April 20, 2014

Hate Bill Gates’ Plans for Education? Got a Better Idea?

About a week ago our illustrious founder, Kristina Daniele, posted an article by Huffington Post reporter Gary Stager entitled, “Who Elected Bill Gates?” Normally I would just read an article such as and go on about my day. But something about this piece got me a bit intrigued, especially with all the recent discussions about failing education in our country, so I decided to share my views here at We of Hue.

From the start Mr. Stager starts off on the wrong foot by categorizing Bill Gates as solely a “philanthropist” with nothing better to do with his time and money. That and he also believes Mr. Gates’ plans are “demonic” as he is also likened to Charlie Sheen as they both need an “intervention.” Let’s be frank, calling Bill Gates “just” a philanthropist is like calling Michael Jordan “just” a basketball player. Yes, if you want to nit-pick, in every sense of the word Bill Gates has been VERY philanthropic with his billions of dollars over the years. But have we forgotten that he is not one who inherited his money? If my memory serves me correctly (insert a large dose of sarcasm here), isn’t he  the man who kinda-sorta, maybe, a little bit, in a round-about sort of way revolutionized the ENTIRE WORLDWIDE COMPUTER AND SOFTWARE INDUSTRY WITH A LITTLE COMPANY CALLED MICROSOFT!!?  If there’s a person who we should listen to and who is probably capable of offering up a plan on how to best ensure our children eventually compete on a global scale it’s “philanthropist” Bill Gates. There aren’t many people in this world who have a good idea what type of workforce and leaders we will need in the coming years to keep our country competitive, while at the same time who have the $$$ to make those ideas come to life; one of those men is you guessed it, Bill Gates.

Love him or hate him (and truth be told, I’m a Mac guy), but the man puts his VERY large bank account where his mouth is in reference to education and many other causes such as AIDS research, agricultural development, and global health. From millions of dollars in scholarship money; to the KIPP Prep Academies in which he is a major contributor; to numerous speeches and presentations on the subject; to financing the movie “Waiting for Superman”, Mr. Gates seems to get it. We all know what needs to be done, but when you have billions to spend you can actually get it done. One thing money allows you to do is to cut through all the bureaucratic nonsense, do it yourself, and put forth an initiative YOU believe in regardless of what the status quo has to say about it. No need to go through mounds of paperwork and countless telephone calls to get something done. As a teacher, you have a good idea on how to teach a group of student’s physics? Go for it! You have a plan to get your students more involved in literature? Do it! It’s as if we have sucked the creativity from our teachers and refuse to let them do what they do best…TEACH! Mr. Gates fully understands it’s about getting back to educating and developing critical thinking skills and not just focusing on standardized test taking, which is what education has become in recent years. And don’t get me started on decaying schools, high dropout rates, the U.S. lagging behind many third world countries in math, science, and even English! Please, I’d jump on the chance to have my child in KIPP Prep! And don’t think I didn’t try! Just way too far away and., wait for it….there is a HUGE waiting list!

But what perplexes me to no end is why so many folks are afraid of change (I know, I know, probably because it’s change stupid, Duh!)? But seriously, I continue to hear the arguments on how privatization of education is so wrong. Is it really? I doubt that Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and members of the Walton Family (Wal-Mart) sit around a big table wringing their hands (insert evil laugh here) as they try to figure out the best way to dupe the public, while they take over the countries educational system and make money doing it.  I mean are there still some of you out there who believe that the “public” in public education still means anything?

Our public schools have been in the hands of “private” industry for years. If it’s not the multi-billion companies such as McGraw-Hill and Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt who determine what our children learn (or don’t learn) by selling text books by the bulk, it’s the way they “help” shape lessons plans as well as standardized testing at the state level in order to ensure it’s their company’s books that are used and not the competition. And less we forget companies such as Sysco who provide much of the most non nutritious, yet cheap food to our cafeterias. Our schools haven’t been “public”, or for that matter locally run for DECADES!  Think about it, when was the last time planning, funding, testing, or a major policy was decided SOLELY at the local level?

I’ll wait………(cue Jeopardy theme music)………………… EXACTLY! It doesn’t happen anymore!

