At school there’s Miss Trunchbull, two hundred menacing pounds of kid-hating headmistress. Get rid of the Trunchbull and Matilda would be a hero. But that would take a superhuman genius, wouldn’t it?
From Matilda by Roald Dahl
Does Bill Gates hold a vendetta towards teachers? Does he see them as Trunchbulls and is he planning on being the superhuman genius to eventually get rid of them? Is this why he wants virtual learning, because computers are easier, in his mind, to get along with than teachers?
I revisited the darkly funny children’s story Matilda where two extreme teacher types are on display. There is the “tyrannical monster” Miss Trunchbull who’d throw you in the cupboard “Chokey” in an instant (a cement walled closet with glass and nails too narrow for you to sit), as compared to the lovingly, adored Miss Honey who treasured everything sunshiny and joyful, which included taking children outside to the playground! RECESS!
I got to thinking about this when I read CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin’s piece in The New York Time’s about Bill Gates and his “Great History Project.” The whole plan to take over history in public schools unfolded in Gates’s mind as he walked on his treadmill listening to a DVD “Great Course’s” tape. Everyone better read it if you care about history instruction, because it will be coming to a high school near you, whether you like it or not, if it isn’t there already.
But Sorkin’s piece really hits me with a particular passage and what Gates says about teachers he once had and grades. Gates is talking with David Christian, the fascinating history professor from Australia whose DVD about history enthralled Gates so much he knew it had to be what public schools taught.
The reporter says:
But his [Gates] curiosity about education is innate and at times obsessive. Without prompting, he [Gates] recounted getting a bad grade in an eighth-grade geography course….
Here is what Gates says: They paired me up with a moron, and I realized these people thought I was stupid, and it really pissed me off!
And then he adds that his toughest subject or the one where he got a C-plus was in organic chemistry at Harvard. He says: “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!”
I could write a whole post about his ugly use of the word “moron,” but it speaks for itself. There is something else that I wonder about. Why did Mr. Gates have to bring this up?
Why is such a wealthy, successful man still revisiting getting a bad grade in 8th grade and the people (teachers) who gave it to him? Why is he boasting about his Harvard grades? I mean, who cares? With all his wealth and fame and power, he seems to still be trying to justify that he is capable of getting good grades. It seems…silly, but obviously not to him.
And he sounds still mad at those teachers who didn’t do right by him, in his eyes. Does Gates scorn public school teachers due to this 8th grade incident and maybe other run-ins with teachers? I wonder. Did he have a few more Trunchbulls when he was going to school, instead of Miss Honeys?
Gates talks like he likes teachers, but he doesn’t act like it. His policies are anti-teacher. He has bad-mouthed the importance of a master’s degree for teachers, and he thinks teachers need larger class sizes, not smaller, and they should be evaluated by unproven performance assessment. And, of course, he supports the Common Core and telling them what and how to teach….
He backs Stand for Children, which has helped shutter schools and destroy teacher jobs. And when Gates comes to town his novel notions surrounding teacher effectiveness might seem innovative to outsiders, but they are often degrading to teachers—always implying teachers don’t have it together. Gates usually speaks about teachers like they need help.
Gates clearly loves anything techy, praising Kahn Academy and now the Teaching Company’s “Great Courses” in DVD series. One gets the feeling he’d like nothing more than to see students sit in carrels, watch courses on a computer screen, and run teachers out of the school. Tech is the kind of education Gates cherishes.
But more important than Gates’s opinion of teachers, is the opinion of the American public.
For years teachers have been bashed in the media by Gates and his ilk. They have been criticized, primarily due to unproven high-stakes testing. Americans are pushed to see teachers as Trunchbulls. And while most of us never had a teacher like Trunchbull, we may have had one or two leaning towards that end of the scale. People might forget about the Miss Honeys they knew.
But quite honestly, with that comment Bill Gates made, I could easily see him in the other Roald Dahl’s children’s story Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He reminds me of one of those self-centered, bratty kids. I don’t think Miss Honey would have liked his attitude either.