Bright Lights, Big City, Huge Educational Profits: LA and iPads

Warning:  Some fans of Michael J. Fox’s early work might be offended by this blogpost.  But have you seen the movie?

About one billion years ago in Internet time, there was a so-so novel turned into an utterly awful movie starring Michael J. Fox.  Bright Lights, Big City is/was young, unafraid and only slight terrible in its pretentiousness.  Then somebody decided that Michael J. Fox should play the lead in the movie version.

And that gets us to Apple Computers, Pearson and the Los Angeles Unified School District.  For the big city school district that is LA has taken the brash idea of “a computer for every student” and almost, only inches away now, made it a reality.   Yet there are problems, as noted in today’s New York Times.   The District is suspending its contract with Apple.  Attacks are being made on a bidding process that has left Pearson providing digital curriculum.

It’s the same scenario playing out in just about every district and state education office around the country.  Corporations, Apple and Pearson prime among them, are getting contracts of all sizes to create online standardized tests, curriculum and other bright blinkin’ lights o’ the Internet, as schools desperately try to stay relevant and keep test scores up.  What’s more, it is the lobbying efforts by corporations such as Apple and Pearson that is driving much of the push for not only the computer/Internet, but the testing itself.

Preying on the “Johnny can’t read; sky is falling” mantra now in place (and forgetting that many, many Johnnies couldn’t read in earlier decades as well), TechNTesting companies (TNT) are achieving “vertical integration,” providing both the cause (ongoing proof that Johnny can’t read via standardized test scores) and purported solution:  Technology (cue Jazz Hands!).  Besides, Tech/blinkin’ bright lights/drugs/Kiefer Sutherland (Fox character’s bad influence side-kick) are KEWL!!!11!!  Right kids?  We are “down” with what’s “steezy, yo!”

What’s this got to do with Michael J. Fox and “Bright Lights, Big City” you might ask.  Well, if you’ve had the misfortune to see the film, Fox is horribly, horribly miscast as a young club-hopping horn-dog falling into substance abuse.  If you read a bit of backstory on the movie, pretty much EVERYBODY involved in making the movie knew that Fox, now a bigger and bigger star via “Family Ties,” was horribly miscast.  Fox had no more business playing a club-hopping horn-dog than Pearson Education has in putting “education” in the title of its TechNTesting subsidiary.  Fox is wretched in the film;  Pearson and Apple are beyond wretched at providing Johnny can’t read solutions.

In short, here’s a more precise picture of how the current corporatizing of education is like “Bright Light, Big City”

  • TechNTesting is like the cocaine
  • “Johnny can’t read” is like the empty void and addictive qualities of the mind that makes cocaine seem like a good life-choice
  • Michael J. Fox is like the Los Angeles Unified School District and every other district/state education office in the country
  • Kiefer Sutherland is like Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation (trust me, if you go frame-by-frame, it’s unmistakable)
  • A billion dollars for TechNTesting in LA is like a lot of money

On some gut level, everyone in K-12 education today knows something is wrong here.  That somebody is taking advantage of us and leading us to some form of cocaine addiction, rehab and memories of being in a very bad movie.  But we can’t stop, because we don’t what to do.  And Apple/Pearson and TechNTesting Inc. are here to “help,” just like that guy on the other side of the fence outside the middle school selling bags.  Little bags at first…



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