by Clay Burell
February 20, 2009
from EducationChange Website
Once more into the breach re: the Gates
Talk (video at end of page), and my post
contesting its framing of teachers. Reader
Jean suggested I reflect on the decision to create and post the video in
that post, and I'm happy to oblige.
I find the whole thing fascinating.
First, the background.
Here below is the transcript of the video I made. All text is written, not
spoken. The only audio is an electric current sound effect during my text,
and the audio of the historical documentary I edited into it:
In his 2009 TED Talk, Bill Gates discussed
his "two top problems." The first? Malaria. He showed Powerpoint slides
of huge mosquitos, then released a swarm onstage. The audience gasped.
By the end of the talk, this history teacher
was reminded of a film he'd shown his students: [Cut to the "plague of rats" footage in the
1940 German propaganda film, The Eternal Jew.]
Cut to: Gates' second "top problem" was:
Teachers. That film about rats? Uncut, it continued: [Cut to: The film's
comparison of the problem of rats to the problem of Jews. Lots of
statistics in it justifying the anti-semitic message.]
Cut to: Gates concludes his TED Talk,
"I only had time to discuss two
problems. There are others: AIDS, pneumonia..."
Let's review Gates' top problems:
Mr. Gates, One of these things is NOT
like the others. Before you "change the world," please change your
rhetoric. It has disturbing precedents.
An Offended Teacher
In the text above the video, I wrote (with
It was no fun making this imperfect little
video response to Gates' talk. But it was no fun watching his
characterization of the problem of "teachers."
I'll get into the substance later, but symbolism, rhetoric, and
organization - as any good propagandist knows - communicate on
dangerously unconscious levels. While I'm not accusing Gates of
consciously framing teachers the way he does, I am suggesting he should
be more conscious of such things.
They have effects, intended or not.
I concluded by asking readers to tell me if I
one said no, he was angry too
one offered no opinion
three others, two emphatically, said yes
Debate went back and forth at great length. I was making unjustified
assertions, I was told. I disagreed.
Finally, I asked what unjustified
assertions I had made that I was being asked to back up, and this is the
The claims I want you to back with evidence:
that Gates wants to get rid of all
teachers (like the Nazis wanted to get rid of all Jews)
that Gates thinks teachers are
"pestilent" and "plague-like" (I'm using these terms because they
are used to describe rats)
that Gates thinks all teachers, in
general, are a problem
I replied that I had made none of those
assertions - and reviewing every comment in that long thread, I still
maintain that. More on that below.
Then Jean commented that, to paraphrase, my request that readers "tell me if
I'm off-base" turned into intransigence when challenged, true to a
psychology study she cited from the '70s. She added that she didn't disagree
with my point so much as my "tactic" in making it, by which I assume she
means the observed similarities to the German propaganda film, or the video
itself. Then she asked me to reflect.
I've been reflecting all along, because it's the
first time I've ever watched a presentation that made me think - and say,
"That reminds me of Hippler's film. It's
But Jean's nudge pushed me to question that
possible intransigence as well. I doubt my response will satisfy everybody,
but here goes.
On the use of that
So my first reflection is this:
If the film were a product of, say,
Stalinist anti-bourgeois propaganda, placing "capitalist-roaders"
within an epidemiological frame
if it were a McCarthy-era "Red Scare"
piece doing the same with the communist threat within our borders
if a Jim Crow era film like The Birth of
...would the comparison have been less
objectionable to some?
More to the point:
Is any attempt to take examples from
1930s and '40s Germany doomed to resistance and cries of foul play?
Would a comparison to, say, Leni
Reifenstahl fare any better?
Or is it just taboo to connect to
specific instances from this period because they will be confused
with broad-brushed, full-on identifications that, because A does
what B did, A is a B?
What I should have said more
...and what I still say: Gates' Talk works like
propaganda for today, not for yesteryear
The unfortunate truth is, the Hippler film is the one that came to mind as I
watched Gates walk us through the problems of disease #1, then of "the
problem of making great teachers" - if it's a problem, that means today's
teachers aren't great, and thus "bad teachers are the problem," Gates'
positive delivery aside - then disease #2 and #3.
The film is a staple of classroom propaganda
lessons precisely for its epidemiological framing of a group of humans.
would have given anything to have another example at the ready instead, but
I didn't. (And honestly, the origins of that film make the point, more
forcefully than any other example, that such rhetoric - or more accurately,
semiotics - does indeed have "disturbing precedents.")
Much more below the fold....
