Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Philanthropic Foursome $hould.Go.All.The.Way

This week was Bill Gates' first week of the rest of his life. Last week, he officially resigned from day-to-day operations at Microsoft. Now he and Melinda can focus almost exclusively on their Foundation. He's had the money for years, and where giving to schools is concerned, the man is far more impressive than Vista and/or the current state of the company he founded.

Most notably, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have given millions to improve high schools. New Visions, Learning Academies, call 'em what you will, but above all, call 'em a great, overdue idea. Small high schools, focusing on workforce preparation through academic rigor and greater attention to individual students' needs elicits the biggest "no duh!" this blog can muster. Perhaps Bill figured things out firsthand at Microsoft, when he ran up against the depressing underpinnings of a crap-ay domestic product: our under-qualified workforce. Our country has long lost its edge in regards to educational attainment. To put it bluntly, these days, a high school diploma don't mean shit.

A recent NY Times article discussing popular reasons for the current economic downturn cites a booked called The Race Between Education and Technology, by labor economists Claudia Golding and Lawrence Katz. The book pretty much lays it out. Globally speaking, we're losin' the race in some serious ways. On a national level, our high schools generally suck. Our graduates aren't ready for college-level work and seem better suited for the service sector than for places like Silicon Valley.

But if you've read this far, and if you're anything like me, then you might be saying "Yeah, that's great Eliot, but, um, where's the foursome? How about that foursome?" I say hold your horses, Henny Youngman (..."take my wife. no really. take my wife"). I can't invite you to dinner without setting the table, dude. Good thangs take time.

Time is what Bill Gates now has.

And what better way to celebrate than to hook up with public education's ascendant Power Couple, Wendy Kopp and Richard Barth. An inversion of the ol' "in-out, in-out," if you will. The oldsters rejuvenate by coupling with the youngsters, while the youngsters luxuriate in greater relevance by bumpin' uglies with the royals. Oedipus Rex, Ang Li's key-swappin' Ice Storm, a good one third of the Old Testament, the blue-faced whimsy of Krishna, and the HBO mini-series Rome aside, history and Joseph Cambell's ghost hold a special place and role for the almighty foursome: Creator-Destroyer.

The fierce-ass Hindu Goddess Kali. Jesus coming "not in peace, but with a sword." Bill and Melinda cavorting, however metaphorically, with Wendy and Richard. Nothing pretty about any of it, I suppose. But damn if change don't gotta come soon. Times have changed. Just ask those labor economists.

Up until a few weeks ago, I had no idea that the founder of Teach for America (Wendy Kopp) was married to the founder of the uber-successful KIPP (Richard Barth's Knowlede is Power Program, a charter school network kicking regular public schools' asses everywhere, everyday). That Barth started out as one of Kopp's earliest ToA employees made the NY Times story even more compelling for me. He also bears a slight, puffy resemblance to Bill Gates. Plus, um, Wendy Kopp is hot. So it got me thinking.

A foursome is definitely in order. Even one as banal as additional, invigorated funding and consultative assistance. There's too much common ground, so much to be sown from the seeds that have already been planted by both parties.

At the risk of further bludgeoning the metaphor, it's time for them to get in bed together and fuck like rabbits. If they're already there on occasion, turn it up several notches. Go crazy. Install mirrors.

For our kids. Really.

Imagining the Headlines,
Eliot Suarez

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