In one of my previous blogs, I wrote about school being out and virtual school being in. The latest twist on this idea could come from someone you never thought would involve himself in education, but this person has what he thinks is a good reason why.
Say what you want about media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, but at a Paris forum of Internet entrepreneurs and European policymakers, the 20th Century-Fox / Wall Street Journal / Sky News owner said that education was “the last holdout from the digital revolution,” and that “today’s classroom looks almost exactly the same as it did in the Victorian age.” That’s the 19th century he was just referencing.
Mr. Murdoch also told this forum, the e-G8 conference, attended by everyone from Google head Eric Schmidt and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to President Sarkozy of France, that throwing money at the problem doesn’t work, and challenged the assembled to “bring to our schools the same creative force that makes businesses competitive and nations thrive.”
Given that this is the same Rupert Murdoch who’s had his hands in everything over the years from those naked “Page 3 Girls” in his daily Sun tabloid in London to such “wild” TV cartoon shows as “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy,” to the “fair and balanced” Fox News Channel, who knew that he would go into the education business? And to help him out in this cause, he hired a former New York City schools chancellor named Joel Klein.
Even while he was running the schools in New York City, then-Chancellor Klein supervised a pilot project in the Chinatown neighborhood back in 2009 called “School of One,” which implies the kind of online individualized instruction that Mr. Murdoch has been pushing for, in a variation on that “Victorian age” model of an adult giving lessons to a group of young students who learn at different levels.
Combine Mr. Murdoch’s hiring of Mr. Klein with his News Corporation’s 2010 purchase of a majority stake in education technology company Wireless Generation, and perhaps old Rupert might have much of what he needs as he competes for attention with such educational text publishers as Pearson and McGraw-Hill, each of whom are already dabbling into the digital content world.
And if Rupert’s ideas for individualizing student instruction end up winning favor from everyone, from politicians and educators to parents and students, maybe that old rhyme of “no more pencils/no more books/no more teachers’ dirty looks” will become even more of a reality. Well, not quite a reality, but somewhat closer to it. Mr. Murdoch said that while “technology will never replace the teacher….what we can do is remove some of the drudgery of teaching.”
Ideas like Rupert’s are going to run into stumbling blocks, like bureaucracy and teachers’ unions, that are so used to the old-fashioned way of educating. But when the saying goes that “Education is too important to be left to the educators,” and when improving the product with the hope of better results matters, then perhaps Rupert Murdoch, digital education innovator, could be given a fair shot.
If you have watched Fox’s “The Simpsons” over the last couple of decades, you’ve seen how Bart Simpson has often shown his disdain for the school that he and his smart sister Lisa attend. Do you suppose Rupert had Bart in mind when commenting about why classrooms today are no different than in the Victorian Age?