Here’s your riddle for today: What do Rupert Murdoch and dead pigs floating in a river have in common?
If you haven’t been following stories out of China you probably don’t realize that 13,000 carcasses have been found just this week bobbing in the main river supplying drinking water to Shanghai. And that’s the good news.
With China’s economy booming, and billions to be made, a communist-capitalist hybrid economy has taken root, combining the worst excesses of capitalist greed with varied forms of communist oppression. Chinese leaders have used their iron grip squeeze out billions of dollars for themselves and families. Nevertheless, if there are no limits to the rapacity and greed of many people—even those still nominally communists—the environment does have certain limits. Spreading air and water pollution, and now thousands of rotting pigs, have forced officials, however corrupt, to finally take some action. This past December seventeen business people were sentenced to jail, including one for life, after they were found guilty of slaughtering and selling off bacon and pork chops from more than 77,000 diseased pigs.
That’s why pigs in the river represent progress. Some crook somewhere (here you begin to see a tie to Rupert Murdoch) was clearly dumping evidence. Considering how hard Chinese authorities work to stifle dissent, including carefully monitoring the internet to quash stories that place them in an unflattering light, it was hard to get at the truth. One official suggested that, oh well, what can you do, the pigs had died as a result of unusually cold weather. Bloggers skilled in circumventing web censorship picked up the story and started investigating. One humorist wondered if the pigs were part of a mass porcine suicide pact.
Some people will stop at noting to pile up dollars, men such as Rupert Murdoch, owner of News Corporation, a man whose illustrious 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 public schools.” Still, there he is, one foot already in the school house door. Unfortunately, almost no one noticed two years ago when Murdoch paid $360 million for a controlling interest in Wireless Generation, a major player in the sale of education-related technology. What led our favorite Australian billionaire to jump into the field of U. S. education?
Let’s go to the News Corporation website and allow the boss to explain his motivation:
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. 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 those dead pigs in mind you are probably not surprised to see that Murdoch would mention “$500 billion” first and not “great teaching” or “students.”In fact, if you want to predict what News Corporation would ever do if it came down to putting kids ahead of dollars, or dollars ahead of kids, you should Google: “Millie Dowler.”
That’s the overarching danger as corporations increasingly extend their reach into our children’s classrooms. Fox News, of course, will tell you this business move into education will all work out just great. But, no, we can’t trust a lot of business people. We already know more than we want to know about crooked practices at for-profit colleges. We know about sharks who start-up shady charter schools, too
Well, what would you expect? We’re talking $500 billion in government spending—and what business person worth his or her fat bank account wouldn’t want to get a healthy slice of all that cash?
The testing industry, already bloated after a decade of standardized testing, is worth an estimated $1.7 billion annually. Naturally, companies like Pearson are spending millions to lobby politicians and keep the mandated tests coming. In fact, it doesn’t matter that scores on the SAT have dropped over the last ten years since schools began focusing on narrow testing. It doesn’t matter that last fall 232 Texas school districts joined in denouncing the growing reliance on high-stakes testing, either.
Dollars first, children second.
If anyone can sniff out a dollar, no matter how filthy, it’s Murdoch, a man never know to be reluctant to send employees swimming in sewers to fetch him one. Now he brings his ruthless methods to education. Amplify, a division of News Corporation, wants to expand its presence into every American classroom. The company already markets curriculum materials. Last week, Joel I. Klein, former chancellor of the New York City schools, 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 kind of cool if Amplify recorded Bill O’Reilly’s snarling voice to scare the inattentive pupils.)
As Klein explains it, the tablet is designed “so that schools can provide each student with one to take home each night.” There’s a huge learning opportunity—if we get kids excited about educational games. “We understand technology and we understand education,” Klein assures reporters. “A lot of people who understand technology don’t understand education.”
Truth is, like the Chinese businessmen who dumped the dead pigs in the river, what Klein and Murdoch really understand is how to pile up stacks of money.
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 tidy profit.
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 “moochers”and “takers.” But not to worry! Capitalism will triumph in the end. A loaded device, with advice on use and care, 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.”
Rupert Murdoch wants some of President Obama’s stimulus money! The old coot has made a pact with the Devil from Kenya!