Why do I pick on Bill Gates?

I usually ignore education reformers who have never been teachers.  I ignore them because they want to improve student test scores, while ignoring unequal opportunity.  Only philosophical, K-12 teachers understand that our greatest failure is not students’ low test scores; it is our failure to provide equal educational opportunity.

But I have written about Bill Gates in these blogs.  (See http://sixvirtues.com/blog/2011/07/19/bill-gates-teachers-are-like-athletes-artists-or-social-scientists)

I don’t know Bill Gates, but I know his ideas get a lot of publicity. Our society develops according to the ideas of people who have access to the media.  Bill Gates has the money and power to promote his ideas, even if they lack merit.  That is why I blog about him.

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Bill Gates: Visionary or Curmudgeon?

Thomas Friedman (The World is Flat, 2005) quotes Bill Gates as saying this about “open-sourcing” and innovation:

You need capitalism [to drive innovation.] To have [a movement] that says innovation does not deserve an economic reward is contrary to where the world is going.  When I talk to the Chinese, they dream of starting a company.  They are not thinking, ‘I will be a barber during the day and do free software at night.’ . . . When you have a security crisis in your software system, you don’t want to say, ‘Where is the guy at the barbershop?’ (p. 101)

Are these the words of a visionary?  Do they assume and promote the best about human nature, or the worst?

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Bill Gates: Teachers are like athletes, artists, social scientists. Really?

Bill Gates Metaphor Crap

In his interview with the Wall Street Journal, Bill Gates presents three metaphors for teaching.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703858404576214593545938506.html?mod=dist_smartbrief

Q: Do you think it is possible for school districts to build great teachers?

A: Absolutely. But the amount of research into what great teachers do has been so slow that you can’t make huge improvements in the average….Even professions like long-jump or tackling people on a football field or hitting a baseball, the average ability is so much higher today because there’s this great feedback system, measurement system.

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Dear Bill Gates:

Gates Foundation Crap

Last week’s big news came from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is investing $335 million to overhaul the personnel departments of several big school systems. A large portion of the Gates’s investment will finance research by dozens of social scientists and thousands of teachers to develop a better system for evaluating classroom instruction.

Educators and researchers will analyze thousands of hours of videotaped lessons to identify attributes of good teaching and possible correlations between certain teaching practices and high student achievement, as measured by value-added scores, the New York Times reports. The effort aims not just to evaluate teachers on multiple measures of effectiveness (the NYT article lists value-added measures as a starting point), but also to help teachers improve by learning from talented colleagues.

Cut the Crap

Dear Bill,

I don’t need a single dollar, a single hour of videotape, or a single study of good teaching “to identify attributes of good teaching and possible correlations between certain teaching practices and high student achievement.”

All good teachers model and teach understanding, imagination, strong character, courage, humility and generosity. They always have and they always will. You don’t know this by now?

It’s a shame your Foundation has all this money and so little imagination about how to spend it. Your imagination was the key to making money, but it seems absent from your attempts to improve education. I love irony.

If you want to know what makes a good teacher, ask your wife. And then listen to her descriptions of how her best teachers modeled and taught imagination, courage, and humility, in addition to the understanding, strong character and generosity that others modeled and taught. Better yet, ask your children to describe their best teachers. Then maybe you won’t waste your money.

Americans believe philosophy is not useful, so it is difficult for you to see that a deep, useful definition of what it means to be educated holds the answer to all your questions about improving education. I  love irony.

Sincerely,
Casey Hurley, Educational Philosopher