Tom Sawyer vs. the Brontë Sisters: Paintball for Literacy?

Whatever else Joel Klein is, he is marvelously undead. He left the New York City Schools after imposing on them a “value-added learning” program that did nothing for students’ learning, and a “basic literacy” program thanks to which literacy did not improve but at-risk reading students foundered. He went  to work for Rupert Murdoch’s mischievously named “News Corporation,” which specialises among other things in bimbo spreads and phone hacking. There he divided his time between attempts to rehabilitate Murdoch’s reputation (aided no doubt by his experience in touching up his own reputation) and attempts to make education profitable for his master’s corporation, if not for students.

Sensible and decent people in the U.S. hoped that at least one of these projects would have kept him busy in Britain, but—no! He is back. Is he here to help popularize those page-3 topless spreads in tabloids? Is he here to persuade people that phone hacking is not such a big deal? Is he here to throw his weight, such as it is, behind RAce to the Top (RAT)? Is he here to promote “national security audits” in public schools and their “human capital”?  Maybe yes, maybe no, but he is certainly here to promote a corporate vision of “blended learning” that he hopes will earn “News Corporation” a return on its own, somewhat inhuman, capital. And, not content simply to harness the power of students to earn profit for a company by “studying,” he is “launching” a new tablet computer.

In another context the late Senator Sam Ervin suggested that we must not expect philanthropic results from organizations that are not “eleemosynary institutions.” If this bit of homespun wisdom from the mid-70s’ most famous “country lawyer” does not seem self-evident, consider more details about this “educational” product. The new tablet has a game in which “Tom Sawyer battles the Brontë sisters,” no doubt with virtual paintball.  We read in the Times article hyperlinked above that this bit of e-diocy is part of a “curriculum, including video games as elaborate as anything played on an Xbox,” that will “turn students into readers” while contributing 40% of the “education” company’s profits—I fear not in that order. How can anyone believe that students will become better readers by having a battle between Tom Sawyer and the Brontë sisters? If it comes to that, I’d rather trust Charlotte Brontë on education than a commercial huckster any day.


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