I will, though, try to make more clear what my original statement - that I
wasn't accusing Gates of consciously using this tactic - apparently didn't,
and point to a difference that would have been helpful to point out
originally: the German film makes an explicit comparison between the disease
trope and the human one. It makes the explicit simile, A is like B.
Of course Gates never makes that claim
concerning his diseases and our teachers, and I never said, or meant to
imply, that he did.
This does not, however, change the
semiotic fact: the Talk lays down a
unifying concept, "biggest problems," then presents two dominant signifiers:
malaria and teachers. After teachers, two more signifiers are laid down in
quick succession, AIDS and pneumonia, to close the frame. Three diseases now
surround one class of human professionals.
I argue this is dangerous because psychologically, audiences don't need a
comparative operator - "like" or "as" - to associate the four examples in
his talk with the idea of "disease."
The preponderance of epidemiological imagery on
both sides of the teacher imagery encourages precisely that association.
(And as I said in the comment thread, Gates' dropping of "diarrhea" into the
beginning of the speech adds yet another touch of the same.)
Am I saying this second association is conscious on Gates' part, or that the
audience will walk away with it consciously either? I've already said "no."
But we do, as a species, make unconscious
associations, and those can be perhaps more dangerous than conscious ones.
For a different example of this, here's psychologist Phillip A. Goff
discussing his research about the effects of unconscious associations on our
conscious behavior and volition.
Interestingly, he wrote the following after
noting the indifference many people expressed about the recent New York
editorial comic many claim links the ideas
of "Obama," "ape," and "murder."
Dr. Goff begs to differ that people should "just
relax" about such associative performances:
[..]Though much of the reaction to the
cartoon has been outrage at the implication that our 44th president is
remotely simian, there have been other messages in the blogosphere as
A few pleaded with us to see reason in this post-Obama era. They
begged us to understand that the cartoonist clearly meant to impugn
congress, Wall Street executives and academic economists and that there
was no racial subtext to the piece.
Others saw the cartoon as racist but
declined to become outraged. Saw the injustice in the image, but saw it
as a minor injustice, not one worth worrying too much about. After all,
having a black president means that America is post-racial and does not
need to worry about petty things like harmless pictures in a paper.
The messages in my inbox mirrored the commentaries I saw online. A few
(though not many) defending the cartoon. Many more exasperated with
indifference. All of them insisted this was a little thing.
The best science available suggests otherwise.
For the better part of the past seven years, my colleagues and I have
conducted research on the psychological phenomenon of dehumanization.
Specifically, we have examined
cognitive associations between African
Americans and non-human apes.
And the association leads to bad things.
When we began the research, we were skeptical of whether or not
participants even knew that people of African descent were caricatured
as ape-like - as less than human - throughout the better part of the
past 400 years. And, in fact, many were not.
However, even those who were unaware of this
historical association demonstrated a cognitive association between
blacks and apes. That is, when they thought of apes, they thought of
blacks and vice versa - when they thought of blacks, they thought of
But the fact of this cognitive association was not the most disturbing
part of the research. Rather, it was the fact that the association
between blacks and apes could lead to violence.
In one study, participants who were made to think about apes were more
likely to support police violence against black (but not white) criminal
suspects. The association actually caused them to endorse anti-black
violence. Most disturbing of all, however, was a study of media coverage
and the death penalty.
Looking at a sample of death-eligible cases
in Philadelphia from 1979 to 1999, the more that media coverage used
ape-like metaphors to describe a murder trial (i.e. “urban jungle,”
“aping the suspects behavior,” etc.) the more likely black suspects, but
not white suspects were to be put to death.
Not "de-humanization," but
de-professionalization - and privatization
Now I am not saying anything silly like Gates is trying to either
de-humanize teachers, or to cause violence toward them.
What I am saying is that I see evidence of an
agenda to de-professionalize teachers in his push for standardized testing,
and the data-tracking of that testing to be used to retain or fire teachers.
Rather than address the valid concerns that may
have led Congress to strip funds for these data-systems from the recent
Recovery Bill, Gates dismissed it with a hint of derision by saying the
funds were removed "because some people are threatened by this stuff." (I
copied and pasted some of those valid reasons in the bottom of the comment
thread to the last post on Gates, if you want to
I also point to Gates' championing of
KIPP charter schools as evidence that
he also aims to weaken or destroy - do political violence to - teachers'
unions and non-privatized, traditional public schools.
(For the best summary
I've read of the
damning consequences of charter schools for
universal and equitable public education, read a recent post by our
newest guest-blogger, Sharon Higgins, on
Gates points to KIPP twice as his example of
"where great teachers are being made," and KIPP itself admits in
word and deed that it is anti-union.
