are STEM PhDs, who often enter a decimated academic job market after years of graduate education.
When weapons manufacturers trumpet a commitment to inspiring young minds to take on STEM careers, they really mean a narrow set of military defense jobs dedicated to refining weapons of destruction. Scores of students take Raytheon’s advice and pursue STEM PhDs only to reckon with the brutal demands of a post-recession academic job search. Many languish in adjunct and post-doctoral gigs, which become harder to escape from the longer one stays in them. Some quit academia altogether.
Public education, especially under Betsy DeVos’s stewardship of the department of education, is a soft target: It’s perennially under-resourced and besieged by privatization efforts. In many respects, the US education system lags far behind that of other countries. But we don’t need weapons manufacturers to fill the vacuum opened by policy-makers who choose strengthening military defense over guaranteeing quality public education for all.
When contacted, Raytheon declined to comment on its STEM initiatives. Yet it is clear the contractor has assumed a role as a provider of educational opportunities—one that only thinly veils its principal interest, amassing a deep talent pool for the arms industry. Without teacher-led initiatives to take back public education, private corporations—with interests that are irrelevant at best and malevolent at worst—will continue to penetrate educational spaces. And as long as the United States has boots on the ground and drones in the sky of other countries, there will be job openings at Raytheon.