When I hear columnists wringing their hands over Bill Gates' criticisms of American high school education, or lamenting that Bill Gates finds himself unable to hire high school graduates (as if that was his point), I hardly know what to say. The punditry's love of "No Child Left Behind", a "reform" which probably sets back what I would estimate to be Gates' vision of what U.S. public schools should achieve, seems inconsistent with its acceptance of Bill Gates' critique. That is, if you seriously want high schools to be able to produce graduates that Bill Gates would immediately hire into Microsoft, you shouldn't be standing behind a bill which aims instead to promote a culture of uniform mediocrity.
I am reminded of Harper Lee's narrative, as presented by Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbord:
One more thing, gentlemen, before I quit. Thomas Jefferson once said that all men are created equal, a phrase that the Yankees and the distaff side of the Executive branch in Washington are fond of hurling at us. There is a tendency in this year of grace, 1935, for certain people to use this phrase out of context, to satisfy all conditions. The most ridiculous example I can think of is that the people who run public education promote the stupid and idle along with the industrious - because all men are created equal, educators will gravely tell you, the children left behind suffer terrible feelings of inferiority. We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe - some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they're born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others - some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of men.Bill Gates, for all of his quirkiness (what do they say, again, about genius and madness), falls into that last category of person. And I can't help but believe that he wants our schools to identify and foster genius. He seems to want high schools which prepare kids for college, as opposed to preparing them for college remedial programs. And he probably does feel that there are kids like him in our nation's high schools who need to be identified and fostered, such that we can hear of a few six and seven figure salaries given to high school graduates for reasons other than their ability to consistently place a round ball through a small hoop suspended above their heads.
So when our nation's educators literally spend weeks testing even a single special education student, so severely mentally disabled that his regular classroom focus is on learning to feed himself or sit up properly, while the gifted continue to be told to fend for themselves - their test scores are plenty high already, thankyouverymuch - no matter how staunch an advocate you are for the rights of the disabled, can you regard that as a wise use of time, money, and resources?