Gates gives his gushing anecdote about the "sports rally" energy he
witnessed among teachers during his visit to a KIPP school - and gee, is
it just me, or wouldn't any school show some noticeable energy on the day
the richest billionaire in America comes to walk its hallways and sit in on
its classes? If ever there was a case of the experimenter
influencing the experiment, it was this one.
Second, Gates gives that free
copy of Jay Matthews' KIPP-boosting Work Hard Be Nice to each member in
Think about that: the
TED audience comprises some of the wealthiest and most
influential people in America. They paid around $6,000 per ticket to this
event, and surely could afford to buy the book themselves.
By giving a copy to each member of his audience
(to which they bizarrely applaud as if they were peasants receiving cake
from Marie Antoinette), Gates is instead forcing into their lives the KIPP
answer to education reform, rather than any number of less radical, less
better-researched reform solutions by the
Linda Darling-Hammond or the leaders of
Broader, Bolder Initiative.
Worse still, since Gates' mosquito-unleashing
stunt gave his TED Talk video even more publicity than its already-high
profile as this year's keynote, Gates in effect hawks the Matthews/KIPP
solution to the thousands of people who watch the Talk online.
Now consider that Arne Duncan is making the same talking-points -
KIPP and data-tracking systems, which means privatized, test-driven,
anti-union public schools - when discussing his plans, as the new Secretary
of Education empowered to direct over $50 billion of federal funds to reform
efforts in the 50 states.
And consider that he's making the points in the
same simplistic, "these are the answers" language Gates is, and at least
entertain my argument that this spells trouble for public education and the
From [anti-union, by no means "proven," as
even Gates' chart suggested] Teach for America to the [by
no means "proven"]
KIPP charter schools to instructional innovations at colleges and
universities, we have proven strategies ready to go to scale.
speech on ed.gov)
Mr. Duncan said he intended to reward school districts, charter schools
and nonprofit organizations that had demonstrated success at raising
student achievement... Programs that tie teacher pay to classroom
performance will most likely receive money....
Duncan said he wants states to use other funds allocated in the stimulus
package to adopt accountability-oriented reforms...such as the creation
[in NYC] of a comprehensive data system, called ARIS, and the
introduction of a program that gives some teachers bonuses based on
their students’ test scores.
While I'm on Duncan - and Gates, for that matter
- I'll go ahead and state that they both address other forms of professional
development for teachers, such as mentorships for new teachers, that can
But what both of them do by shining the
spotlight on KIPP and value-added (test results-based) teacher pay and
retention is distract from much larger issues that cry for attention:
under-funded schools in poor districts,
increasing racial segregation resulting from charters,
and the relegation of non-charter public schools to only the
worst-performing students from the least-privileged households. (Again, see
Sharon Higgins' post for this bigger
We're all watching the magician's right hand,
when we should be watching the left.
Further, I didn't note another similarity between Gates' talk and Hippler's
film in the original post, but I will, in addition to much more below.
The "Top Quartile Teachers" Myth
About those charts and
Just as that unfortunate propaganda film uses all sorts of statistics, maps,
and other technocrat flummery to give it the veneer of authority, so does
Gates' TED Talk (see far below video.)
A quick example is Gates' unambiguous assertion that "research has shown"
that, if only all students had the "top quartile" of teachers for four years
straight, America would bypass Asia and top the world in student
The NYTimes Nicholas Kristof picked up on the
meme, so off the nation goes swallowing Gates' framing of this
"research" when in fact, what Gates reports as "fact" was only speculation
in the original research - and disproven speculation at that.
Gotham Schools gives us what Gates (and Kristof)
Wow, erasing the black-white testing gap in
four years sounds like a pretty good deal. And just from being taught by
some really great teachers! There must be some evidence of this for it
to show up in the New York Times, wouldn’t you think?
Some study somewhere that actually showed
that black students exposed to teachers in the top quarter of the
teacher effectiveness distribution for four years in a row can routinely
move from the 16th percentile in the test score distribution (roughly
the black average) to the 50th percentile (roughly the white average)?
Los Angeles study will show the way. Nah, that’s just a
“suggestion” by Robert Gordon, Tom Kane, and Doug Staiger that the five
percentage point increment in performance from having a teacher in the
top quartile, and the five percentage point decrement from having a
teacher in the bottom quartile, could cumulate over time - a 10
percentage point swing for four years in a row would more than close the
34 percentage point gap between the average black student and the
average white student.