Teachers and school districts across the nation are forced on a daily basis to be “reactive” instead of “proactive” due to the various cuts to their budgets. Instead of pushing the envelope and pushing their students to succeed they are busy trying to keep the ship from sinking. You CAN’T teach or educate in that type of environment! In my humble opinion, this is also one of the reasons that not only has the discussion for privatization risen in recent years, but so has the clamor for “non-traditional” methods of education. Charter schools, Montessori education, and yes, even homeschooling have all had a boon recently due to the fact that government officials and so-called education professionals have been trying to “fix” this system FOREVER and parents can’t afford to wait any longer. This is also why prep schools have been around for so long. People with “means” don’t worry about the public education debate because they send their children to prep schools; yep, just like the fictional Bel Air Academy on Fresh Prince. But all joking aside, one of the statements that troubled me from Mr. Stager is how he accused Mr. Gates of not sending his own children to the KIPP Academy’s because obviously they aren’t “good enough”.  Really? The man sets up some of the most technologically advanced and forward thinking schools in the nation (which by the way rival even some of the best prep schools in the country) and you want to kick a gift horse in the mouth!?!? These academies are the closest thing to a prep school that most regular everyday folks without “means” will see. I’m not going to get into unions, teacher tenure, etc… BUT by spending his billions to open his own schools, Mr. Gates can EASILY bypass much of the red tape drama that far too many school districts are drowning in. His money, his ideas, his way!

And just to take this discussion one step further, I’d like you to think about something for a moment. You know what doesn’t get talked about too much? It’s that the “establishment” is counting on a little thing called time. They have plenty of it, and we as parents do not. Our children continue to get older in a lackluster system because they know all too well that one day our children will be old enough and OUT of “public” education (K-12). Usually by the time many of our children have (hopefully) moved onto college we have lost the want, need, or desire to concern ourselves with how K-12 public education continues to decline. It’s as if, “Whew…I’m done, let the next group of parents deal with this nonsense!” Many of us are too tired, busy, stressed, and pulled every which way on Monday-Friday to focus on fighting the good fight, AND THEY ARE COUNTING ON THAT!

We all want what is best for our children, but let’s face it do any of us really have the means or the where-with-all to fight a system which has been playing this game since at least the 1950’s? NOPE! The status quo is counting on us not getting involved. One of the ways they achieve this is making it damn near impossible for us to find, or even enroll, our children in some of the best public schools in our own communities. And trust me I know of what it is I speak as I’m currently fighting the good fight with our local school district to get what I believe is best for my family. But In the end, they are counting on our eventual and continued APATHY to it all. If they put up enough stumbling blocks, sooner or later we will go away and they will continue to chug along.

Like Bill Gates? Hate Bill gates? Agree with him, don’t agree with him? But the facts are pretty clear if not for him, and others like him who are tired of the way our children are being educated we would not be having a serious discussion today on the future of education in America. Movies such as Waiting for Superman, The Lottery, etc… and program’s such as The Harlem Children’s Zone all have brought to light what many have been trying real hard to keep in the dark. I, for one, applaud the efforts of folks like Bill Gates and Gary Stager who are doing what they believe to be right on behalf of our children.

I think we all can agree that we want the best education for our children and that (for many) the education they are receiving is sub-standard at best. I also think we all can agree that some major changes need to be made, that none of the problems are going away anytime soon, and an open, honest dialogue where all views are respected is paramount. So if I were Mr. Stager, instead of insulting the man (I’m still trying to figure out the Charlie Sheen analogy) I’d get in line to see if I too could get a bit of the Gates Foundation money and find away to work together (yep, didn’t I mention that Mr. Stager has his own education based organization called The Constructivist Consortium!?). Because just like this problem, the money and clout of Bill Gates isn’t going away anytime soon either.

Just my two cents, what say you?

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James Higgins

James Higgins

Nothing special about me at all, I'm a happily married, college educated (Go Bison!), stay-at-home father of two wonderful children. Just trying to keep myself, my wife, my children, and my cats sane as we navigate through this journey called family life.

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  • Ed

    James,

    Nicely written!

    To truly change, one must know why they are changing or fall prey to their old habits. No one seeks to truly understand what is going on here. In my opinion, it’s this type of apathy that is the root of our education system’s woes. At the current rate of our own California state budget deficit we would have to cut education spending by an additional 50% to make up for the other spending categories such as state pension plans (and their funky accounting system). 50% percent more! Wow. This certainly won’t help the problem.

    If Bill and Melinda Gates have ideas and are willing to put their money into the game, then yes, I am willing to listen. But they can only do so much! It’s up to us as parents to be the catalyst for change. Do you (other readers) know how our state’s money is being spent? For the sake of my kids, I know I have to do a better job.

  • Gotjaz

    Ed,

    Thank you so very much for the kind words, not to mention your own take on the situation. And you are so right in your sentiment that you (we) have to do a better job for our kids. Pensions, prisons, and the like are sucking our state dry. I think it’s ironic that you too are in California, and because of that I’d like to offer you some info if you don’t mind?

    Not sure how old your children are or if your local schools area are good/bad/so-so, but are you familiar with intra and interdistrict transfers among schools in your area? Essentially you can look at moving your child from one school to another and in terms of interdistrict transfer that means out of your assigned district. It’s a PAIN, it isn’t easy to navigate, and you may have to “upset” some folks at your local district, but it’s worth it if you have the time and patience. You may have already been aware, but most parents aren’t.

