Letters to the Editor

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EDUCATION: Bill Gates ignores hard truth

Letter by Jo Benedetti , Lakewood on March 2, 2011 at 4:17 pm with 23 Comments »
March 3, 2011 9:34 am

I am sick of billionaires and business people believing they are the experts on how to fix public education. It’s especially offensive when the blame is placed on the teachers.

The lack of compassion, respect and support for public school teachers today is appalling. If one believes everything they read, teachers are to blame for most of the world’s problems. So why would anyone want to teach anymore?

However, what prompts this letter is the audacity of Bill Gates’ recent message (TNT, 3-2) that the one of the most expensive drains on the budget is the reduction of class sizes. He believes that if there is a “great teacher” in front of the classroom, the numbers don’t matter.

I loved that M. Morford’s Your Voice appeared opposite Gates’ opinion. Morford writes about his community college students who speak nonchalantly about their drug felonies, accidental gunshots and extreme poverty as if there should be no shock or surprise at these stories. The hard truth is that students struggling to survive will have a harder time learning, especially in a large classroom, no matter how “great” their teacher.

Gates needs to pay more attention to his Microsoft empire and quit telling us what to do in our schools. Maybe then my computer would run more efficiently, and I would haven’t to constantly click “Error Report” or “End Task” to get Outlook and Office to work properly.

It’s time that Gates performs an “update” on his own “error report.”

Leave a comment Comments → 23
  1. Finding a solution to the real problem, poverty, is much more difficult than finding a scapegoat. Sure there are poor teachers, but they are a much smaller problem than just about everything else that has been identified as contributing to schools’ underperformance.
    The teacher problem is easy. Raise the bar and expect to pay more as a result. Supply and demand rules work both ways.

  2. I will listen to Bill Gates speak on building a business empire and computers because he has the expertise in that area.

    Not sure why his opinion on pedagogical matters should be considered though.

  3. ColtonsDad says:

    What most of the public is unaware of is that Bill Gates does have something to do with education in a round about way. His father’s law firm of K&L Gates, one of the nations largest, is one of many that are on an ongoing retainer of area school Districts in an attempt to dodge litigation. Puyallup School District has shelled out an estimated one million dollars in attorney fees to K&L Gates attempting to conceal the abuse that was inflicted on our son. Gates Sr. is on the board of directors for the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

  4. ColtonsDad says:

    Additionally most teachers a bound, gagged and are not in a threat fee environment. Our daughter stated that while attending Puyallup school she routinely herd students telling teachers to “F” off and teachers did nothing. When they eliminated corporal punishment at home and school is where it all went south. There is a large student population that lacks any respect for their teachers, parents or person of authority. Most families are required to have both parents working to make ends meet so these kids’ days have no structure and accountability.

    I’ll use an old pun, when I went to school “Bethel” I had a teacher that if you acted up he’d smack your back side with a size 15 converse shoe! It was not fear, it was respect just how my father ruled. Yes sir, no sir, not yeah or okay man….

    School’s should not allow cell phones or any other device that can distract students. Hold students accountable for their actions immediately.

  5. ColtonsDad says:

    Let teachers teach and keep the administrators away, teacher’s hands are tied on so many levels I cannot imagine why anyone would want this profession. They are asked to throw their integrity away to protect all interests of the district. If they speak up or voice their disproval they are terminated. “Go with flow. Watch the show and collect the dough”.

  6. A great teacher might continue to be great at presenting material to a huge class, but he/she will not be able to do the best possible job of teaching under those circumstaneces. There’s far more to being a great teacher than presenting material. Establishing relationships with students, essential to quality teaching, is very difficult when classes get too big. Even the most creative teachers run out of ways to connect with individual students under those circumstances.

  7. Just look at my post for proof of my point! Had my teacher not been so overworked in 1954, I probably could have learned to spell circumstances correctly. :0)

  8. When I went to school in the 50’s in Ohio, the student/teacher “relationship” was clearly defined on day one. The teacher was the boss and the student had one purpose in life, that was to come to school prepared to learn, no chewing gum, no hats, no slouching in the chair, no smart- ass comments etc.etc. You only saw the principal when you were getting a spanking with the wooden paddle.

  9. Frosty, we are so impressed by your experience. Are you suggesting that we go back to the 50’s in schools?
    You certainly didn’t learn all that much according to your many post on these pages. What we need are schools that make good citizens out of the raw material that comes to them, not bloviating Beck sound-alikes.

  10. How about teaching kids the basics and teaching them how to think…for themselves…as opposed to filling their heads with whatever trendy pop culture truth du jour is on the menu in the moment? Therein lies the hope of turning out “good citizens.” Hey, how about actually encouraging kids to debate rather than trying to turn out little automatons who all agree with their teachers.

    School in the 50’s was imperfect, but at least kids (most of them) learned how to write a complete sentence, spell reasonably well and balance their bank books.

