News Corp. and the Business of Education (video)
Not only did Rupert Murdoch give the keynote speech at the education summit held under the aegis of Jeb Bush the past two days in San Francisco. His News Corporation is seeking to make its way into the for-profit education business, as signaled last year when Joel Klein, the former New York City school chancellor, went to head News Corp’s education division: If you needed proof that education is a business, there it is.
Approached while speaking to attendees at the education privatization conference, Klein demurred to answer questions clarifying the relationship between less-than-academic (certainly when it comes to climate change, math and history) FOX News executives and News Corp.’s new K – 12 business. Indeed, Klein’s responses were of a decidedly uneducated, albeit decidedly evasive, nature, as the video below suggests.
News Corp. clearly sees technology as a big part of its educational offerings. It has acquired a digital learning company called Wireless Generation. In both his keynote speech and in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (i.e., the “house” paper as News Corp. owns it too), Rupert Murdoch describes what he calls the “Steve Jobs model for education reform,” which invokes familiar calls for using new technologies (i.e., iPads instead of textbooks) to “[rewrite] the rules of the game” while downplaying (or rather, downgrading) the role of teachers:
Just as the iPod compelled the music industry to accommodate its customers, we can use technology to force the education system to meet the needs of the individual student.
For example, say I was trying to teach a 10-year-old about Bernoulli’s principle. According to this principle, when speed is high, pressure is low. Sounds dry and abstract.
But what if I could bring this lesson alive by linking it to the soccer star Roberto Carlos—showing students a video clip that illustrates how his famous curved shot is an example of Bernoulli’s principle in action. Then suppose I followed up with an engineer from Boeing—who explained why this same principle is critical in aviation and introduced an app that could help students master the concept through playing a game. Finally, assessment tools would give teachers instant feedback about how well their students had mastered the material.
Written just like someone who has not spent the past several years sweating it out in an actual classroom, teaching actual students. Murdoch says what every other adult these days does: Kids these days take technology “for granted” outside the classroom; he therefore presumes that we ought to meet them where they are, on the technological front. But it’s not quite so revolutionary as he suggests to call for more technology, whether in the form of iPads or smart boards, in the classroom. In many schools and colleges in New Jersey, such has become commonplace and the jury is out about whether or not such “innovations” lead to better learning and if they will keep US students competitive.
(Last week, the best way I was able to get my students’ attention was to play a game of Latin grammar hangman on the chalkboard.)
As for those video clips that Murdoch expects will awe students into being the future leaders of the world. Students don’t need a teacher showing them a video of a soccer star; that’s something they watch on their own. An engineer at Boeing might know more about aviation than your average physics teacher, but that engineer cannot tailor his speech to students who, by their expression, are confused or drifting. It’s the oldest lesson in the book that being an expert in a subject has no relation to your ability to explain that subject.
Administrators and politicians do no like to admit it, but human beings — teachers — are an essential presence in a classroom. Murdoch had best be careful about touting technology’s innovative power too much. It was precisely one such “technological innovation” — the ability to hack into voice mails — which has led to the phone hacking scandal that seems to be slowly seeping its way throughout News Corp. The scandal is not only costing the company huge amounts of money in settlements. As much as a quarter of shareholders are expected to protest against Rupert, James and Lachlan Murdoch retaining their positions on News Corp.’s board at the company’s annual meeting next week in Los Angeles. A number of advisory bodies and corporate governance campaigners have recommended that votes be cast against them. The Murdochs currently control about 39 percent of the votes so, even though they only own 12 percent of the company, they are unlikely to be voted off.
Klein’s stammering response to questions at the San Francisco education summit was probably the most honest answer he, or News Corp., could give about what passes for “knowledge” at the giant media company.
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Photo by Alex E. Proimos