By John R. Alston Trotter, EdD, JD
What’s really wrong with American Public Education today is the ravenous greed of vulture capitalists like Bill Gates who are interloping in an area about which they know nothing. They are denizens in a foreign land, pushing their agenda in this more than one-half trillion dollar industry which they just discovered. I have been saying for years that this cataclysmic disruption that these billionaires have caused in American Public Education has resulted in much more harm than good. These billionaire school “reformers” are in actually school deformers. They have wreaked havoc on the landscape of American schools on the scale of Hurricanes Hugo and Katrina.
The educational kibitzing that these billionaires have engaged in has undermined public education here in the United States, and we believe that it is the desire of many of them to totally destroy public education as we have known it here in the United States. They have donated millions upon millions of dollars to charter school organizations as well as to organizations which seek to tie evaluating a teacher’s performance to the test scores of the students. The latter may sound good on paper but it is wholly unrealistic. I am thinking about the poor teachers at schools like Sylvan Middle School in Atlanta. I remember a few years back when I at Sylvan Middle School and talking to the principal of this school in his office. He called me to his desk and pulled out a side drawer showing me several weapons that he had confiscated that year from the students. This principal looked at me and stated, “John, this is a shitty school.” Those were his exact words.
Yes, in the United States (especially in the urban areas), we have some “shitty schools,” and they are not “shitty” because of the teachers. The teachers are working under the most horrendous conditions, but it is educational interlopers like Bill Gates (who obviously is a marketing genius relative to computer software) who want to blame the “shitty schools” on the teachers. No, ole Bill, it’s the students and their parents who are the problem. The problem is poverty and crime-ridden neighborhoods. In this same “shitty school” in Atlanta, a teacher told me a few years later (under another principal) that he went into the boys’restroom, and some kid had scrawled all over the mirror, “8-12 run this shit.” Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Michael Dell, and the Waltons don’t know jackshit about how to deal with “8-12” kids and “shitty schools.” Instead of blaming the teachers in these “shitty” schools, these billionaire interlopers ought take a number, get in line, and kiss the teachers’ asses for teaching in these “shitty” schools.
I suspect that Bill Gates, with his billions of dollars (estimated to be over 72 billion) might have gotten a tad bored as the inordinately wealthy tend to get, and he and Melinda decided at breakfast one morning that they would take over the American schools and make them work. (His welcome is apparently wearing out on the Microsoft Board of Directors; I saw in the media recently that some of the key shareholders want him off of the Microsoft board. This is not so unrealistic. Remember what happened to Steve Jobs with the Apple board.) So, Bill and Melinda take on American Public Education as their new little project. But, perhaps it’s not so altruistic as this. Perhaps Billy Gates sees huge profit potential in this more than one-half trillion dollar industry called “public education,” if he could just harness a “common curriculum” which would use his software applications which would be piously called “digital learning” applications. You know…the same ones that Microsoft is already in the process of developing for Pearson, the largest educational publisher in the world, today. Ah…money, it all gets back to money. Well, that’s what it’s all about, folks. It’s all about the cheddar, not the children.
Recently, I heard an interview in which Bill Gates made some rather revealing comments. He stated: “[I]dentifying common standards is not enough. We’ll know we’ve succeeded when the curriculum and the tests are aligned to these standards.” Gates also talked about “creat[ing] just these kinds of tests—next-generation assessments aligned to the common core” and “[w]hen the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching” [emphasis added]. Finally, Gates observed in this same interview, “For the first time, there will be a large uniform base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better” [emphasis added]. I presume that Billy Gates just couldn’t contain his excitement. For him, the largess of public education is like a little kid in a candy shop.
Bill and Melinda Gates sent their children to matriculate at the elite Lakeside School in Seattle, the same school where Bill and co-founder of Microsoft Bill Allen attended. Melinda Gates is on record of wanting many, many more standardized tests than the ones which already shackle our school systems today. And, ole Bill has pushed Arne Duncan, the U. S. Secretary of Education who doesn’t know his ass from deep centerfield, to tie the receiving of Federal Race to the Top funds to (1) the states having to implement teacher evaluations tied to student test scores and (2) the states not having any limits on charter schools. But, would Bill and Melinda like for the Lakeside School’s teachers to be treated so brusquely and for the students to be fed low-grade testing husks for their curriculum needs? Diane Ravitch, in one of her insightful tomes on public education, wrote: “He [Gates] fondly recalled his teachers at Lakeside, the private school he attended in Seattle, who ‘fueled my interests and encouraged me to read and learn as much as I could” (The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, p. 212). I suppose that what is good for his and Melinda’s children and what is good for their children’s teachers is not good for the rest of us. Bill Gates is a Gnostic interloper in the field of public education and, quite frankly, it’s the likes of him and Melinda who are ruining public education. They just need to enjoy the facile petina of their private schools and get the hell out of public education. They are in over their heads. But, I am reminded of what St. Paul wrote: “The love of money is the root of all evil.”
