Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Gates Says Some Stuff

Like many teachers, I could not tune in to Bill and Melinda Gates' trip down Ed Reform Memory Lane because I was busy doing my actual job. This seems metaphorically perfect-- Gates talks about schools while, meanwhile, teachers are in schools doing actual work. However, I've scanned some accounts of the speech from this afternoon, and I think I've piece together the general drift of his gist. So let me channel my faux Gates voice to summarize what you, I and all of us missed today.

So, hey there.

It's been fifteen years since we started trying to beat public education into submission with giant stacks of money, and it turns out that it's a hell of a lot harder than curing major diseases. Turns out teachers are not nearly as compliant as bacteria. Who knew?

Actually, there's a whole long list of things that came as a surprise to us. Teachers and politicians and parents all had ideas about what ought or ought not to be happening in schools, and damned if they would just not shut up about it. At first stuff was going great and we were getting everyone to do just what we wanted them to, but then it was like they finally noticed that a bunch of clueless amateurs were trying to run the whole system, and they freaked out.

I have to tell you. Right now as I'm sitting here, it still doesn't occur to me that all the pushback might be related to the fact that I have no educational expertise at all, and yet I want to rewrite the whole US school system to my own specs. Why should that be a problem? I still don't understand why I shouldn't be able to just redo the whole mess without having to deal with unions or professional employees or elected officials. Of course nobody elected me to do this! I don't mind, really-- happy to take over this entire sector of the government anyway, you're welcome.

I have noticed that when you give teachers really shitty feedback based on crappy tests, they prefer that you just shut up and leave them alone. This is bad. How will they know whether they're crappy teachers or not, or whether they're doing well or not. Surely they don't think by just using their professional judgment and paying attention to their students they'll be able to figure out how they're doing all by themselves? Where are the numbers and the charts and the data? I tell you-- it's almost as if they think they understand things about teaching and education that I do not, and that surely can't be right.

I'll admit-- we were a bit naive about rolling all our ideas out, and by "we" I mean various state governments that we spent our money on. Those guys just screwed up the implementation. I know the ideas themselves were sound because, you know, I do. I mean, not everybody messed it up. In Kentucky they stayed the course on using standards to prep for those tests, and damned if that test prep didn't pay off in higher test scores. What else could anyone possibly want.

And resistance to Common Core. Well, some of that was just crazy people telling internet lies. And the rest was people who just wanted to assert their autonomy, like all the people who work in public education wanted to make a point that they don't actually work for me. My bad. Sometimes I forget that there are people like that. Although Melinda will tell you that teachers actually all love the Common Core. Love it.

Look, I'm a simple man. I had some ideas about how the entire US education system should work, and like any other citizen, I used my giant pile of money to impose my will on everyone else. It's okay, because I just want to help. We're not done yet-- I'm going to keep trying to fix the entire teaching profession, even if nobody in the country actually asked me to do it. And no, I don't intend to talk to anybody actually in the profession. What do they know about teaching? Besides, when you know you're right, you don't have to listen to anybody else.


  1. Hilarious. The most entertaining thing I've read for a long time. Thank you. A perfect gem.

  2. After months of reading, this is the first time I'm commenting because I wanted to say thank you--this is a really, really great piece. Thank you for sharing this and all the other amazing articles you write.

  3. I have to say, despite this whole HUGE reform thing being a mess, some truly talented people have come to the fore with their writing skills. I might have never have been able to enjoy this piece if Gates weren't such an............(I'll let you fill in the blank on your own).
    thanks again!

  4. Perfect - this is what I have been saying for years.

    I live in Seattle where Gates is and it is just painful to listen to him.

    As I say, he wasn't hired, appointed or elected to education czar. Nor was anointed.

  5. "Imposing my hunches and gut feelings on 50 million children, 100 million parents, and 3 million teachers was supposed to help all stakeholders in so many ways. By creating a fog of confusion using the force of federal law was the only strategy that I knew had a chance; fear and intimidation and threats can work wonders on the unconvinced. And to those who say that my 10-year, test-and-punish plan has not only corrupted authentic learning but has suffocated any new ideas from actual teachers, I say say to you, my BS doesn't just talk, but it also walks, especially when it is pushed along by my 80 billion best friends. And as far as my own children go, Rory, Jennifer, and Phoebe loved their Lakeside experience so much that t just didn't seem right to impose my will on them."

  6. Thank you Peter for translating our Bill's arrogance and hubris into plain, everyday language "for the masses". Reading this energizes me for the continuing fight against this ___hole being in charge of PUBLIC schools -- get out, Bill! Go home!

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Amen! Now the truth just needs to set us free. Any chance of you running for office?