Sunday, June 17, 2012

Bill Gates Tells Us Why His High School Was a Great Learning Environment

Hi Norm,

I'm a regular reader.  I wrote the piece below for a chat board: & someone told me I should send it to education bloggers, so I am.  Feel free to use it if you think it's of interest.

Bill Gates Tells Us Why His High School Was a Great Learning Environment

Bill's high school was Seattle's most elite private school, Lakeside, current tuition $28K (not including food, books, bus, laptop, and field trips).

A bargain, compared to some eastern private schools, but about equal to the median income of all US workers:

Lakeside has a lovely campus that looks kind of like a college campus:

- Faculty is nearly equally balanced between men & women (i.e. Lakeside pays well);
- 79% of faculty have advanced degrees;
- 17% are "faculty of color" (half the students are "students of color," cough, Asian)
- Student/teacher ratio: 9 to 1
- Average class size: 16
- High school library = 20,000 volumes
- 24 varsity sports offered
- New sports facility offers cryotherapy & hydrotherapy spas
- Full arts program with drama, various choruses, various band including jazz band, chamber orchestra

Bill says Lakeside was great because the teachers pushed the students to achieve (and when you push students to achieve, of course they do, especially when you challenge them to read your college thesis and your ten favorite books -- what student wouldn't rise to such a fascinating challenge...):

Rigor absolutely defined my Lakeside experience. Lakeside had the kind of teachers who would come to me, even when I was getting straight A's, and say: "When are you going to start applying yourself?" Teachers like Ann...One day, she said: "Bill, you're just coasting. Here are my ten favorite books; read these. Here's my college thesis; you should read it." She challenged me to do more. I never would have come to enjoy literature as much as I do if she hadn’t pushed me.

Bill says Lakeside was great because the education was relevant to real life:

Relevance also was a big part of my Lakeside education. The most common image of a bad education is a sullen kid, slumped in a desk saying: "When am I ever going to use this?"
The teachers here did everything to make their lessons matter....Years before other schools recognized the importance of computers, the Lakeside Mothers Club came up with the money to buy a teletype that connected over the phone lines with a GE time-sharing computer...

The school could have shut down the terminal, or they could have tightly regulated who got to use it. Instead, they opened it up. Instead of teaching us about computers in the conventional sense, Lakeside just unleashed us...

Lakeside introduced me to computers. They allowed me to teach a class in computers. They hired me to write a scheduling program. It didn’t have to work that way. They could have hired an outside computer expert to do the scheduling system. Teachers could have insisted that they teach classes on computing, simply because they were the teachers and we were the students...

Bill says Lakeside was great because of relationships:

Finally, I had great relationships with my teachers here at Lakeside. Classes were small. You got to know the teachers. They got to know you. And the relationships that come from that really make a difference...

Relationships include the ones developed in Lakeside's Global Learning Program. Bill thinks it's important that rich kids see how poor people in other countries live...poor neighbors in *this* country, not so much...

I’m really excited about the Global Service Learning Program, which will send Lakeside students on extended trips to developing countries to learn about the people and the issues they face...I believe if we could get the same kind of visibility for health problems around the world, so that rich people saw millions of impoverished mothers burying babies who died from causes we can prevent—we would insist that something be done, and we would be willing to pay for it...We need to see what’s happening—only then will we stop ignoring our neighbors and start helping them.

Bill says: I want as many students as possible, from as many different backgrounds as possible, to enjoy a Lakeside education.

Bill is funding financial aid for talented students who can meet Lakeside's rigorous entrance requirements.

Bill is funding schooling for "ordinary" students too -- but what does Bill want for these "ordinary" students?

Bill says for ordinary students, class size doesn't matter:

Bill is funding Teach for America, because for ordinary students, teacher training and advanced degrees don't matter, 5 weeks training & a BA is plenty:§ion=Article

Bill is funding high-stakes testing, which stresses students, teachers and schools and crowds out class time & district money for actual teaching, the arts, and sports. Ordinary students don't need those things.

Bill is also funding Common Core, which will dictate a national curriculum to the extent that every school in the country will be on the same page of the same book or computer program at the same time. So no chance for students to be "unleashed," or go with the flow of the students' interests, as was Bill's lucky experience at Lakeside.

Once Common Core is instituted there will be even more standardized tests -- high-stakes standardized tests in every subject!! At least 20% more testing time!! And these tests will determine whether a student passes or fails, whether a school passes or fails, and whether a teacher has a job or not.

Bill thinks when schools and teachers fail his tests, the school should be dissolved, the teachers should be fired, and someone else should come in and give it a shot, perhaps in a charter school open to anyone on a lottery system.

Because stability and relationships aren't so important for ordinary students as they are for the kind of students who go to Lakeside.

Maybe the charter school can rent a church basement, or "co-locate" in a public school and push the public school students into classrooms located in supply closets or down in the boiler room.

Because decent facilities don't matter so much to ordinary students.

Bill Gates wants to keep a central database of all student information:

Far from allowing students to be "unleashed" & learn through "relevant" experiences like Bill did, Bill Gates is funding Orwellian electronic devices which will monitor students' attention to his canned lessons, and cameras in classrooms to make sure teachers are sticking to the canned lessons:

Bill is going to make a lot of money on all the things he's imposing on ordinary students...but that's another OP. Suffice to say that Bill's schools won't be hiring students to write computer programs for them, or anything else. They'll be hiring private contractors for big bucks.

What can we conclude from the kind of education Bill supports at Lakeside and the kind of education Bill supports for ordinary students? Not only Bill, but all the rest of the elite prep-school educated "Education Deform" crowd?

I think it's pretty obvious.


  1. I'm wondering how he measured the effectiveness of the relationships he formed. Was there some kind of a bracelet to measure them?
    He is incredibly elitist, meddlesome, and creepy.

  2. Lakeside had so much to offer to Bill Gates in education that he managed to drop out of college. He probably would have finished college had he attended a public school.

    The teachers in public schools push to see students succeed without any fancy, smanchy materials.


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