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Rupert Murdoch, schools and ‘human capital’

April 28, 2012

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.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 28, 2012 9:34 am

    I dont like the Murdoch’s or their businessess anywhere in the world but i do agree with the term “human capital”…After all if you dont invest in the children of today you would not have a talent pool to utilize for growing your country in the future. In fact i would argue that there are multiple ways to develop this talent and all methods including private education, which is regulated by the Govt, is allowed to flourish.

  2. charliemcmenamin permalink
    April 28, 2012 11:21 am

    Ooh, look: : you don’t even need any pesky kids to make money out of academies.

    That link is to the BBC story, but I prefer the wording of the local coverage:

    “..Gilliland had used resources of the publicly funded federation to buy personal and “inappropriate” items, including training for his son, personal tax advice and DVDs.

    These items were bought on a federation credit card and then delivered to the academy address, the report found…..As Priory Federation of Academies chief executive, Richard Gilliland was reportedly earning more than £200,000 per year, one of the county’s highest paid public servants.

    The top floors of Laughton Manor House were decorated to the standard of Gilliland and his wife at a cost of more than £45,000, with the intention to move in (they have not). This was done over the needs of the federation, the report concluded…..some of the personal items purchased using the Federation credit card and delivered to the federation offices were of an inappropriate nature to be delivered to a school site (e.g. sex games and supplements).”

  3. Rab permalink*
    April 28, 2012 2:27 pm

    Welcome Sunny.
    I’m all in favour of investing in people. I’m a much less keen on the idea that the purpose of education is to produce ‘human capital’.

    I don’t say that because I’m against developing economically profitable skills and knowledge. I say it because I see schools, colleges and universities dedicating themselves to little else. And I suspect that the introduction of corporate interests into our schools will embed that sort of thinking even deeper.

    It might seem an obvious thing to say but the purpose of education is to produce educated people not human capital. Education develops the human intellect. It introduces pupils and students to the repository of human knowledge. It encourages curiosity and critical faculties. It broadens cultural and intellectual horizons. Capitalism may find a great deal of profitable use in these talents but making profits for capitalism is not the raison d’être of education.

    One of your links isn’t working but I think I’ve found the story on the BBC website you’re referring to.

  4. April 29, 2012 10:49 am

    i just don’t understand the man…at that age ,WHO would be bothered to pursue such a steely businesslike role in life?….wouldn’t it be more fun and fulfilling if he just said to some young driven brainy big hearted serious young people ‘look..i’ve got all this sodding money….take a load…make a difference…make the world a sweeter place…….if he did that,he’d get such a headrush….why doesn’t he want to take a big ole curveball on himself for his final years,and have something completely different for himself…you’d think all that red tape would be getting a bit stale for him right now….money is cheaper than time….he really puzzles me.

  5. April 29, 2012 4:10 pm

    Yep – that was a strange little advertisement break he took during the Leveson Inquiry last Thursday – just to tell everyone about the shameful quality of education in Britain and the US and how passionate he is about putting it right. Of course, he declined to put a price tag on it.

  6. Rab permalink*
    April 30, 2012 10:33 am

    Hello Mary,
    No, I can’t fathom it either. The only thing I can think of is that Murdoch and people like him either really, really despise ‘ordinary people’ or he actually believes that the world will be made a better place by giving free reign to the most aggressive and competitive tendencies in human nature, and that there is absolutely nothing that you can’t slap a price tag on… Although perhaps he both despises people and supports policies that encourage avarice. The two, after all, do complement each other.

    I thought the media would have made more of it. After all the man who has presided over the corruption of the British media and distorted the UK’s political life now has ambitions to run schools.

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