Saturday, May 9, 2015
CNBC: Gates Needs a Burger
I am writing this with a rag in one hand so I can wipe my apoplectic spit off the computer screen. I am watching a "Squawk Box" clip. That's a show on CNBC, which is, they say "the ultimate 'pre-market' morning news and talk program, where the biggest names in business and politics tell their most important stories."And apparently yesterday's important story included letting Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger shoot off their amateur hour mouths about public education. If you want a more measured and grown-up take on this, I recommend Valerie Stauss, an actual journalist at the Washington Post.
I don't get it. After years of this, I still don't get it. Was Bill Gates elected to some education-related office? Was he appointed by somebody who was elected? Did he develop a reputation for educational expertise based on his experience, knowledge, research, demonstrated success-- anything? So why the hell are we still listening to him? I mean-- I'll give him this. While other rich guys are busy buying elections, so they can have power over the people who have power, Gates has simply skipped ahead and bought the power.
But after examining the clip, I think it's possible that Buffett and Gates had a bet-- "Let's see who can make the most insupportable statements about education in under eight minutes. Winner gets Rhode Island."
Gah. The clip is over at Strauss's blog, and other places. I'm going to watch it for you. I recommend you not watch it yourself, because it's a beautiful weekend and there's no reason to ruin it.
"One piece of good news is that the charter schools are doing a very good job," says Gates, and I have to take my first swipe at the screen, though that was just a spit take, because it's things like this that make me wonder-- is Gates bullshitting us, or is he so insulated from doing real research himself that he doesn't know he's full of baloney?
But on he goes. The inner cities have high drop-out rates and not many on-to-college students, "but the good charters have overcome that." The secret? Long school day, long school year, different way of working with the teachers (which-- what??) has totally fixed the problem. Gates skips over "managing to only serve the students that make you look successful" as a secret of success, nor does he get into what the growth of money-sucking charters does to the health of the public schools where all the other non-success-making students still attend.
Gates acknowledges that charters only account for a small percent, so we have to spread those best practices to get real change.
Our hostess asks, "How do you do that...um(shrug) in the public school system?" with a tone of voice and expression that would also fit "How do you get that little fat girl to win Miss America when she's also ugly and stupid?" I mean, God, you know, it's the public school system-- how do you get them to do anything well, ever, amiright? (Pause for wiping off screen.)
School boards have power, so they need to be convinced. Teachers unions have a lot of power, so they need to see the models that are working and I'm thinking, "Hey, Bill!! Right there is your problem because to do that you would need a model that works!" and he acknowledges glory hallellujah that teachers want to be part of a model that's working and we need more conversations-- and here he lists the three "entities" that I guess matter which are "government, school boards, unions" so parents and students, too bad for you. It is also not clear if Gates distinguishes between unions and teachers. He has to have noticed by now that his attempt to finance compliance from the national union leadership did not lead to everybody falling in line. He does look a tiny bit sad in this clip; that is probably because he is so depressed that Lily Eskelsen Garcia and Randi Weingarten pledged not to take any more of his money at the NPE convention. He's probably all broken up about that. Then there's just argle bargle wrapup word salad.
Munger (they guy you probably haven't heard of) then gets to expound on his Theory of McEducation:
It’s fun by the elite academic types in America to say McDonald’s is the wrong kind of food and its the wrong kind of this, and the jobs don’t pay very much and so forth. I have quite a very different view. I think McDonald’s is one of the most successful educational institutions in the United States. They take people and give them a first job which enables them to get a second job. They do a very, very good job of educating troubled young people to be good citizens. And they are probably more successful than charter schools. (This elicits a hearty chuckle from everyone)
My emphasis. So there you have it. Close all the inner-city schools and just open more McDonald's. Because if you are a troubled poor kid, everything you'll ever need to know in life you can learn at Micky D's. Why, I'll bet the minute this segment was over, Gates called his wife and said, "Pull the kids out of school--we're just going to send them to work at McDonald's. And grab an Arby's application, too, so that we can have a safety school."
(Wipe screen repeatedly). Seriously-- would any wealthy parent in this country tell his kid to go work at McDonald's because that's the best education he could hope for?? No, what Munger is saying is that, for the lower classes, the lessers, the not-so-white and not-so-well-off students, McDonald's is plenty. It's the best that Those People could aspire to.
Buffett chimes in with tales of a McDonald's where he apparently starts his day so often that they know him by name. "Those people are learning very good habits" like showing up on time and, as God is my witness, he includes "they have to learn how to count money" and "they have to learn how to smile at people" and now Gates is giggling a little bit, thinking perhaps, "I took the time to put on a sweater instead of a tie and we still look like rich, patrician asshats up here. Isn't life funny. If it mattered in the slightest what people thought of me, this would be a trainwreck. Thank God this is just CNBC and nobody who isn't One Of Us is actually watching."
