Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pigs in the River: How Rupert Murdoch Got His Foot in the Classroom Door

HERE’S YOUR RIDDLE FOR THE DAY: What do Rupert Murdoch and dead pigs  in a river have to do with American education?

First, the pigs. No, not Murdoch. The real pigs.

If you don’t follow news out of China you may not have heard that 13,000 animal carcasses have been found recently floating in the river that supplies the drinking water to the city of Shanghai. Hard to believe,  that’s the good news.

In recent years, with China’s industry and trading influence booming, a hybrid communist-capitalist economy has taken shape. The result has been to combine the worst excesses of capitalist greed with the many forms of communist oppression. Chinese leaders apply their iron grip to squeeze billions out of the system for themselves and their families. Yet, while there may be no limits to rapacity and greed—even among leaders of a nominally communist nation—the environment has its limits. Spreading air and water pollution, and now thousands of rotting pigs, have forced officials to take action. This past December seventeen business people were sentenced to jail, including one for life, after they were found guilty of slaughtering and selling meat from more than 77,000 diseased pigs.

That’s why pigs in the river represent a sort of progress. Some shady operation was clearly dumping evidence.

Considering how hard communist authorities work to stifle dissent, including monitoring the internet, it was hard for reporters to ascertain the truth. At least one official suggested that—well—what can you do? The pigs had died during an unusual cold spat of winter weather. Bloggers skilled in circumventing the web censorship picked up the story and noted that weather had been typical for that time of year and that place in China, and started to investigate.

One humorist wondered if the pigs were part of some mass porcine suicide pact.

SO, WHAT DOES ANY OF THIS HAVE TO DO with Mr. Murdoch? The point is this:  that many business people will stop at nothing when it comes to piling up large stacks of dollars. Here, then, we turn to dear Rupert Murdoch, owner of News Corporation, a man whose career proves that point at every turning.

When you think of Mr. Murdoch you are probably not saying to yourself, “This is the very fellow I would most trust to save America’s schools.” Still, here he is, one foot already firmly inside the schoolhouse door. Few Americans paid the slightest attention at the time—but two years ago Murdoch forked out $360 million to gain a controlling interest in Wireless Generation, a major player in the sale of education-related technology.

What exactly led our favorite billionaire to jump into the field of American education? Let’s go to the News Corporation website and allow him to explain:
“When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching,” said News Corporation Chairman and CEO, Rupert Murdoch. “Wireless Generation is at the forefront of individualized, technology-based learning that is poised to revolutionize public education for a new generation of students.”

If you are keeping all those bobbing carcasses in mind you will not be surprised to notice that Murdoch mentioned “$500 billion” first instead of “students.”

In fact, if you want to know what News Corporation might do if it ever came down to putting kids ahead of dollars, or dollars ahead of kids, simply Google: “Millie Dowler.”

That’s the overarching danger as corporations extend their reach into American classrooms. We know, where profits are concerned, that they won’t hesitate to dump dead pigs in the academic river. Fox News, of course, will assure us this business push into education is certain to work out just fine. The evidence shows otherwise. We already know about corporations’ crooked practices at for-profit colleges. We’ve seen the shady charter schools they found, too.

What else should we expect? We’re talking $500 billion in government spending; and no business person worth his or her bank account wouldn’t want to get a healthy slice of all that cash.

The question then is:  will the companies truly care about kids first, or will their motivation be profit? The testing industry, bloated by a decade of standardized testing, is already worth an estimated $1.7 billion annually. It’s only to be expected, then, when companies like Pearson spend millions to lobby politicians and keep those mandated tests on coming. It doesn’t bother anyone at testing companies to know that scores on the SAT have tumbled in the last ten years at the very time when public schools have been forced to focus on such testing. It doesn’t bother them to know that last fall 232 Texas school districts joined in denouncing a growing reliance on high-stakes testing, either. Dollars do come first.

Children are a distant second.

Now, Murdoch brings his ruthless methods to the field of education. Amplify, a new division of News Corporation, hopes to expand its presence into every U. S. classroom. The company already markets curriculum materials. Recently, Joel I. Klein, former chancellor of the New York City schools and now chief executive of Amplify, announced that the company “will not sell just its curriculum on existing tablets, but will also offer the Amplify Tablet, its own 10-inch Android tablet designed for K-12 schoolchildren.” According to the New York Times the new tablet has a sleek touch screen. If a child’s attention wanders a voice prompts them: “Eyes on the teacher.” (It might be cool if Amplify recorded Bill O'Reilly at his snarling best to scare all those inattentive pupils.)

As Klein explains, the tablet is designed “so that schools can provide each student with one to take home each night.” There’s a huge learning opportunity he claims, if we get kids excited about educational games. “We understand technology and we understand education,” Klein told reporters. “A lot of people who understand technology don’t understand education.”

Unfortunately, what Klein and Murdoch really understand is how to pile up profits. You don’t pay $360 million for a controlling interest in an education-related company or offer the head of your education division a munificent salary (Klein earns $4.5 million) unless you expect a healthy return on your investment.

In recent months, Amplify has been hard at work field-testing the tablet in hundreds of schools. They even donated tablets to the poorest students and schools—which if you watch Fox News, you know only encourages all those “moochers” and “takers” who comprise the loathsome “47%.” But not to worry! Capitalism will triumph in the end. A loaded device, with advice on care and usage, will soon go on sale, for $299, along with a two-year subscription, $99 annually. “A higher-end Amplify Tablet Plus, for students who do not have wireless access at home comes with a 4G data plan and costs $349.”

Here’s the final irony.

How will schools afford all this new technology? Simple, says Klein. “Amplify estimates that many school districts could use grants from the Department of Education’s Race to the Top program, which brings technology and personalized learning to schools.”

That’s right. You read this correctly. Rupert Murdoch wants some of President Obama’s stimulus money! The old coot has made a pact with the Devil!

No comments:

Post a Comment