If you’re already on the subscriber list, thanks for making this newsletter such a success in a short time! If someone forwarded you this email and you haven’t signed up yet, hop on the bandwagon. It’s super easy to do at inquirer.com/bunch .
You probably know the old saying that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean there’s not somebody out to get you. Here’s a 2020 corollary: Just because Bill Gates isn’t the diabolical mastermind of a globalist scheme to create the coronavirus in order to implant a microchip inside your kid … doesn’t mean his actual ideas are good for America’s children.
Make no mistake: The multi-billionaire Microsoft-founder-turned-philanthropist is having a moment with the arrival of COVID-19, and not just in the fever dreams of right-wing conspiracy theorists. In the reality-based world, Gates— who had warned for years about pandemic preparedness — and his family foundation have pledged $250 million toward developing a vaccine.
That’s admirable, but surprisingly little attention has been paid to another coronavirus-related Gates project that could have lasting – and, arguably, detrimental – consequences for your children long after the virus is crushed. In New York State, where the software icon and his Gates Foundation have long been active in so-called education reform, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tasked the philanthropy with a scheme to “re-imagine education” after COVID-19 that presumably would involve more laptops and fewer classrooms.
“The old model of everybody goes and sits in a classroom and the teacher is in front of that classroom, and teaches that class, and you do that all across the city, all across the state, all these buildings, all these physical classrooms — why with all the technology you have?" Cuomo – whose un-Trump-like ability to display empathy has caused his approval to soar even though his initial response to coronavirus was poor – said earlier this month in partnering with the Gates Foundation.
New York and pretty much all of the nation’s schools have gone to remote computerized learning for the duration of the crisis and I’m not really sure who is begging to keep doing this. Home-based online classes have created headaches both for parents suddenly tasked with home-schooling and working-from-home at the same time, but also for “essential workers” lacking child-care. It’s exposed the digital divide between rich and poor kids. And here in Philadelphia, attendance has plummeted from 92 percent to 57 percent. This is a model?
What’s more, critics rightly note that the Gates Foundation has over the course of the 21st century spent billions of dollars on various education schemes with little or nothing to show for it. Maybe that’s because – similar to Gates’ new mission as tasked by Cuomo – its ideas tend to be focused heavily on data and the increased use of standardized testing, with little feel for the humanity of a classroom, the soul outside of the machine.
Now, when Americans are rightly worried about alienated and unconnected, or atomized, kids in a era of school shootings, suicide and opioid abuse, and when the nation seems more angry and anti-social than any time in recent memory, we want kids glued to a laptop instead of inside a classroom where they can learn to get along with each other? Critics are pouncing, and rightfully so.
“It’s clear students, at least, understand much of what our political leaders can’t grasp about public education,” New York City teacher Annie Abrams wrote in The New Republic. “My students miss the dynamism and zaniness that define a classroom of adolescents, and they miss momentary escape from their defining roles at home."
One of Cuomo’s home-state newspapers, the Syracuse Journal, editorialized that children “are increasingly sad, unmotivated and glued to one screen or another. Without support from teachers and counselors, stressed-out parents are struggling to keep it together.” Indeed, the governor backed away from the tone of his initial comments and promised to involve more teachers and parents in envisioning the future.
But the virus and the accompanying economic depression clearly show America at a crossroads. The crisis is an opportunity to make our society more equitable and fair, but we’ll have to fight the disturbing tendency to seek solutions from the billionaire capitalist tech barons who caused such a mess in the first place. The writer Naomi Klein is alarmed at what she calls “a Pandemic Shock Doctrine” in which COVID-19 becomes “a living laboratory for a permanent — and highly profitable — no-touch future.” In addition to Gates, Cuomo wants billionaires Eric Schmitt of Google and Mike Bloomberg to also re-imagine his state’s future.
Let’s not do that. Whenever it’s safe for kids to return to school, let’s imagine a future where teachers and students get the support they need to work together, not as distant atoms. As John Lennon sang, it’s easy if you try.