Dear Mister Gates,

Bill Gates recently went on the educational offensive. He’s writing articles and appearing on national news and using his bully pulpit to make viral videos. He’s saying we need to do something about education. I agree. He says we need to educate our children or our nation will be in big trouble down the road. No argument here. He says we need to find the best teachers, pay them well, and give them more students.

Hold on there, Billy.

I’ve got a problem when a guy that doesn’t teach starts to spew out solutions for teaching. It’s bad enough we have state and national legislatures getting into the business of ruining our school system. We don’t need private industry getting into the game, as well. I’ve got an especial problem with a man that doesn’t practice what he preaches.

I know Microsoft will promote based on merit, but when you look into the Microsoft classrooms, you’ll see 20 people or less in them. They know all about class size impacting instructor efficiency, and they don’t let those classes get large, ever. Should someone in the class become unruly, that person leaves. These aren’t immature 7th graders, either. These are adults, mature and eager to learn in order to do their jobs… and he keeps them to no more than 20 per class with immediate ejection for discipline problems.

Nice work if you can get it.

Now, in my larger classroom – because I am a good teacher and Mr. Gates says I should have more students that will benefit from my teaching – I am going to have a hard time of things if I get the normal mix of students. Roughly 10% of any class will be first-rate troublemakers. In a class of 20, the teacher need only control two of them. In a class of 35 or 40, there are four. Those first-rate troublemakers will recruit from another 20% of the class that are followers with poor decision-making skills. In a class of 20, the two troublemakers are handled easily so the class never gets out of control. In the class of 35 or 40, there are always enough troublemakers to create a fuss to rally 7 or 8 more students to their banner, and the teacher finds that there’s now a revolt in her room and she won’t get anywhere.

Which students were you planning to add to my class, Mr. Gates? There are only so many gifted, obedient youths in the nation. Eventually, we have to start assigning the criminals to these classes. These are the very sort of person that Microsoft would never hire in the first place, let alone put in one of its 20-seat classrooms, but it’s who we have to teach. Believe me, if we could boot them out of school and into special day jails, I’d be all for that. We can’t. We have to teach them, whether or not they want to be taught.

Microsoft had a sort of “up or out” culture when I worked there. Long-time employees had to show their mettle against newcomers if they wanted their bonuses to be awarded intact. I hear a lot of school reformers talking about that philosophy for teachers – why not for the students? Why not mandate a 10% minimum failure rate in any course? Let’s weed out the weak-minded and get them out of our schools, if “up or out” is so good. Let the little blighters roam the streets and stay out of our hallowed schools and workplaces.

And this is where the communities cry out – stricter schools usually mean a spike in daytime home robberies. This reveals the role of a school as minimum security prison. A day jail, if you will. That’s why we have so many students in school that can’t succeed in school: they figured out they’re really in jail and they have no desire to be part of a system that incarcerates them, regardless of how good it is for them in the long run.

I think the best way to fix our schools is to have every politician and CEO spend a week teaching 7th Grade math in a school that is out of control. Don’t send them in as guest speakers with a full security detail. Drop them into that room with a teacher’s manual and wish them luck… then hold them accountable at the end of the week for what they were supposed to have covered.

Mr. Gates can start off with 6 classes of 40 in a 7-period day – or 7 classes of 35 out of 8 in a block schedule – since he seems to have a lot of answers. I know a junior high school just down the road that would be a perfect place for him to start, and it’s not even the worst one I’ve ever taught in. It’ll do, though. It’ll do. I guarantee he won’t be talking about increasing class sizes after that gem of an experience.

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