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Nov 11 2012

Rich people and education reform

My attention as drawn to this news item about Rupert Murdoch attacking New Jersey governor Chris Christie for his embrace of president Obama’s assistance after Hurricane Sandy.

But what caught my eye was not his remarks but the photo caption that said “News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch delivers a keynote address at the National Summit on Education Reform on Friday, Oct. 14, 2011, in San Francisco.”

Why is Rupert Murdoch being invited to speak about education reform? What does he know about it? What could he possibly contribute to the discussion? Has he been secretly studying up on the complexities of learning theory in childhood while also systematically destroying the media in the US and UK?

Meanwhile Bill Gates has also now, by virtue of his ability to dispense large sums of money through his charitable foundation, become an authority on education and some school districts follow his guidance because of the money he can provide them.

There is no doubt that people like Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch have shown considerable ability in making money and running businesses and their views on those topics may well be worth listening to. But education?

The trouble is that rich Americans are often treated as if they are oracles, experts in any area that they choose to gaze upon. This idea that rich people have some generalized wisdom and expertise is as misconceived as the idea that Bobby Fisher could advise on playing bridge because of his undeniable prowess in chess.

Of course, people like Gates and Murdoch are pushing a corporate view of education. And when states and localities starve their public schools of resources, they make them more vulnerable to the allure of these rich people who may think they know what is best for school children but instead are pushing a very narrow view of it.

14 comments

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  1. 1
    Argle Bargle

    The idea that someone is really knowledgeable in one particular field is evidence they’re knowledgeable in another separate and distinct field is quite popular. Murdock and Gates are wealthy men who established very profitable companies, so they get invited to talk about things they have little or no expertise in.

  2. 2
    unbound

    Absolutely correct. The general public seem to think that success in business means that these people are extremely intelligent and would know how all aspects of the world should work.

    One of our educational failings is that we don’t have a good discussion on how these billionaires made their money. While they are not stupid people, they are almost always extremely aggressive and generally make their substantial money by exploiting people, markets, laws, and taxes…and sometimes just plain dumb luck of having the right product / service at the right time. Many of them appear to be sociopaths.

    Nearly all of the attributes needed to make that level of money is something that you wouldn’t tolerate at your dinner table. Although most people agree that the ends can’t justify the means, they seem to turn a blind eye as to what actually happens in corporate America.

  3. 3
    smrnda

    I think a problem with Gates is that he’s seen as a ‘tech guy’ who must be smart and therefore, must know how education works.

    Just because someone is a talented expert in a field does not mean that they’re going to be able to teach other people. Knowing how to do something and knowing how to teach it are two separate issues.

  4. 4
    Trebuchet

    The “summit” in question is run by Jeb Bush, which may be about all you need to know about it.
    http://excelined.org/Pages/Excellence_in_Action/National_Summit.aspx

    It’d probably be more accurate to credit Melinda Gates with the education stuff than Bill. As I recall, his charitable contributions prior to his marriage were trivial.

  5. 5
    skeptifem

    I know exactly why they tap people like murdoch and gates to speak on education. Politically, education is spoken about as an economic endeavor (our schools aren’t “competitive with other countries”, we “need more STEM majors to remain economically viable”, etc etc). Public education is seen as a factory to churn out workers who are properly trained in whatever positions corporations decide are needed. Why wouldn’t people ask industry about it, when these are the common assumptions made about the purpose of education?

  6. 6
    Greg P.

    Don’t forget the ‘schools should be run like a business’ angle. It’s taken as a truism that the corporate practices of cost cutting, efficiency, and empirical metrics for every aspect of performance automatically apply to education.

    There are certainly valid applications for business principles in education. But, simply reducing labor costs and measuring standardized test results is not a recipe for actual success of an education system.

    Mano, didn’t you write a while back about the Virginia state university system giving preference to out of state freshmen and sophomores because of the higher tuition revenue?

  7. 7
    lpetrich

    I’ve seen another theory: hoping to create another speculative bubble. There isn’t much else that you can create a big bubble in nowadays. Dotcom businesses are more-or-less mature, it would be hard to re-create the housing bubble, and likewise for the recent oil bubble.

    Of course, there’s tulips, but I find it hard to imagine much money coming out of that nowadays.

  8. 8
    Tim

    The narcissism required for someone to speak outside of their skill set continues to astound me.

  9. 9
    Corvus illustris

    Mano, didn’t you write a while back about the Virginia state university system giving preference to out of state freshmen and sophomores because of the higher tuition revenue?

    This technique was not confined to Virginia. A while back, the “flagship” state university from which I retired relocated its admissions machinery into its budget office, safe from prying intrusion by mere academics. We soon found out, though, that their practice was to admit in-state students up to the point beyond which they could not–er–afford them, then fill up the classes with out-of-state students paying the full load. Since this filled up the entering classes from the bottom, it was lots of fun to teach introductory courses. I don’t know whether this arrangement continues.

  10. 10
    JoeBuddha

    Reminds me of that line from Fiddler on the Roof: “When you’re rich they think you really know.”

  11. 11
    Corvus illustris

    Well, the deliver-the-Romney-vote bubble didn’t work out either, though it kept part of the economy going for a while. The new old bubble will involve “Charter Schools,” “vouchers,” etc., all–of course–under the general heading of privatization.

  12. 12
    smrnda

    I agree with what skeptifem said about the way rich people view the purpose of education – it’s a factory process for creating workers where, if some of the ‘workers widgets’ end up in a dumpster, it’s no big deal to them. Vocational training is good, but education ought to be a training to be an informed citizen of a democratic nation, a way to gain the ability to question whether or not the priorities of economic elites are really in line with what is good for people as a whole.

  13. 13
    Paul Jarc

    The trouble is that rich Americans are often treated as if they are oracles, experts in any area that they choose to gaze upon.

    This sort of perception is part if the human cognitive architecture. See the affect heuristic and the halo effect.

  14. 14
    Chris Udall

    Rupert Murdoch is invited to do so because he’s insanely wealthy, and…well you can pretty much do whatever you want when you’re that wealthy, apparently.

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