Rupert Murdoch, schools and ‘human capital’
We need to wake the fuck up, people!
As John O’Farrell says in the comments on the Downhills thread, the fuss about Jeremy Hunt is distracting from another, more shocking story. And that’s the one about Murdoch’s plans to move in on education in the UK with the connivence of Michael Gove.
Back in February, the Guardian reported:
On a freezing November day in 2010, the education secretary, Michael Gove, turned out in east London to inspect a desolate stretch of dockside ground near City airport, where Rupert Murdoch had offered to build an academy school.
The cabinet minister was accompanied by Rebekah Brooks, then News International chief executive, and an entourage of other top Murdoch staff, including James Harding and Will Lewis.
Despite the unprepossessing venue there was no mistaking the company’s enthusiasm for the project. Murdoch described himself in a speech as the saviour of British education, thanks to his company’s “adoption of new academies here in London”.
This week the Guardian reported:
News International expressed an interest in applying to set up a free school, after plans to establish an academy in east London fell through, according to Rupert Murdoch’s witness statement to the Leveson Inquiry.
The statement, published online on Wednesday, also reveals details of several meetings Murdoch and other News International and News Corporation executives had with Michael Gove, the education secretary and former Times journalist, to discuss this project and other education issues.
Murdoch disclosed that in May last year. a representative of News International exchanged emails with two members of staff at the Department for Education, asking about whether the Sun and Times publisher might apply to set up a free school and what the deadline would be. Previously, the company had expressed an interest in helping to finance an academy school.
Murdoch is evidently keen to branch into the education industry. News International now has its own education division headed up by, Joel Klein, a former White House counsel to president Bill Clinton, and someone much admired by Gove. According to the Guardian, Gove gave a speech to the National College for School Leadership, in which he ‘singled Joel Klein out for praise. Klein was a US lawyer then running the New York school system. But Klein was also Murdoch’s own favourite US educator. His clashes with the teachers’ unions and his enthusiasm for academy-style “charter schools” had caught the tycoon’s interest. Murdoch planned to hire Klein himself.’
The full contacts and exchanges are worth reading for yourself in both Guardian articles. What they reveal is a disturbingly cozy relationship between Murdoch and Gove, who used to work for the media tycoon as a Times journalist.
But dig beneath the political intrigue and there is an even more distasteful story and one that should alarm anybody who cares about education.
You see, people like Murdoch don’t suddenly take an interest in our children’s education because of of some altruistic urge to act in the public interest. His purchase of Wireless Generation, a US educational technology firm, for $360m is a clue to his ambitions, which is to digitise the world’s classrooms, not through donations but by selling. As he told investors: “We see a $500bn sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs.” At the moment he has focused his efforts on the US, but his assertion that the sector is worth $500bn in the US alone suggests that he is inviting them to look further afield. No doubt Murdoch will look at British schools and see a similar desperation for Wireless Generation products
Murdoch couches his interest in getting a foothold in education in terms of establishing a ‘lasting legacy’, which all sounds very philanthropic. After all what aging emperor doesn’t fret about their legacy. But his ambitions to profit massively from classrooms and the language he uses when referring to pupils is a chilling insight into how his involvement in education will take us further down a road that can conceive of young people only as a little economic units. As he told Leveson: “The future belongs to those nations that best develop their human capital.”
In Murdoch’s eyes your children are mere ‘human capital’. As I said: it’s time to wake up.