Posts Tagged ‘Bill Gates’

Some Friendly Advice for Young Teachers in a World Poisoned by Power-Mad Bureaucrats and Clueless Billionaires

July 29, 2012

After I transferred from a junior high school to an elementary school, my former colleague Dave* asked how I liked working with my new colleague Walter*. (Both Dave and Walter were veteran teachers with decades of experience.) I reported how impressed I was by Walter’s remarkable patience and equanimity in response to a roomful of unruly kids. Dave smiled and said, “He wasn’t always that way.”

Years ago I heard former United States Secretary of Education (and raging hypocrite) Bill Bennett on CSPAN saying that the the best way to ensure quality schools in this country is to “hire good principals and allow them to do their job.” Oddly, Bennett and several other self–identified conservatives support intrusive (and blatantly unconstitutional) laws like Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) which inject the blunt, debilitating power of the federal government into the quotidian workings of local public schools across the county.

Before NCLB, for example, wise principals would often place a few of the more emotionally needy students at a particular grade level in the classroom of a more capable veteran teacher like Walter. (This practice is particularly advisable when one or more of Walter’s grade–level colleagues are newbies.) Such sagacious principals would constantly praise teachers like Walter for taking on this extra burden, and they would also grant Walter a little extra leeway as far as end–of–the–year test scores were concerned.

Today, however, thanks to an ill-conceived reform movement forced down our throats by ignorant billionaires and power-mad federal bureaucrats, principals no longer have such discretionary latitude. And experienced teachers like Walter who hope to hang onto their jobs would say this to a principal who wants to overload their classrooms with “challenging” students: “I’d like to help you, but the Secretary of Education wants to publish my students’ test scores in the paper and then punish me if those numbers don’t go up every year from now until the end of my career.” This is just one of many unintended consequences which result when education policy is devised by people like Bill Gates and Arne Duncan who don’t know shit from shinola about teaching.

Legendary college basketball coach John Wooden toiled at his craft for several years before suddenly winning ten championships during his final twelve seasons. When somebody asked him what happened he said, “I finally learned how to relax.”

It took me a while to figure out how to relax in the classroom. Watching teachers like Walter helped me learn that getting upset and raising my voice in response to unruly students only increases the rancor. It is actually more effective for a teacher to stop talking in mid-sentence and wait for the students to lower their voices than it is for him to try to overpower an entire classroom with displays of stentorian prowess.

The best advice I can give to young teachers is to relax, take your time, and learn from your mistakes. And don’t get into power struggles with your students. Never go to work in the morning full of vengeance over something that occurred the previous day thinking, “I’m gonna get that kid.” (Let it go, and never forget who the grownup is.) Endeavor always to treat all your students with kindness and respect under all circumstances knowing full well that this is a superhuman ideal, impossible to live up to.

A little respect goes a long way. I learned a lot on the occasions when I substitute taught at a “camp” school—camp is a euphemism for prison. Once when a student remained standing as I was preparing to start a lesson, I said in a firm but friendly voice, “Sir, would you please sit down.” He melted into his seat and turned to the kid next to him and said in a tone of bemused disbelief, “He called me sir.”

And as much as possible, try not to be too grumpy. It’s not always easy, but do your best. (And for all of you out there who would like to have a positive impact on America and her future, here’s something you can do to reduce teacher grumpiness—invite a teacher to bed some time. The world will be a better place for your kind work.)

* Not their real names

by Richard W. Bray

Some Thoughts on The Death and Life of the Great American School System

May 4, 2010

Bill Gates

Some Thoughts on The Death and Life of the Great American School System

Our society is just beginning to recover from a long spell of Magical Thinking. Instead of confronting our problems and dealing with them, Americans spent the better part of a decade hoping that great men on horses would ride into to town bearing sanctified sidearms which fire magic bullets—instead we got George W. Bush in a flightsuit. But after 9/11, most of us we’re too scared to acknowledge or even see The Emperor’s Clothes. We just pretended that there were new, bold serious solutions that would preternaturally eliminate serious issues. Decisive Federal Action would fix public education just as it would defeat Islamo-facism and unfetter the Titans of Finance. Those were some heady times.

Today, our institutions are just beginning to recover from the febrile dreams which have infected (and continue to threaten the very existence of) our body politic. Sadly, no one is yet bowing in obeisance to the heroes who were banished from the Punditocracy for the crime of premature wisdom (i.e., Phil Donahue, Ashleigh Banfield and Robert Sheer). Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of the people who advocated these asinine and self-destructive policies over the last decade are still running this country and they’re not about to begin pointing fingers at one another.

That’s why Diane Ravitch should be praised for speaking up about her recent recovery from Hedda Payness Disease:

I too was captivated by these ideas. They promised to end bureaucracy, to ensure that poor children were not neglected, to empower poor parents, to enable poor children to escape failing schools, and to close the achievement gap between rich and poor, black and white. Testing would shine a spotlight on low-performing schools and choice would create opportunities for poor kids to leave for better schools. All of this seemed to make sense, but there was little empirical evidence, just promise and hope(3-4).

I remember seeing a documentary years ago about how hospital administrators in the Soviet Union (who obviously knew nothing about how hospitals actually work) used to do surprise inspections in hospitals in which they would randomly swab the walls looking for evidence of bacteria. Consequently, the medical staff wasted a good deal of time scrubbing the walls with bleach. Funny thing about big bureaucracies, they tend to replicate such madness:

Measure, then punish or reward. No education experience needed to administer such a program. Anyone who loved data could do it. The strategy produced fear and obedience among educators; it often generated higher test scores. But it had nothing to do with education (16).

In our age of Magical Thinking, even really smart guys (because we all know that the billionaires are the best among us) like to dream of a simple world with simple solutions. For example, Bill Gates was blissfully “unaware of the disadvantages” of promoting smaller highs schools as a one-size-fits-all panacea for American education:

It was never obvious why the Gates Foundation decided that schools size was the one critical reform most needed to improve American education. Both state and national tests showed that large numbers of students were starting high schools without having mastered basic skills…the root cause of poor achievement lie not in the high schools, but in the earlier grades (205).

After pissing away a couple of billion bucks, the Foundation wised up, but it wasn’t about to admit any mistakes:

In late 2008 the Gates Foundation announced that it was changing course. The $2 billion investment in new small high schools had not been especially successful (although it was careful not to come right out and say it was unsuccessful) (211).

by Richard W. Bray