Buffett now gets his turn to be pretend education czar (that's really the question). He allows as "we're spending the money" so the resources are clearly there, and I just drape the rag over the screen while I ask if it's his experience in say manufacturing or other businesses, is it his experience that cost is determined by what people want to pay. When he stops at his favorite McDonalds, does he say, "Look, seventy-three cents ought to be enough for my sausage McMuffin. I'm certainly spending the money, so give me my food." Does he shop for cars by saying, "I think ten grand should be enough for that Benz, so hand it over." In what world do you get to say, "I haven't researched this, but I only feel like paying so much, so give me the product for that price." Nor--NOR-- does the fact that we've spent a whole pile of money nationally mean that the pile of money is being properly distributed among the umpty-thousand individual schools. (Take off rag, wring out, continue.)
Now he says something that is actually interesting:
If the only choice we had was public schools, we'd have better public schools.
His point is that the wealthy have opted out, and so the very people who would have the power and juice to demand system improvements no longer have any skin in the game. We end up with two systems. The rich get the education they want for their kids, and some help out, out of conscience, but they don't make sure that public schools provide the education they'd demand if their kids were there.
It's an interesting point, but our hostess redirects back to the We Haz Moneys point, saying, "But it's not an issue of money," so what is public ed losing from defecting rich folks and Buffett is on the question of how much money and now we'll all agree that it's a buttload of money per child, almost as much money as Buffett made while he was speaking that sentence. And then he's back on point-- when rich folks don't have kids in public school, they don't engage with intensity.
The ball is tossed back to Gates, who fumbles for a bit and then lands on "You want in every community the top people to really be aware of what is the dropout rate--" So wherever you are, look up your Bureau of Top People, because if there's any continuing theme about the reformster approach to education it is that the world is made up of Betters and Lessers and the world would be a better place if the Betters had the power to Run Things Properly and shower noblesse oblige on the Lessers. And, oh wait, here's the rest of the sentence "-- and why these inner city schools do such a poor job." Because the drop out rate in inner city neighborhoods can be traced entirely and completely to the schools and nowhere else. And there's some noise about "this" being an important issue (dropout rate, maybe) and then "We're not making as much progress as I'd like." Because the ultimate metric of success here will be whether or not Bill Gates is satisfied.
This has been the toughest area of everything the foundation has worked in. Hostess asks, "Why do you think that is" and I just hold the cloth in front of my face because I can feel the apoplexy rising.
Gates figures it's entrenched interests, a very big system, over $600 billion a year being spent (what?), and it's very resistant to change and I'm thinking, well, yes. It's crazy how some systems like, say, my local hospital won't just let me walk in off the street and tell them how the whole system should be rearranged and how the money should be spent and how the doctors should operate. They are so entrenched and resistant to listening to me just because of some foolishness about how I have no experience, training, expertise or knowledge of how their system works.
Remember that stuff about convincing school boards and showing teachers? Gates says the best results are where the mayor has just taken over and cut everyone out of the decision-making process, because democracy is such a huge pain in the ass. Gates thinks it's best with just "one executive" in charge, but I am still stuck on that "best results" part because I can't think of any city where that's true, but he ticks off New York, Chicago, and as it turns out, those are the only cities he meant and so I'm wishing the interviewer would ask, "So what in God's name do you mean by 'best results,' because there's no reformy success stories to point to in either city" but I'm betting that's not happening.
Munger gets a non-question-- "What do you think about higher education at this point?" He says our system is "the best in the world," though he does not clarify whether he's think of Harvard or Hamburger U. That is why he works with higher education, because he doesn't do well with constant failure ("I tire easily" he says and we all have a good chuckle about that, and I will just shove the rag in my mouth for now). Therefor he doesn't try to fix the public schools in our worst neighborhoods. "You have to be a saint or a Gates to do that," and my apoplectic spit rag bounces off the screen as I yell, "Or one of the millions of public school teachers who have devoted their entire adult lives to working there, you unctuous twit!" And that gets a huge laugh from our hostess and the others because, yeah, how hilarious is it that anybody would try to help poor public schools because that's just not something that ordinary mortals can do EXCEPT FOR THE MILLIONS OF TEACHERS WHO KEEP TRYING TO DO IT WHILE BEING INCREASINGLY HAMPERED BY MEDDLING AMATEURS LIKE YOU RICH SELF-IMPORTANT ASSHATS!! And now we will have a great laugh about how he said saint OR Gates, because it's hilarious to suggest that Bill Gates is not a saint.
Munger circles around to clarify that he works with universities because "I really like-- I'm better at making the top better than at fixing insoluble problems" and our context clues would suggest that poor inner city schools are an insoluble problem. Dude, do you even hear yourself??
It appears we're just trying to run out the clock now. Buffett takes another shot at his point, observing that he and Charlie went to public schools because there were no private alternatives, and Buffett's dad cared so much about the schools that he ran for school board (and, you know, you don't even get paid for that), and that intensity of interest makes a difference. But in too many cities, the rich have opted out of the public school system (once again, it's not clear if Gates has a reaction to that). I know he said that already, but as I sit here feeling a little dehydrated, that strikes me as the one useful observation here, particularly as the reformster movement can be seen as a way not to improve public school, but to make it easier for the Betters to opt out of going to school with the Lessers.
It's an exhausting 7:35 minute clip, highlighting to what an astonishing degree that Gates in particular is just living on some other planet. I hope they have a Hamburger U branch campus there.