Share and discuss this blog

Friday, October 3, 2014

Some of the dumbest remarks on education ever (by Bill Gates); My replies


Bill Gates on education: 
My replies:


He cited as a model unnamed Asian countries, which he said have pared down their standards so they give kids “nice, thin textbooks” and focus on teaching fewer concepts in more depth. “And what are the results? Well, they spend far, far less money and get far, far better results,”

Translation: China has better test scores than the U.S. Are these the results that matter? Then why are Chinese students trying desperately to get into U.S. schools? Is it possible Bill, that you have no idea what you are talking about?

 He said he thought of Common Core as “a technocratic issue,” akin to making sure all states use the same type of electrical outlet.

Translation: Gates wants to plug every kid into a place where they can work as effective parts of the machine. No differences will be tolerated. Curiously, this was exactly the plan in 1900 when the U.S. schools were designed. The goal was to make compliant factory workers.


“Common Core is, to me, a very basic idea that kids should be taught what they’re going to be tested on and that we should have great curriculum material,”

Translation: Teaching to the test is now official U.S. doctrine. Teaching is not a discussion but the ramming in of facts. One might ask: “which facts?” That is easy: the ones decided upon by Charles Eliot in 1892. Great plan Bill. By the way, facts aren’t actually what matters. Clear thinking matters. Oh, except on tests. Bill, did you take a test that allowed you to start a company? No? Then maybe some other skills might be needed in order to learn to do that eh? Did you learn to do that at Harvard?

 “We didn’t know when the last time was that somebody introduced a new course into high school,” Gates told me. “How does one go about it? What did the guy who liked biology — who did he call and say, ‘Hey, we should have biology in high school?’ It was pretty uncharted territory. But it was pretty cool.”

Answer: It was 1892; Nothing new has happened since in curriculum creation. Biology is in there because it was a subject at Harvard in 1892. Not a great reason, Bill. Good luck with getting it out of the curriculum. Oh, but you want everyone to memorize the names of phyla.

Gates recounted getting a bad grade in an eighth-grade geography course (“They paired me up with a moron, and I realized these people thought I was stupid, and it really pissed me off!”) and the only C-plus he ever received, in organic chemistry, at Harvard (“I’m pretty sure. I’d have to double-check my transcript. I think I never ever got a B ever at Harvard. I got a C-plus, and I got A’s!”).

Response: Everyone should be you Bill because you are the greatest. I only got C’s in college. Maybe that’s why I have the perspective that grades don’t matter and creativity does. What did Microsoft ever create? Should everyone in the U.S. go to Harvard and get A’s Bill? (Except your moron friend.) Is that your plan? Or might there be room for other types of people than you, and other kinds of interests than yours or Charles Eliot's?
Common Core, the idea that what you should know at various grades, that that should be well-structured and you should really insist on kids knowing something so you can build on it, I did not really expect that to become a big political issue."
Response: Why not Bill? Here is one explanation. Because you know nothing about education and think everyone is like you and should learn what you learned (which of course had nothing to do with your success.) Allowing the possibility that a kid could follow his or her own interests? Nah. Too much like having different kinds of plugs and sockets.
Gates said that one improvement colleges should make is to cut down on the number of lecturers and focus on the select few who are the best at talking about their fields.
How about having no lectures? Nah. Lectures are wonderful. No one remembers them; everyone is sleeping or texting to their friends. But let's have lectures anyway. They worked so well in the Middle Ages when no one could read. Lectures are about money, Bill. Lots of students in the class paying big tuitions is a revenue model. You don’t mention it, but you must love MOOCs too. Soon all the professors can be fired and we can all listen to the best MOOCs.

“If you have a high SAT score going in, [the university] is not going to make you dumber. I’d like to see an output measure. I’d like to see a university and say, ‘We took kids with a 400 SAT score and they were super smart when they left our university,’ not, ‘We were sure they were smart when they came in, and we didn’t damage them.”

Response: Wonderful. More measurement! Your friends would like doing that measurement and making lots of money from it. Why not have college be just a giant test taking party? Let’s eliminate talking with professors who can guide you on a project or seminars where one can learn to express one’s point of view and get smarter by arguing. Let all colleges students simply prepare all day for the exit exam. That will be just wonderful Bill.

1 comment:

Dominik LukeŇ° said...

Nice overview of many of the problems with what Gates says. But I think you took too short a look at:

“If you have a high SAT score going in, [the university] is not going to make you dumber. I’d like to see an output measure. I’d like to see a university and say, ‘We took kids with a 400 SAT score and they were super smart when they left our university,’ not, ‘We were sure they were smart when they came in, and we didn’t damage them.”

No question that the measurement implied in this statement is silly and harmful. But it does say something about the paradox of the university education bubble. Oxbridge is another example. It's easy being a leading university if you only select the best people and then put them all together.

Of course, that's why so many charter schools are doing the same thing. So Bill can be hoisted by his own petard. But the notion that liberation through learning is part of schooling is worth preserving.