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The Plot Against Public Education

Stashed in: Education!, Awesome, Bill Gates, Education, Don't Get Me Started

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Impassioned and knowledgeable essay on how education reform has become the pet cause of the very wealthy -- none of whom actually send their own kids through the public education system. I think he fails to make his case, but it's worth a read.

I mean... it seems strange to pick Bill Gates's advocacy of smaller schools as the lead example of clueless interfering billionaires. Not only did Gates end up learning from the experience... BUT SO DID EVERYBODY ELSE. You hear nothing about smaller schools now, because so much money and goodwill were pumped into the experiment and it was conclusively deemed a no-op.

For-profit charter schools are a different thing in my mind, because you can make an excellent a priori case that education should not be a profit-seeking business. However, enough people believe in the power of business principles to fix all ills that the only cure is someone like Gates Foundation coming out with mountains of evidence against it.

The real reason why I think it's valuable to have billionaires meddling in public education -- despite the obvious negatives -- is that it gives them skin in the game, and provides a powerful force against politicians who are eager to just de-fund public education in the name of balancing the budget. If you look at what's happening now in Philadelphia, you'll see that there is a crazy amount of demonization of public education! People seem to actually think that we can somehow "give up" on it, starve it out or otherwise punish it for its "failures". The business community has to stand up and say that is not acceptable.

My brother was an inner-city public school teacher for quite a while, and the main thing I learned from him is that people have VERY VERY VERY different ideas of what they want from a school, and these ideas universally take the form of "I love my school system, but those in lower socioeconomic areas are TOTAL FAILURES!!!" To a very large extent, communities in America actually have the schools they want! And they believe that poorer schools are terrible! It turns out there is astonishingly little agreement about what constitutes a good education in this country, and we are unable to discuss it rationally because it brings up the Great American Forbidden Topic: social class.

I know parents whose idea of a good public school is one where the district does not "waste" money on school buses and lunchrooms but assumes that every family has a caregiver available to drive the kids around and bring catered lunches on a rotation. I know parents whose idea of a good public school is one that does not have a special education program, so they can sue the district for enough money to send their ADD kids to private school. There are parents that want public schools that teach Creationism, judge schools entirely on the quality of the football team, want to be able to pull their kids out of school so they can care for younger siblings and translate for the parents, want ski weeks, want the schedule modified for farm chores, think graduation should be based on time served rather than academic accomplishment, don't want their kids to be forced to read before a certain age, don't want any testing, debate whether to put their kids on ADD medication despite the kids not having ADD... there is no end to the craziness. But the specific TYPES of craziness are very inflected by social class.

Makes me glad I don't have kids! I pay my gigantic property tax bill with joy -- and I hear the schools in my locale are mostly very good, yay Santa Clara county! -- but the idea of stroking your giant billionaire ego by having to get involved in this mess is unfathomable to me.

Yeah, education seems to be boiling down to a battle between billionaires and bureaucrats.

That's frightening. 

I tell you what, I'll keep the billionaires and get rid of the bureaucracy. But first I have to read this article so I can speak intelligently.  

You cannot have billionaires without bureaucracy, Dawn.

Billionaires LOVE bureaucracy. It's what keeps them billionaires.

You'd trust a billionaire more than a bureaucrat? The biggest problem with government is that those elected are in the pockets of the billionaires. That's why bureaucracies are far more responsive to the interests of billionaires than to those of average citizens. The examples are legion. Just look at the banking industry. 

I don't trust either.

They both have their agendas, and neither has an agenda that actively improves education.

Thing is this... once something scales, you lose the beauty of it. Socrates never imagined learning would get away from us. When I left my corporate job to teach, I thought I'd find a place where intellectuals congregated and discussed their fields with passion... hahahahaha!  The best way I know how to beat the bureaucrats and the billionaires is to shut my door and hide, no different than the average Soviet trying to avoid the purge. And it's produced magic. I can't tell you--real learning. I don't have to go through the dreaded teacher eval system this year--my state legislature made some alterations. It was so bad the kids cried all we did was collect data and test, and it was true. Teachers stayed out of work to compile data they didn't use, kids were being taught to high-stakes tests classrooms would never see results from. This meant no instruction could be planned to help students. Useless! 

This year, I teach for the joy of teaching again, and I see the effects in my students. I know I will never beat the windmills. I can do one of two things...teach anyway for the joy, or leave. Today I teach, tomorrow, when the bureaucracy's in my face again, I might make another decision. But for now, I'll make a few students smile. Grassroots is the only way I can produce real learning, which brings joy to my students. 

But I have no quarrel with the arguments here... it's just that I'm on the front lines, and sometimes trying to dodge the bullets is all a front line soldier can do:) 

I think the key is to make a difference locally rather than try to tackle an intractable huge structural problem. 

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