Penguin dollarApparently on some kind of charm/government schmoozing offensive in the UK, Penguin is offering UK schools “100 Penguin Classics titles available for your classroom at a great price.” Just one snag: It’s all-or-nothing. And you don’t get to pick and choose.

This is Penguin’s answer to a call from UK Minister for Schools Nick Gibb for publishers to make 100 classic titles available to schools, for £100 ($143). And of course, when you reflect that this is the same Nick Gibb currently presiding over a “crisis” in UK teacher numbers, you’ll realize that political expediency and headline-friendly numbers had nothing whatsoever to do with that ringing figure of 100 titles – chosen, of course, with only the best educational objectives in mind.

According to the Penguin T&C, “this promotion is open to primary schools, secondary schools, sixth form colleges and other secondary education establishments in the United Kingdom only (Eligible Schools). The promotion will run from 1 March 2016 until 30 June 2016 inclusive (the Promotional Period). During the Promotional Period, Eligible Schools may order promotional sets of Penguin ‘Black Classic’ books at the promotional price of £100 per set.” Each school is limited to 30 sets max, and Penguin has sole right to choose the contents of the set – although these are laid out on the Penguin UK website.

Let’s assume a school decided to use the money for 30 sets of Penguins on Amazon’s Fire instead, currently retailing at £39.99 ($57.15) in the UK. For the same total of £3000 ($4290), even without an educational discount, that school could afford 75 Fires, each with access to an unlimited number of out-of-copyright ebooks. Or, a school might just decide to allocate its book budget more systematically and buy as much as it needs, and what’s relevant to its curriculum, including modern works, rather than what Penguin UK chooses to give it from its out-of-copyright list, which normally goes head to head with free ebooks anyway.

And even the Times Educational Supplement is busy serving up free Project Gutenberg links on its website to the classic titles. And the TES also quotes Mick Connell, director of the National Association for the Teaching of English, protesting: “Where are the brilliant, contemporary writers for young and adolescent readers? Where are the very best in modern and contemporary literature? Where is Golding, Plath, Atwood, Hughes, Heaney, Pinter, Becket, Angelou, Morrison and Mantel? Although I realise that they had to choose exclusively from Penguin Classics series. That’s like choosing clothes for teenage children from Marks and Spencer: a worthy intention without the slightest chance of success.”

But who should snark at such a plan, when the twin goals of publisher profits and political plus points can be served by the same program? Using schools book budgets to fund politicos’ headline-grabbing? Now that sounds like a good use of public money …


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