The problem is, as
eduwonkette pointed out last summer, Brian Jacob and
his colleagues have shown that these effects do not cumulate. Only about
20% of the effect remains after a single year, and only about 12% after
two years. After two years, then, the 10 percentage point swing is down
to about 1 percentage point.
It gets worse.
The notion of a “great teacher” identified via
value-added effectiveness implies that we can identify who these
teachers are, and they’ll always be great. The reality is, however, that
the vaunted value-added methods show that a teacher who is “great” one
year may not be so hot the following year.
In a recent National Center on Performance
report, Dan McCaffrey, Tim Sass and
J.R. Lockwood find that
the year-to-year correlation in teachers’ value-added scores are in the
range of .20 to .30. This also implies that a teacher whose students
gained five percentage points in one year might have students only gain
one or two percentage points the following year.
Better than chance, to be sure, but what is
a matter of chance is whether you get a teacher when she or he is having
a good year or a bad year.
And the likelihood of big cumulative effects
from exposure to “great teachers” just isn’t there.
Sorry, Mr. Kristof, no magic bullets in identifying and rewarding “great
teachers” who can effortlessly close the achievement gap.
Now, can we
get back to talking about teaching instead of teachers?
We do well to include Mr. Gates in that final
Oh but wait, his
TED Talk is viral, and Kristof at the NYTimes has
given it a tailwind. The truth will never catch up.
Even if this were true, and we could use Gates' magic test-data tracking
system to identify "great teachers," Diane Ravitch
reduces the whole idea to
absurdity anyway with this thought-experiment about how, exactly, the data
would lead to any meaningful implementation.
She's talking about Kristof, but Kristof is
touting the same "top quartile/data tracking" meme Gates does:
So, let's deconstruct a bit.
Kristof approvingly cites the economists who say that four consecutive
years of a great teacher would close the achievement gap. Unfortunately
he does not seem to realize that the economists were writing
theoretically (and the relevant studies actually say that five
consecutive years of a great teacher would have this result).
outcome has NEVER been demonstrated in any school or school district. It
is a projection of an econometric speculation.
If I read Kristof correctly, a "great" teacher is one who can produce
higher test scores. We know that this can happen through relentless
test-prepping. Is that what a great teacher does?
But if that is the definition of a great teacher, then we can't possibly
identify them until they have had at least three, or better yet, five
years in the classroom, so there is sufficient data showing that they
produced dramatic gains in their classroom.
So, that means that no new teacher - certainly no Teach for America
teacher - could possibly be a great teacher, because we don't know
whether they are great teachers until they have created a consistent
record of big test score gains over three-five years.
Let's suppose that a district uses its data to identify the teachers who
consistently produce big gains.
What happens next?
Do these teachers get
assigned to the lowest-performing schools?
Which children in those
schools are assigned to these teachers?
What happens to these teachers
if they don't get the big gains in the next years?
No one has tried to explain how this would
be implemented, whether successful teachers would be willing to go
wherever they are assigned, and how their services would be parceled out
among many needy students.
As for entry into teaching, it sounds as though Kristof is saying that
anyone should be accepted as a teacher. He is ready to scrap
certification, graduate degrees, SAT scores.
Maybe you don't need to be
a college graduate to be a great teacher. Why not hire college freshmen
as teachers? or high school seniors?
Isn't it wonderful that we have economists with tons of data (but no
practical experience) to tell us how to find and reward great teachers?
Again, a great question for Gates as well.
To all of which I say, again: Gates' talk has more than a few classic
characteristics of propaganda. Intent or no intent is beside the point.
Bill Gates Spills the Beans!
by C. Linderman Sr.
26 February 2010
See below video and pay attention to the 4 minute 40 second about mark in
In this film, Bill Gates states what I have been trying to
tell my Linderman Live Radio show listening audience and my
readership here on this site for some time now: there are
elitist scum bags
on this planet that want to cull the population.
Mr. Gates outlines the use of health care
reform, reproductive health care initiatives and
VACCINES to... facilitate the
DEPOPULATION of the planet!
If vaccines and access to health care are designed to make us healthier and
in the process (by default) live longer:
How in the hell does this equate to
Wouldn’t this actually raise the
population of the planet if these “lifesaving” vaccines actually did
what our medical and public health officials claim?
So the only obvious conclusion to be made from
Bill Gates and others of his ilk, is that they are lying to us about the
vaccines and their true intentions.
Just have a listen for yourselves...
Bill Gates on Energy - Innovating to Zero!
from YouTube Website