By John R. Alston Trotter and Norreese L. Haynes
Bill Gates seems to want for the public schools what he would never tolerate for his own children’s private school. Gates has pumped probably over $500,000,000 into public school systems like Hillsborough County, Florida, Atlanta, Georgia, and Memphis, Tennessee as well as into the National Governors Association and other entities tied to public education, all with strings attached. I don’t call this money “donations” but “investments.” The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, along with other billionaire foundations like the Walton Foundation, the Pearson Foundation, and the Eli and Edyth Broad Foundation, have used its money to try to get its way in educational policies and practices throughout the country, and we are now seeing – with the Common Core Standards now being implemented and the concrete movement toward evaluating teachers according to their students’ performance on standardized tests – the results of the investments. Gates may know how to peddle computer software, the Waltons may know how to peddle soap powders, the Pearson Foundation may know how to publish textbooks and standardized tests, and Eli Broad may know how to peddle insurance, but none of them know jack-shit when it comes to public education and what really works.
Software guru, Bill Gates. [Photo by TopNews]
Not all teachers are the same. Granted. Some are better than others. Some are more skilled than others. Some have better personalities than others. Some have more life experiences and teaching experiences than others. Some are more educated than others. Some are more motivated than others.
With all this taken for granted, the number one influence in whether or not a student becomes well-educated is his or her parents (or, in many cases, single parent) and their concomitant socio-economic status. We hate to say this, but it sometimes boils down to “the Lucky Sperm Club.” But, if teachers were freed up to teach and to be creative, then perhaps they could tap into these “at risk” students’ motivations and inspire them to learn. We are talking about real learning of knowledge, not some warmed-over, feel-good group work which waters down their responsibility to actually learn information. The more we learn about the much ballyhooed Common Core curriculum, the more we find that it seems to have as its goal the affectation of the students’ feelings, values, and attitudes more than their acquisition of knowledge. It is the acquisition of knowledge with the ability and willingness to comport one’s self in a civil manner in a civil society which will propel these children out of poverty and into the productive mainstream of American society. For this to happen, teachers need to be respected, esteemed, and empowered to do their jobs, not disrespected and insulted by a billionaire software salesman.
Perhaps the elite, effete, and Gnostic Bill Gates should pay closer attention to a few facts before he assumes that the students are not learning because the teachers are not teaching. Wouldn’t it be funny on this February 6, 2013, the national signing day for potential college football players, if we just assigned players to each university? Nick Saban didn’t really sign Five-Star rated linebacker Reuben Foster out of Troup County, Georgia. No, he was assigned to Akron University out of Ohio. He’ll not be part of the Crimson Tide football program, but he will be a Zip playing for Akron. Let’s see how good of a coach Nick Saban would be if all of his players were randomly assigned to him. The same goes for Mark Richt of Georgia, Les Miles of L. S. U., and Urban Meyer of The Ohio State University. We seem to understand the absurdity of this concept in sports but our nutty educrats and policymakers and billionaire kibitzers like Bill Gates don’t have a clue about what makes a good teacher and how some great teachers simply don’t have the best talent. Someone close to us always says, “You can’t win the Kentucky Derby with a bunch of Jackasses.” (We are not calling students “jackeasses,” but talent does make a difference.) Bill Gates, pay attention to these three simple facts.
1. The teacher’s authority is paramount in the classroom. When the educrats undermine this authority, they only hurt the children, not help them. The great success of the Ron Clark Academy is first establishing the unquestioned authority of the teacher. The emphasis should be teacher-focused, not this cockamamie student-focused crap. How can ignorant kids teach each other anything? Yet, our teachers are written up today because their classrooms are not student-focused enough. Oh, so we are to divide up into “centers” or groups and allow the children to teach each other Latin, heh? Is this how they do it at private schools in Atlanta like Westminster, Marist, Lovett, Woodward – or at the Lakeside School where Bill and Melinda Gates’s children attend or at the Sidwell Friends School where the President and First Lady send their daughters? No. The teacher is the authority figure and the repository of knowledge.
2. The motivation to learn is a cultural process or phenomenon. Without the proper motivation to learn, no student will learn, regardless of who is teaching. Bill Gates could begin to teach computer programming each day at Atlanta’s Price Middle School (where a student was shot the other day), but if the students fail to show up for class (but are loitering up and down the drug-infested Henry Aaron Drive) or when they do show up, they are pushing and kicking each other during class or actually playing digital games on their ubiquitous cell phones, I don’t think even the good ole Harvard drop-out will make a dent in “teaching” these students. Oh, Gates can teach them, but he can’t “learn” them. Only the students can learn, but the students have to be motivated to learn. This motivation is a social or cultural phenomenon. The motivation that the students bring to school is determined by the more than 85% of the time that a child spends AWAY from school until the child turns eighteen. The school only has the child for a small percentage of his or her life. What happens in the child’s overwhelmingly majority life that is spent away from the school building? Whatever happens is what largely determines whether or not the child brings motivation to learn to the school building. Yes, the influence of their parents – or lack of parents — is substantial.
3. You cannot have good learning conditions without first having good teaching conditions. Educrats and administrators are so mistaken when they assume that coddling and pampering students and constantly berating their teachers is what the students need. They assume that this is student-nurturing and teacher-accountabilty. No, this is spoiling the students and turning them into spoiled and rotten brats. They become even more hellions than their previous potential. (All children can learn, but all children also have the potential to be hellions.) The students become defiant and disruptive, knowing that the teachers do not have the support from their administrators. Effective leaning cannot take place. Yes, a teacher can teach his or her heart out, but if the teaching conditions in which a teacher teaches are so horrific, the student will not learn. A great lawyer can do a masterful job in the courtroom. He or she can defend his or her client, but cannot acquit the client. A great physician can treat a patient, but cannot heal a patient. A great teacher can teach a student, but cannot learn a student.
These three concepts are essential to effective learning. But, wrong-headed billionaire investors like Bill Gates and the educrats who will go along with any half-ass program just to keep their warm jobs are blind and don’t know their rears ends from deep centerfield. They are great stumbling blocks to learning. They ought to just step aside and let the teachers teach! © GTSO, February 6, 2013.