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Don’t Worry, Bill Will Be Fine

In their current issue, Fast Company, a business magazine that focuses on technology and design, presents an interview with Bill Gates, in which he “offers his cure for what ails the education system”.

Although the intro section includes a little criticism, it’s pretty clear from the start the writer has no intention of asking anything that might be considered push-back. The editors even include a sidebar with a list of Bill’s “favorite edtech startups”, all of which are more about the technology and data management than they are about learning.

The whole interview isn’t very long and offers none of those “cures” mentioned in the subhead. But Gates’ answers to two questions stood out as especially shallow.

At the top, the writer asks him what he sees as the “ultimate challenge in education”. Gates replies that we must “get more out of $600 billion a year”, the amount he says the US spends on education. Spoken like a true billionaire money manager.

Then towards the end of the article comes this excellent question.

You’ve said that when you were in high school, you followed your own interests, taking on independent study, working on computer programming day and night. Is there room for that kind of student-driven learning in a highly rigorous, metrics-based environment?

Gates’ response is both disingenuous and clueless.

People who are as curious as I am will be fine in any system. For the self-motivated student, these are the golden days. I wish I was growing up now. I envy my son. If he and I are talking about something that we don’t understand, we just watch videos and click on articles, and that feeds our discussion. Unfortunately, the highly curious student is a small percentage of the kids.

As so many education “experts” do, Gates’ is extrapolating his personal experience to every student in the country. But unlike him, I don’t believe the highly curious kids are a small percentage of the whole. There are many more than he can see who are very self-motivated, just not by the narrow goals dictated by a standardized test-driven system.

Let’s face it, we don’t give our students many reasons or resources to express their curiosity and self-motivation during the time they spend with us in the formal process we know as school. Maybe fixing that would be a better way to spend Bill’s money.

1 Comment

  1. Karen Richardson

    And yet, somewhat ironically, he admits that all students are different: “These are complex questions, in part because students are heterogeneous. What works for one student won’t work for another.” What Gates fails to admit is that in addition to being curious, he had access to computers at a time in which that access what hard to come by. And, his son has more opportunities than the kids in my rural school division who have to travel to the library, which may be 20 miles away, in order to access all those articles and videos and online experts.

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