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?