Sunday, 31 July 2011

Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch & the New Education "Reformers"

If you read any of the right-wing press in the US it would appear that the people who know the most about education are not teachers, educationists or parents but billionnaires. Billionnaires have been getting involved in education "reform" in a supposed effort to "transform" American schools.

However his latest pronouncement, that schools can improve educational outcomes even when its pupils come from a poor socioeconomic background, suggests that he is getting desperate. I suspect he would like it to be true, but he needs to face facts, it is never going to be true. The biggest single determinant of educational failure is poverty. You can control for all other variables and find schools able to educate children regardless or ethnicity, religion, disability etc, but when you look at poverty, there is a particularly high correlation, which no education system has been able to change.

One can understand Gates's position; he is a very rich person. He woud like to believe two things; that his success is not down to his own good fortune for being born in the right bed, and that he is not rich becaiuse others are poor. In other words the billionnaires's refrain that the educational cart can be put before the horse is personal. It is about assuageing their own guilt, it is about making them feel that they became rich entirely deservedly and not because of any amount of good luck. It is also about trying to promote the ideology of the rich that the poor are only poor because of their fecklessness and laziness.

So the failed 20-year involvement of the very rich in schools in the United States is, underliying the need of the wealthy for personal justification, ideological. It is about trying to justify their own "success" and justify their oppression of the poor. Oppression which includes not paying their taxes

The problem is that right-wing billionnaires like Gates are able to shout louder when it comes to just about anything. They can both control and hog the media, and the constant repetition of this ideological position results in it being taken as self-evident, in the way Dr Goebbels constant repitition of lies made them "true".

Bill Gates used to be at the vanguard of a new age; whether or not you hate Microsoft, it was his operating system that made computers and the internet accessible to us all, and which initially helped enable the exponential generative growth of online and offline resources. However he has now become just another sad right-wing billionnaire, misusing his wealth to oppress the poor and disempower others.

Gates is part of a movement of right-wing ideologues, many of whom are very rich, who want to control education and force teachers to work in ways they think are best, even though they have never taught a class themselves in their lives. Why large amounts of money makes them "experts" on education is a question none of them have answered. Another of these right-wing ideologues with too much money is Rupert Murdoch, who is getting involved in education through the UK's right-wing education minister; Michael Gove. This is quite frankly alarming; after we have seen the way in which he runs his newspapers, one has to fear for any children who end up in Murdoch High School.

However Murdoch is not just getting involved in education in the standard way, sponsoring "Free" or "charter" schools like Gates and others; he is making "educational" softeware which will result in teachers having even less freedom to teach and making lessons even more boring and repetitive for children. The problem for rich oligarchs like Gates and Murdoch is that their "reforms" can only be implemented by destroying teachers' professional abilities. Their solutions all involve a high degree of centralisation and an excessive amount of testing, leaving teachers with little or no opportunity to exercise their professionalism as educators to benefit the children they teach.

Their educational ideology been shown to fail; schools in many parts of the US including New York and Wisconsin have had the ologarch's kind of education system for many years and have conspicuously failed to deliver the reform or "transformation" they have told us it can. Nonetheless they want to import it to the UK. It will be another expensive failure.

Yet there is an alternative; the education system in Finland works without any testing at all, it emphasises teachers' professionalism and trains them very highly, giving them the tools for the job they do and allowing them to get on with it. And it has worked. Finland's economy went from being almost exclusively reliant on timber in the 1970s to being a high-tech industrial/post-industrial economy today, thanks to its education system. It produces more patents per head of population than any other country in the world, and has a population which has been described as one of the most creatively entreprenurial on the planet.

Schools can do fine in terms of educating children without making them the playthings of the very rich and their lackeys on the political righ. It is time to say No to centralisation of schools, No to more testing and No to the failed policies of Murdoch, Gates and Gove. All we need them to do is shut up and pay their taxes.

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