What Can Billionaires, Millionaires, & Big Businesses Do for Schools & Education? The Gates Foundation, Mark Zukerberg, Bloomberg, and dozens of other wealthy organizations and individuals have often made news by donating phenomenal sums of money to support schools, educational initiatives, projects, research studies, experiments, and even individual students who happen to fit a given profile or who qualify under certain guidelines. One amazing businessman was reported to have provided full scholarships to college for all students from a specific class with graduation from high school as his only criteria and with a high participation rate, and another woman in Oregon has established a five million dollar fund for middle-class families who are too poor to afford college tuition but whose incomes are just over the limit to qualify for aid programs.
Such generosity is to be honored whenever and wherever it occurs. One may object to the politics, certain of the business practices, or to various social or religious positions taken by some of these donors or their companies, but their ambitious efforts, social responsibility, and charity should generally be greatly appreciated and recognized.
Nevertheless, it is reasonable to ask whether or not some philanthropists and charitable foundations have attached strings to their donations. It would be helpful to know whether or not they may exercise inordinate influence on school practices and policies, or with respect to a particular philosophy or methodology.
In several instances recently, persons from a business background or believers in a "free market economy" have been strong advocates for approaching schooling with a business model as the best way to achieve academic success. It is also worth asking if these individuals have any special knowledge or expertise in educational theory or science. We should not suggest that Bill Gates has ever seen dollar signs when advocating for more technology or more computer classes in schools where his products might be utilized, but that might be a possible reason to think twice about the efficacy of his direct involvement. Pure motives are not necessarily required if risk capital is applied more generally and indiscriminately or when desperate needs are being met. However, throwing good money after bad and propping up a failing system isn’t doing anyone a favor.
Bill Gates Doesn’t Know Squat About Education!
The truth is, that according to reliable sources, Gates and several of the other movers and shakers wielding a powerful influence in the last decade or so are committed to privatization. Some have even made ludicrous statements claiming that more qualified teachers should be able to manage large classes more akin to the classes held by college professors in large auditoriums. Their theory is that effectiveness and productivity are all about the skill and capability of the professional teacher who is able to master and deliver educational material while maintaining order, discipline, and proper attitudes toward academic exercises. These outsiders have been highly critical of ordinary teachers who don’t conduct classes in the “business-like” manner that they condone. They are quick to lay blame for problems on beleagured or overwhelmed teachers who have issues with student performance, behavior, or attitude, and especially with teachers’ unions that protect teachers who they have imagined are less competent or less qualified. To put it simply, they are blaming the victims in many instances. They don’t know squat about education or good school policies. Education that is focused on the bottom line is something other than education.
First of all, these high-powered and over-performing moguls are talking about something completely divorced from education. They don’t want human students with human foibles, needs, characteristics, or diversity of interests and aptitudes. Their practices and strategies are designed to turn out automatons who think and act alike and who have no inner life, no separate identity, no authentic personality or vestiges of autonomous will and cognition.
Secondly, the most crucial element whether the aim is education or some aspect of mere schooling is the relationship of the teacher to the pupils. If there are thirty, forty, or more students trying to interact with one adult, there will inevitably be a feeling of being neglected, ignored, misunderstood, or discriminated against by some or possibly all of the students.
Thirdly, schools that are businesses are tainted by the profit motive and the various needs of businesses, such as the requirement for bottom-line accountability; the need to minimize resource costs and maximize output at the expense of human factors; the exaggerated effects of power and authority derived from a top-down hierarchy; the absence and anonymity of the shareholders or investors whose interests do not coincide in the least with those of students, and the focus on the more visible, measurable, or superficial indicators of success, etc. These are in some respects similar to problems that exist in public schools, however when there is a need to produce a financial gain, there will be corresponding losses affecting students somewhere down the line if not directly in a pressure-cooker environment.
We will have much more to say about this in the near future. Money can make a great deal of difference in providing the essentials for a school experience that is at least adequate. Private sources of funding are always welcome, presumably and children are always a good investment. Yet, money has never cured the most deep-seated problems in our schools and even the districts that are flush with cash because of high incomes or wealthy supporters have always had students in some proportion who are ill-prepared to go out into the world and live truly useful and meaningful lives that reflect a well-rounded and well-grounded education that is something more than the expression of an ability to pass tests and write impressive resumes.
Note: This website will be evolving and expanding for an indeterminate period, depending on time, resources, and the amount of assistance available. Currently, it is the product primarily of just one principal author and one or two technical assistants. Some pages will clearly not be completed or have a conclusion or satisfactory summary until time allows. It has been decided however, that the message as it exists so far is important enough and well-enough organized to date to merit publication in order to inform and involve others who may find it inspiring and motivational.