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The Arrogance Of Bill Gates


In Newsweek this week, Bill Gates once again joins other “school reformers” in their arrogant attitude that if you don’t agree with them, then you’re for the “status quo” and you’re “sticking up for decline.”

Actually, he was directing that accusation against Diane Ravitch, the well-respected education historian, researcher and author.

Come on, Bill and (many of his allies). I really do think you want to do what you think is best for kids, though I believe you have little useful experience, are ill-informed, and have an inaccurate analysis of the both the problems and solutions to the challenges facing public education. But, you know, it sounds like you do have some decent ideas, too.

Do you and your allies have to so often have this black/white view of the world?

Readers might also be interested in previous posts and articles I’ve written about this topic of arrogance:

The importance of being unprincipled

Just What Our Schools Need — A Second Appalling Manifesto

Let’s Do Less ‘Fire, Ready, Aim’

Private Foundations Have A Place (And Have To Be Kept In Their Place)

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. For some eighteen months I weekly read and engaged Diane; in the end putting the question straight to her: ‘What is your prescription for fixing failing schools?’ Her answer was blunt: ‘I’m an historian, I don’t do the future’. So that’s it. Diane longs for the past, calls everyone working toward a different future names like “Billionaire boys club”, “deformers”, “teacher bashers”.

    Well, I’m, tired of her making money inflaming hard-working teachers with under-informed and harsh rhetoric. I’m tired of seeing her everywhere stoking fires where she should be building bridges.

    Not all of our experiments can go well, most won’t. What is Diane’s prescription for gaining experience with new things? ‘Children are not to be experimented with’. In other words, the only experiment worthy in Diane’s mind is the one that’s failing them day to day.

    Nor does Diane accept that the teaching profession can learn from other knowledge-worker professions. It’s almost as if she’s never been exposed to the way engineers, designers, laboratory workers, distribution professionals, researchers, accountants, and every other profession works. Or for that matter, what lessons we learned for setting factory workers free over the past three decades. She still wants teachers tied down with 240 page contract balls and chains.

    I’d love to see Diane engaged in the excitement of the future. If that’s not in her genes, then perhaps the reticence of an academic historian would suit better.

    If you’d read all the nasty things Diane has had to say (and nothing good in balance) about Gates, Broad, et al, you’d likely find Gates mild in his reluctant and delayed response.

    • Ed,

      What you describe is not what I have learned and continue to learn from Diane Ravitch. Instead, I learn that we have to learn from the mistakes of our past in order to build a much better future for our schools and students. It seems to me that so many “school reformers” are convinced that they know the right answers, and that little can be learned from history. I don’t believe that kind of arrogance is what’s needed to guide our schools forward.


  2. Larry, I doubt we’ll ever agree on this, but its worth noting Diane’s continued vitriolic attacks. Today brings another.

    So many things Diane could engage Gates about. For example, the lack of support for open source educational software. It’s near impossible to find funding for Open experiments, for including college students and others in the march toward the future. Gates could cure that, and Diane could be the positive voice to cajole him. (See this post for details).

    Instead, Diane’s engagement with Gates runs solely (week after week) to the personal and ugly attack. Here’s Diane today:

    “Since Gates is a multibillionaire, he can’t possibly understand what it means to work in an environment where you might be fired for disagreeing with your boss. Nor can he possibly understand that schools are collaborative cultures that need senior teachers who are ready and willing to help newcomers. He can’t imagine that school is different from Microsoft or other big corporations. Let’s be honest. CCSSO and The New York Times pay attention to what Gates says because he is so rich. If he didn’t run the biggest foundation in the world, if he wasn’t one of the richest men in the world, would anyone care about his opinion of education? Really, who would care what he said if he were the chairman of the Whatzit Corporation and sold widgets?”

    Now arrogance is a fine word. It describes this post precisely. We who are not slaves to the 30 year tenure track cannot possibly imagine what life would be like without the 30 year tenure track. We who don’t teach–who merely learn and live in the world where education is needed–have nothing to contribute to the conversation.

    It is sad that Diane has sunk so low. To see why, lets go back to my apprenticeship. By chance, I redesigned the avionics system for the (then) world’s most complex aircraft. We cut weight, reduced cost, extended range, increased performance.

    In Diane’s view, I could never do this because I’d never been an Air Force pilot. ‘What does he know?’ she’d say, ‘He’s never flown into enemy fire.’ She’d be right–I haven’t. And if AF captains were union activists, we’d probably still be flying hydraulics and cables.

    Bill Gates, somehow, looked into every home and business in the world and saw their needs. That’s why he’s a billionaire. He didn’t invent DOS, he just got people to work together to bring it to the world. Bringing talent people together is what he’s done all his life. “Bridging Differences” if you will.

    Diane, of late, builds walls. With barbed wire and lasers.

    How very sad. 🙁

  3. I’m sorry, Ed, but you’re missing the forest for the trees.

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