It looks like conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch is preparing to bring his version of a “fair and balanced” perspective to the public education arena. Yes, the same Australian billionaire transformed American citizen who gave us the Fox News Channel and its stable of fire breathing right-wing zealots. Now, Murdoch is unleashing the Amplify tablet in the public school market; named for News Corporation’s education division that is headed by former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. The tablet will come with a proprietary curriculum created by the folks at Amplify.
There is no doubt that technology is playing a heightened role in instruction and learning in our schools. Districts across the country are investing millions of dollars in new technology that will aid teachers, assist students in grasping the complexities of beefed-up curriculums, and give parents a tool to monitor student progress and hold educators accountable. Likewise, curriculums are undergoing vast changes, driven in part by states’ adoption of the Common Core Standards and federal pressure to increase the use of tests to assess student progress and teacher performance. The education arena is undergoing a historic metamorphosis so it comes as no surprise that public schools are being eyed by private enterprise as an emerging market.
What is troubling to me about Amplify, Murdoch’s education entrée, is the history behind the News Corporation’s news division and the indisputable right-wing ideological bent of its offerings. I can’t divorce the rhetoric I hear on the Fox News Channel from my belief that any curriculum developed by a division of this company will be tainted. In English and the Humanities for example, what works will be considered worthy of discussion and which authors will be deemed worthy and which discarded? How will African-Americans and our contributions be portrayed in a history curriculum created by Amplify? In the world-view of the Amplify team will slavery be treated as the pivotal event of the Civil War or as a secondary consideration that was not at the heart of the War Between the States? Is the confederate flag a symbol of southern “culture,” as many sympathizers insist, or a rallying symbol for treason? Will the ugly truth of Jim Crow be dissected or will it be swept under the rug in the Amplify curriculum? And what does the team look like that developed the curriculum?
The problem with this free market approach to curriculum development is that we don’t adhere to a single, collective truth in our nation. The facts are always discarded to gain political advantage and the narrative we have employed to explain America has suffered. Children who attend public schools, for the most part, are still taught that Christopher Columbus discovered this nation, that white settlers liberated the indigenous native population, and that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves during a war that was really about competing cultures and not the exploitation of humans for profit. Most children who attend public schools have little knowledge of the great Black writers, intellectuals and entrepreneurs our nation has birthed because their contributions receive scant attention in the textbooks and lesson plans at use in our schools. I have little faith that Amplify is going to change that reality and I fear, given the News Corporation’s news footprint, it will make matters worse. I hope I am wrong but having sat in the chair across from the likes of a Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity gives me little reason to believe this new enterprise is capable of an enlightened world view.
One truth is that conservatives have left progressives in the dust in terms of exploiting technological advantage. After the Telecommunications Act of 1996 became law the right pounced on the opportunity and began to launch new media companies and consolidate others. It was about the same time that Murdoch, with the aid of Roger Ailes, launched the Fox News Channel with little concern about objective reporting and focused solely on organizing the conservative base. Meanwhile, the only African-American cable presence was Black Entertainment Television and the name says it all; we entertained while the opposition organized and framed a potent political message. Now, Murdoch is at it again. This time he is preparing to reach right into our backyards and amplify a message that will likely reaffirm all that we have heard out of the news division. Imagine the presence Murdoch will command if he, as I suspect he is already planning, links his Amplify education division with his television properties; including the Fox News Channel?
Fair and Balanced? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool met twice and I’m just an idiot.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.