Would you want your tax dollars going to buy someone else’s kid an iPod? I sure don’t.
I’m probably out of sync with most O’Reilly people on this issue, but I am not a supporter of computers in schools. Despite the apparent political appeal, the case for the high-tech classroom is weak: there is little research supporting the idea that high-tech improves learning, and the empirical counter-argument that after throwing computers at schools for upwards of 20 years, the US education system has little to show for it.
The two parties who are still enamored of this concept, unsurprisingly, are politicians who can use it to get elected, and technology vendors who see thousands or millions of potential sales in the education market.
Much as I like Apple, they’re one of the latter parties, and apparently not above playing the political game when it can move some SKU’s.
A few years back, I blogged about a ruinous fiasco in my neck of the
woods suburbs, in which Apple worked to land a deal that would put iBooks in the hands of every middle school student in Cobb County, at taxpayer expense. The money was to come from a special tax approved by voters, who were told it was for a general “upgrade” of technology for the schools, and many of whom balked at the idea of using it to buy laptops for every student. A grand jury was also convened to determine whether Apple was unfairly favored in the process. The school board gave up the plan, and its chairman resigned in disgrace.
Did Apple get out of this game? Apparently not. Now we’ve got the poor state of Michigan (my former home), with enough problems on its plate already, kicking around a dubious plan to buy iPods for all students. You know, totally for school and in no way for fun. Riiight. Anyways, guess what came out today? The sponsors of the bill were flown out to California on Apple’s dime and got a tour of the campus in Cupertino.
As an Apple fan, I like to see Apple succeeding financially and selling lots of stuff. But as a libertarian (ooh, there goes half my readership off to Home Depot to pick up pitchforks and torches… can y’all grab me some 15W CF bulbs while you’re there?), I hate to see tax money stolen from private citizens and spent on utterly stupid ideas, like buying high-tech toys for students, based on some exceptionally dubious claims about their use for education. The ugly fallout of the Cobb County fiasco should be ample evidence that this political edu-gimmickry is an ugly, wretched business to be in, and Apple would do well to be above such nonsense.
But they’re not. The potential money’s too good.