Created on Friday, 26 August 2011 18:06 Written by Solomon Hughes
Rupert Murdoch wants to sack half of Britain's teachers and replace them with cranky computer systems sold by one of his companies.
Any normal education secretary would laugh at the idea. But Murdoch's companies gave Education Secretary Michael Gove hundreds of thousands of pounds.
And Gove seems to be taking Murdoch's educational ideas as seriously as he took Murdoch's money.
Before we come onto why the publisher of sleazy newspapers thinks he should be in charge of our children, let's look at Gove.
It seems that the Murdoch companies have a policy of handing money to Conservative Party figures.
The latest revelations that Andy Coulson received hundreds of thousands of pounds in "severance" payments, plus a car, plus health insurance, from Murdoch while he was working as David Cameron's spokesperson, has rightly caused concern.
Was Coulson working for Cameron, or Murdoch? Was he in effect a double agent, working for both the Tories and the Dirty Digger?
Coulson is not alone. In the register of MPs' interests, Gove listed a payment of £60,000 a year from a Murdoch company.
Gove listed the payment from his election in 2005 right up until April 2011. He was paid almost as much to write an article a week for a Murdoch newspaper, the Times, as he was for representing the voters of Surrey Heath.
If you don't read the Times, you might think that Gove was just the irritating one on BBC2's The Late Review.
But outside his TV appearances, the Murdoch machine did all it could to push Gove's political career.
Gove was a Times leader writer before becoming an MP.
As an MP, Murdoch's Times gave Gove a column. This boosted Gove's political profile. It also boosted his bank balance.
According to Gove's declaration of outside earnings, Murdoch was paying him £1,900 an hour for his Times work.
He also has a contract with HarperCollins - a Murdoch book publisher - to write "historical biography." Gove's wife is also a Times columnist.
So Murdoch has given Gove a lot of money for a little work and boosted his profile. And in turn Gove acts like one of Murdoch's agents in the Conservative Party.
When the hacking scandal forced Tory ministers to admit their meetings with Murdoch representatives, Gove handed in one of the longest lists.
Among his many Murdoch-related meetings, Gove had dinner with Murdoch and also spent time with his latest employee, Joel Klein.
Klein was the head of New York's Education Department.
Murdoch's NewsCorp hired him to lead his new business expansion into schools. Murdoch is very keen on Klein.
If you look at the video of Rupert and James Murdoch's comedy double act appearance at the House of Common's media select committee - the one where the Murdochs couldn't remember anything - Klein was the bald bloke sat next to Wendi Deng.
Klein left the Commons in the same people-carrier as Rupert and Wendi. Klein has also been put in charge of the internal NewsCorp committee set up to "examine" - or "whitewash" - any misbehaviour exposed in the hacking scandal.
So Murdoch is keen on Klein because he has decided to make money from our children.
This June Murdoch demanded space in the Times for an interview where he could offer his educational theories.
Editor James Harding was suitably obsequious, while Murdoch offered proposals that sounded sinister and bullying.
Murdoch promoted typical market-based solutions, recommending parents be given educational vouchers for a system where "schools are privately held and run for profit."
Murdoch had one particular bugbear - using computer-based learning systems to replace teachers, which is where Murdoch hopes to make money.
First he hired former New York schools boss Klein to help him expand NewsCorp into education.
Then NewsCorp bought US educational computing company Wireless Generation. This company sells computer software that is supposed to replace textbooks and aid teachers. Murdoch's main aim is to sack teachers and replace them with his computer devices. He argued in the Times that "you can get by with half as many teachers."
A sleazy newspaperman like Murdoch wants to get into schools and sack teachers?
Surely no government could take this seriously?
Well, a government whose Education Secretary got nearly two grand an hour for working for Murdoch seems to take it very seriously.
Murdoch proposed his computers vs teachers scheme at a conference organised by Gove.
It gets worse. Murdoch's school computer systems don't work properly.
NewsCorp's Wireless Generation sold New York schools a database called Achievement Reporting and Innovation Systems (Aris).
Aris is supposed to help teachers track student attendance, grades and progress. But Murdoch's own New York Post branded the Aris database "an $80m disaster."
It appeared years late and overbudget and, according to the New York Post, it "runs slowly, lacks vital information and is often too frustrating to use."
The Post quoted one headteacher saying: "It's a disaster. We don't consider it particularly useful for us."
The Post published this article before Murdoch bought Wireless Generation and the newspaper has been much less critical since.
However, this March a local news channel called New York 1 found that 30 per cent of New York high schools were paying extra to use a rival computer system, even though Aris was freely provided to them Department of Education, because Murdoch's system was so bad.
There was already opposition to the extension of Murdoch's Aris system in New York before the phone-hacking scandal.
Following the scandal, New York parents also worry that Aris hands a Murdoch firm personal digital data on millions of New York children.
The hacking scandal showed NewsCorp seems keen to illegally grab personal data, so the New Yorkers think it is wrong to give him legal access to kids info.
We should all ask the same kind of basic question. Do you want Murdoch in charge of your kids? If not, it looks like Gove has to go too.