by Susan Ohanian
Buckets of money give Bill Gates the singular notion that he knows what it means to stand in other peoples' shoes. In his June 7 blog, Gates pronounced, “It's pretty clear to me that just about anyone who's living in extreme poverty is better off if they have chickens. In fact, if I were in their shoes, that's what I would do--I would raise chickens." Gates goes on to give lessons in chicken husbandry and economics, including the fecundity of chickens and how chicken ownership can bring empowerment to women.
In keeping with the Gates gospel that he knows what people need, Gates announced a gift of 100,000 chickens to impoverished nations worldwide, including sub-Saharan Africa and Bolivia. The Financial Times reported that Cesar Cocarico, Bolivia's minister of land and rural development, was insulted. "[Gates] does not know Bolivia's reality to think we are living 500 years ago, in the middle of the jungle not knowing how to produce. Respectfully, he should stop talking about Bolivia, and once he knows more, apologize to us." As it happens, Bolivia’s economy has been steadily growing for the last decade, with per-capita gross domestic product jumping from roughly $1,200 to $3,100. The Guardian stepped up with the information that Bolivia produces 197 million chickens a year.
US media, who come to praise Gates, showed no interest in his missteps regarding what Bolivians need.
For decades I have stood in shoes that would give Gates bunions. Since my first job at Grover Cleveland High School in New York City to twenty years of teaching disaffected students to studying schools in twenty-six states as prep for writing about how teachers teach and kids learn, my close contact with public schools shows me the harm Gates money has wrought. What's more, I'd guess I've come much closer to Bolivian chickens than has Bill Gates. But the fact that I accompanied my mother-in-law to a market in Cochabamba, where she bought a live chicken which we took home, dressed, and cooked, doesn't make me presume to say anything more than Bolivian chickens are tasty.
US teachers can only wish that somewhere there will appear someone directing policy in our public schools with the savvy and courage of Cesar Cocarico, the courage to shout "No!" to Gates money. The Gates Foundation has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in 247 grants (and counting) to create and support the Common Core. Big money went to the National Governors Association and the Council of the Great City Schools, but there have been plenty of other organizations lining up with their hands out, starting with the AFT and NEA, each raking in several millions. Other organizations range from the US Chamber of Commerce, Constitutional Rights Foundation, Aspen Institute, Center for American Progress, the National Council of Teachers of English, National Writing Project, American Agora Foundation (Lapham's Quarterly), and Editorial Projects in Education (Education Week), Perkins School for the Blind, the PTA, United Way of New York City, and hundreds more.
Because politicos and the education establishment prostrate themselves in respectful obedience when Gates money talks, children across the country are condemned to Gates's Common Core presumptions, the chicken gizzards of pedagogy.
Bill Gates: Why I Would Raise Chickens
Financial Times: Bill Gates’s hen donation plan ruffles feathers in Bolivia
The Guardian: Cluck you: Bolivia rejects Bill Gates' donation of hens
Ohanian, Susan. What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten? McGraw-Hill