Bill Gates recently spoke to the National Urban League, arguing that it is a “myth that we have to solve poverty before we improve education.”
“Let me acknowledge that I don’t understand in a personal way the challenges that poverty creates for families, and schools and teachers,” the billionaire said at the civil rights group’s annual convention. “I don’t ever want to minimize it. Poverty is a terrible obstacle. But we can’t let it be an excuse.”
Half-hearted effort to walk back what is patently false aside, Gates’s remarks do demonstrate the real danger of the corporate-Republican nexus on education. No matter how compelling the evidence, both nationally and internationally, they can’t help but shake this almost religious faith in the idea that most of what ails schools is poor decisions by students and poor work habits by teachers.
Deep-seated, crushing poverty and intermittent hunger? A lack of the resources that allow middle and upper class students to succeed? Those are hardly excuses; they are the reality for far too many American children–and it’s just possible that those kids, poor through no fault of their own, might struggle to see the promise of education.
It’s admirable that Gates and other business leaders want to give back to improve American education. It would be even more admirable if they acknowledged just how difficult improving American education without addressing poverty will be.