It’s the billionaires (especially the Gateses) who are pushing those damnable standardized tests. They essentially look at two skills: Mathematical and Verbal-linguistic. Damn the idea that there are several types of intelligence which are not even tested. (Dr. Howard Gardner of the Harvard Graduate School of Education has identified nine or ten or more different types of intelligence which essentially go unnoticed or ignored because of the very narrow and shallow tests which are whipping up our public schools into a testing mania.) Damn the idea that our children still need a rich curriculum that includes a wide variety of subjects which are not currently tested (history, science, art, physical education, music, civics, government, literature, etc.). Damn the idea that creativity and ideas should be nourished among the students or that our teachers should be freed up to be creative with their children and to stray off the path of those damnable prescriptive curriculum packages or to stray one scintilla from the cookie-cutter teaching methods which are mandated. Yes, damn any type of teaching and learning that takes place at the Lakeside School in Seattle. This is just for the children of the so-called elite and effete, for those children who are already determined to be the Gnostic leaders of the craftsmen and tillers of the soil. Yes, apparently the billionaires want the children of America’s public schools to keep their heads down and learn the essential math and verbal-linguistic skills…so that they can work efficiently in this new global economy that people like Bill Gates are trying to usher in. So, yes, damn the enrichment! Standardized testing full speed ahead! Before I leave this subject of these dastardly tests, let me share a worthy quote from Einstein, who by the way, was not considered so smart while he was in school. This quote is attributed to Einstein: “Everyone is a genius but if you judge a fish on its ability to a climb tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” These standardized tests, the same tests which would not be tolerated at the Gateses’ tony Lakeside School in Seattle, are destroying our children and making them think that they are stupid and worthy of only disengaging from their school work and eventually dropping out. So many of these children are now standing on the street corners, selling dope, and waiting to be sentenced to the state prison, thanks, in part, to these damnable standardized tests!
Are there any problems in our public schools today? Sure. There are problems in any profession or industry. There are corrupt and unethical physicians and lawyers. They are some cheating and incompetent accountants. There are elected officials who aren’t worth a plugged nickel. We see evidence of incompetence, unethical behavior, and bad practices in every profession. But, do we turn upside down a profession just because a few members of that profession need to be weeded out. Do we throw out the entire barrel of good apples because of one or two rotten apples? Of course not. We don’t impose a tight net on an entire profession just because of few bad apples. We don’t suffocate the entire profession and put all of the members of that profession on training wheels because of one or two incompetent members. We use a loose net to catch these people. This reminds me of a true story that a retired principal told me recently at my niece’s wedding. My brother serves on the school board where this incident occurred, and he asked this retired principal to tell me the story. The retired principal leaned over and started whispering what had happened when he was telling an incompetent teacher who had totally lost control of her classroom and was crying in front of the students that he was going to have to let her go at the December break. He stated: “I gently told her that I was going to try to work with her but that I was getting lots of complaints from the parents, the administration, and even from the superintendent about the conditions in her classroom. So, this was on October 31st when she had just gotten paid, and I told her that we would wait until the December break and then she would have to go but it would be a smooth transition. I asked her if she understood the game plan? She slammed her keys on the desk and blurted out: ‘I resign. Trick or Treat, muthafucker!’” So, yes, this teacher probably didn’t need to be teaching, and the principal was letting her go in as a humane manner as possible. But, he certainly didn’t expect the sudden resignation and the Halloween greeting!
Public school educators can take care of their own problems just as can attorneys, physicians, or accountants. Quit insulting them and treating them like tall children. Treat them like the professionals that they have been educated to be. Anything short of this is disastrous. © Big Daddy Publishers, 2013.