    If the history books were not 100% accurate, they were not “revisionist” history such as some of the stuff I encountered while teaching in the 90’s. Students read classic literature…Dickens, Hawthorne, Shakespeare. They groaned and complained some because it took effort, but it was real literature as opposed to simple-minded entertainment and some of the silly YA literature that followed, especially the junk that was written to bolster this or that social agenda.

    Granted there was a need for good lterature from other cultures which is an improvement in schools now.

    And finally, a healthy respect for authority DID in fact make it much easier for teachers to do their jobs. When all of your energy goes into trying to take over the parents’ jobs and managing a roomful of disrespectful adolescents, don’t expect a lot of quality teaching to take place.

  11. Ah the 50’s. When education consisted of regurgitating facts. “Don’t Thank, Tell me what you know.”

  12. Hey, how about actually encouraging kids to debate rather than trying to turn out little automatons who all agree with their teachers.

    We agree.

    Students have reported to me that their colleagues are frustrated in my lecture classes because they don’t know what I want. This is in spite of my first day lectures telling them exactly what I want – put forward a hypothesis and support it. Don’t try to figure out what I want. Tell me what you think. I don’t want “butter”. You will get a higher grade if you support an argument that is counter to my beliefs than trying to butter me up by regurgitating what you think my opinions are.

    On a final exam I gave an extra credit question: What does your instructor feel is the most important thing to get from this class. Only one student got points. His wording wasn’t very elegant but it was close enough: “Use our brains”.

    Standardized, multiple guess/true-false/fill in the blank type tests are great for making life simple for the tester. But they don’t train critical thinking/writing skills. NCLB and other attempts at “accountability” are completely counter to what good education should be.

  13. Had a teacher in fourth grade who regularly made intentional false statements to train her students to not blindly accept authority. Great……except for the time that she thought what she was saying was accurate and the entire class (correctly) argued with her that what she was saying was wrong and she ended the discussion with some variation of “because I said so”.

  14. That teacher still gets a high mark for her efforts, as do you bBoy. I’m afraid you are the exception rather than the rule, though. It’s evident when you see students, over and over again, trained as it were…to find out what the teacher “wants” and give it to him tied in ribbons, assured that they will get the reward they seek. A sad state of affairs in institutions of learning.

  15. If you can read this… thank those greedy union teachers.
    The states with the lowest test scores are red states who have no collective bargaining….. . Again its just the sociopathic rightwing ideology.

  16. sozo — Finding out what the boss wants is a real world skill.

  17. that real world skill is also what is known as being a Good German……

  18. bB — I guess once you’re tenured into a union you can afford to exercise flexibility, but in the non-union real world you won’t make it flipping burgers at Mickey D’s if you don’t figure out what the boss wants.

  19. firemannotfirefighter says:

    I think it’s time that Teachers accept that they have lost the argument. Teachers have resisted EVERY meaningful form of education reform. Teachers illegally strike in this state! Teachers have resisted compromises (like arbitration), they protect their fellow teachers when they touch their students. They use bad faith bargaining practices and the legal system. Bill gates and his foundation has done more for education, through Grants and Scholarships than the NEA, WEA, ATF have combines in the past 25 years! I will take a business leaders opinion on how to fix education, over a public school teachers opinion any day. After all, its the business leader who is going to hire the public teachers student. So who knows better about what kids should learn? The dude doing the hiring, or the teacher doing the striking?

  20. rv – not tenured. And, think the tenure system actively promotes Good Germans in academia.

    As Page Smith said, if tenure is there to protect professors who pursue “dangerous ideas” then it should be completely inverted – protect new faculty for the first seven years of their employment and then require them to provide evidence that they are still vital in contributing to the discipline after that. As it is, the few faculty who don’t ape their bosses and sell their souls for tenure are usually weeded out.

    And tenure in K-12 sets the bar way too low. Tenure is “earned” by not getting fired in your first few years. The whole system needs to be changed.

    That being said, I still own my soul but I don’t have a whole lot of stuff (or debt).

  21. Actually, it is School Boards and District Administrators, not the teachers, who keep changing the curriculum and methods.

  22. rv, your analogy falls short. Though the system may make it seem as though it’s and “boss-employee” paradigm, it should not be so. A genuine institution of learning should promote the free exchange of ideas, period. Teachers should be facilitating this and encouraging it.

    A good teacher knows how to use her/his authority to create a safe place for this exchange, and knows enough to teach kids how to express these ideas.
    And don’t EVEN get me started on the abysmal lack of basic skills among our new teachers and other professionals.

    I’ve seen misspelld words on school reader boards and conversed with teachers who do not know the meaning of the word apartheid. But by golly, they know better than to use certain words in front of the kids– or tforget to include ancient and obscure religious holidays in their list of marveous multi-cultural wonders!

  23. Maybe our parents taught us to read.

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