    Anyway, good luck to you and thanks for the convo…

    James

  • http://lovesgumbo.com Brooke @ LovesGumbo.com

    James, James, James, spoken like a parent who knows this labyrinth called the school system, and who is trying to get the best education for his children. I have three children and over the years I have used private school, charter school, magnet school, montessori, and homeschool. We have to do what ever it takes to get our children educated. My oldest daughter went to KIPP for two years, and BTW they aren’t Bill Gates’ schools. They have been in existence way before he was a philanthropist. He has decided to throw his money behind something that is working. The reason we took our daughter out of KIPP was because it wasn’t for a family like ours. In our home, education, love of learning, homework checking, volunteering, and exposure to museums, traveling, camping, etc. was already present. KIPP created a culture of achievement and learning that was unmatched in the Atlanta area. Public schools act like they truly don’t care about our kids, so why should we worry about their unions, tenure, etc. We have children that are growing everyday, and they must be educated. Right now I am homeschooling our 10 year old, our 14 year old is in performing arts high school, but she may be back home next year, and the baby will be going to Montessori next year. After Montessori, he may never see the inside of a classroom.

  • Gotjaz

    Brooke,

    Thanks for reading and commenting :-) I meant to add that he didn’t “start” KIPP, but as you mentioned he is a major supporter to say the least. As a VERY involved parent I am all over trying to get my children in the best schools in our area, and if that means figuring out how to get out of our home district into a neighboring district for a great public school, so be it. While my son (as well as my wife and I) is enjoying his Montessori pre-school we don’t have an elementary Montessori program in the area which is the reason I started last Fall researching, making calls, visiting, and getting on lists to ensure he would get into the public school we wanted this coming Fall. While it pisses me off to no end to have to go through all of this, I will continue to do what I gotta do to make sure my kids get a good education. What perplexes me, and disturbs me on many levels, is that many of “us” aren’t educated on what it is we can and can’t do in reference to school choice. We accept the local school which is in our district when, in quite few instances, if you start early enough you don’t have to “settle”.

    Glad to see some like minded “let’s roll up our sleeves and get busy” parents like you out there…

    James

    • http://lovesgumbo.com Brooke @ LovesGumbo.com

      I actually camped out in a tent to get my daughter into a elementary that I thought mirrored the pre-school she had been in. We got in, but found that we weren’t really welcomed. It is quite a dance. My daughter is in high school now and I think what she has learned from watching us change, switch, fight, pay, volunteer, etc at the schools is that we DON’T play about education. As a result, she doesn’t play about education. She asked to be homeschooled again yesterday, and she had great reasons why because she very active in her own education. We taught that, but KIPP reinforced it. The evil reform school, KIPP.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001527579457 Kristina Brooke Daniele

    James, forgive me for not commenting sooner. I have been exhausted by the education debate as you well know. However, I do want to reply to a few points:

    If by privatization of schools you mean give them back to the local communities and make them once again true neighborhood schools, I am all for it. Teachers and parents should be on a first name basis and that cannot happen when parents work 2 hours away from where the schools are located as such is the case in NYC. Children need to know that when they are not behaving and focusing in schools that the possibility of teachers running into their parents at the local store is a very real one. THIS creates accountability. When I can walk to your house to see why Johnny isn’t in class, the atmosphere changes. Much like how the neighborhood beat cop was more effective.

    I am for parental involvement and parent-teacher partnerships. I am NOT for removing parents and teachers out of the equation. If you mean remove education as a campaigning point in politics, I agree too. Politicians are at the mercy of their corporate backers and thus objectivity is lost.

    Also, I disagree that establishment is waiting on time. The establishment is focused on the here and now. I want longevity. Long term success. Test scores after 4 years do not establish success. The true success of an educational method is not determined until 20 years after it has been established. I will provide a resource once I locate it.

    I would be more inclined to give Gates a chance if he were more inclined to give experienced teachers one. Instead he backs movements and people who believe that a 1st year teacher is better than one that has been in the system continually learning and progress as most Educators are. If you were going into surgery wouldn’t you choose the doctor with a history of surgery as opposed to one who just started?

    I taught for 5 years and admit, as did most of my colleagues who started with me that we were not the experts. We had a fresh eye, but when the fit hit the shan it was the more experienced teachers who were held it together and taught us a thing or two.

    That’s it for now as my article will publish tomorrow and I go into greater detail there. I look forward to the discussion.

  • Gotjaz

    Kristina,

    Let me start off by saying that this is one of those times I wish we were in the same city so we could be having this discussion over a bottle of wine after the kids are asleep :-) With that said, I’m not going to go point for point on where you and I disagree, I’d rather focus on a few areas you touched on that I believe are paramount to this discussion, but get lost in the shuffle.

