Two things dovetailed this morning. One, I saw Bill Gates on CBS’ This Week, didn’t talk too much about education. Two, saw a piece in my news feed from Eugene Weekly (never heard of it) that talks about reforming education reform.
The Gates and Walmart foundations, Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg and other foundations headed by Wall Street hedge fund billionaires, technology executives and developers have worked closely with the Obama and Bush administrations and school districts to transform education into a corporate model with a bottom line focused on privatization and testing. Although they face the concentrated power of the most powerful politicians and wealthiest tycoons in the world, a grassroots uprising of teachers is fighting back.
When Gates did speak about education this morning, Amanpour asked him to clarify an interesting contradiction: Gates et al. talk about more education, the more the better that is. However, all of these one in a million entrepreneurs like Gates himself, Jobs, and others are college dropouts. Granted, in Gates’ and, say, Zuckerberg’s cases, they were Harvard dropouts. Hardly the iconography we associate with the word “dropout.” For all intents and purposes, if they at least got into Harvard, they were going to do just fine. The only exception I can think of right now would be the Unabomber.
In any case, Gates noted that we can’t all, in reference to Steve Jobs, expect to go on a pilgrimage to India, take a lot of drugs, and come back with a revelation. There needs to be a massive push for math and reading so that we can have our teachers, our firefighters, and so forth. I don’t know, for some reason, this smacked of elitism, that only a chosen few can have the luxury of customized programs, enriching experiences, while the rest of us need to languish in public schools catered to mass workplace preparation.
And this for me gets into this whole mythology surrounding entrepreneurs, as if they’re some messianic group that will save this economy. Because I have to tell you, and this may be a gross over-simplification, but you can’t go off into your garage workshop and build the next big thing while worrying about taking your own garbage to the dump, busing your own tables at restaurants, cleaning up sewage, doing your taxes, teaching your children, putting out your fires, and keeping criminals from jacking your nerd-ass up as you work on your great invention.
I’m sure that for every successful start-up or whatever, there are hundreds if not thousands of failures out there. Why would we want to hold such an unattainable goal for so many as a shining example of the American Dream? You know, I consider myself an intelligent person with a lot of good ideas, but none of those are going to catapult me to billionaire status, probably not even millionaire, and that’s fine. I make my living getting a paycheck, doing a job. I don’t expect to become an entrepreneur in the traditional sense. And to a large extent, I get the impression that this whole obsession with the entrepreneurs is connected with the idea of “job creators,” that if you invent a new product or process, you too can become rich and hire people to build your thing, do your accounts receivable, or whatever.
But what about the folks that just want to work, do a job, and go home? If not for those folks, then Gates and Jobs and others would not have had the “luxury” of attending to their ideas. And, that seems to be the kind of education system Gates and others want to create: one for the rest of us, while others have the privilege of going on those pilgrimages. I would also be willing to bet that these privileges would not be bestowed on the most deserving, no, that’s not how America works. It will be done like it has always been done, similar to the legacy enrollment at Ivy League colleges. Some people will just be able to pay into the system, as has always happened, and there’s that fatal flaw in the meritocracy at the heart of Gates’ vision.