    As I mentioned in my own piece, I don’t believe it is the fault of the teachers in the classroom, it’s the “system” in which they are in. Granted, are there bad teachers (new and tenured) in our classrooms today? You’d be a fool if you thought there weren’t. But you’d also be a fool if you thought for a second that there aren’t teachers out there for whom this career was not a “fall back” choice. This is their chosen profession. Why? Because they love to educate young minds. I know many teachers personally and I, for one, could not put up with the nonsense they deal with daily. Some of it from the administration, some from the kids, and even more from some parents who just don’t get it. The good ones (and they are a plenty) take it home on a daily basis, stay late, come in early, spend their own money to purchase supplies (ask my sister-in-law about that one!), and yes, continue to hear from a very ungrateful nation that THEY are to blame for the current state of affairs in education. Anyone who comes to this discussion with the mentality that the teachers in the classroom are to blame, should NOT be allowed to play with us. More often than not they are doing the best they can in less than pristine circumstances, and they should be congratulated for getting us this far.

    Instead of picking on the teachers, our focus should be more on the system itself which has failed them as much as it has failed our children. And this is where the discussion gets a bit dicey; Do you work to fix the system or do you take your ball, go home and start your own game? This is where, I believe, Kristina and I differ. There comes a point in time where you need to cut bait, cut your loses, and realize that no matter how much you love your old car it’s just not fixable. I don’t care how much time/money you continue to put into it. As far as I am concerned, especially at this stage, all ideas should be all the table. And nope, I don’t really care too much on “why” certain people or corporations are trying to fix education in this country. As I mentioned before, I don’t think there is an evil plan by some companies (WalMart) or individuals (Bill Gates), but what I do know is that because of entities inside of private industry, many children across the country are getting a great eduction. Instead of looking at some of these schools as offering “intensive discipline and structure that would never be accepted in white neighborhoods”, why not look at it as a prep academy style education w/ access and opportunity that, without, these children would NEVER have a chance at an education like those kids in the “better neighborhoods”. Sometimes the ends justify the means and from the parents I have spoken to, they could care less who, what, why, or how these non-public schools came into existence, all they see is their child getting an education they never dreamed possible.

    This brings me to when I mentioned “time” in my own article. Time in which I don’t have, nor do my children. The fact is they are getting older and I want what is best for them, be it Montessori, charter, private, or yes, even a great public school. The one thing that I think we can agree is that changing the entire system and changing the perception of teachers (good and bad) is going to take alot of time. I think we can also agree that there are so many factors to consider in changing the system because it’s SO fragmented and no one can truly agree on what area to address first, let alone second, third, etc… My question to you, Kristina, as well as others is what do you do with your own children while we figure out the best way to attack the problem? It’s a complex and layered answer that I’m not one to just sit back and let someone else answer for me, because like I have said numerous times, I don’t have the time to wait on others, nor do I trust what “they” believe is best for my babies. Which brings me to your point, Kristina, when you mention that it’s “You” who is responsible for certain things in this debate. Although I have a bit of a different slant on it.

    What I don’t hear being talked about alot is that it’s YOU who are responsible for your child’s education. First and foremost YOU have to get involved, YOU have to ask questions, YOU have to give a damn! Ask yourself, did you research the local schools? Do you know EVERY option that is available to you? Do you volunteer? Do you read to your children? Do ensure homework is done? Do you talk to the teachers? Before YOU point fingers, make sure YOU have done just about all you can to make sure your child’s educational experience is a success. I’ve lost count on the number of times I’ve heard parents talk about not knowing about this, that, and the other in reference to a school, or that, “I didn’t know I could do that.” Yet and still these are the first folks to complain when little Johnny doesn’t pass a test.

    Now, before I get the little snippy comments about how my children must be in private schools, etc… and that I don’t know anything about public schools, yada, yada, yada. Let me inform you that not only are both my wife and I products of the “good ole’ days” of public education, my children too are going to be attending a local public school. But not the one they “should” be attending. Why? Because Mommy and Daddy didn’t like our choices and found out early on what avenues we needed to pursue to have our children enrolled in a better performing school. Did it take time, preparation, and ALOT of persistence? Oh my goodness, YES! But you can do it too, trust me! They don’t make it easy, but like I said, you CAN do it too.

    At the end of the day we all can blog, post, reply, and debate until the cows come home, but until YOU as a parent take a VERY active role in the education of your child YOU should not blame the system, the school, or the teachers. Yes, there are plenty of factors outside of your control, but there are just as many within your control and you should educate yourself as a parent on to the ins and outs within your local area. Because, if this discussion does nothing else it should open your eyes to the fact that while this education debate is global in scope, the education of your children is arguably one of the most personal and important decisions you will ever make and you should treat it as such. Just my two cents….What say you?!?