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Guggenheim's 'Teach,' another Bill and Melinda Gates Project

Posted: 2013-09-16

Robert L. Arnold, longtime educator and author of "Remaking Our Schools for the Twenty-First Century" reviews Davis Guggenheim's latest film offering 'Teach,' which the New York Times called 'bouquet-lobbing' at teachers.

Last spring, after several years of bashing teachers and public schools in every way possible, Bill Gates called together a selected group of teachers to tell them he has changed his stripes; in the future they could expect he would show his "soft side." TEACH is the first and most extensive public disclosure of what he meant.

TEACH is the slickest propaganda movie yet to be viewed, far superior to the one, Waiting for Superman, that advocated for charter schools. Mixing tidbits of reality with a cleverly designed subliminal message containing the intentions of the Gates clan and their foundation, supported by the Koch Brothers, the Wal-Mart empire, the Business Roundtable, and Chief School Administrators, the film keeps the viewers in wonderment about what is real and what is propaganda in this presentation. The fact that a major television network was a party to this two-hour prime time program without a disclaimer calls into question their real intentions and leaves one to wonder just what money can buy.

What was the real message in the presentation and how was it delivered? One reason Bill Gates decided to announce a "change of heart" presumably was due to the push back he received from teachers and other educators across this land. His reputation in the educational reform movement was in jeopardy. He chose to show a group of seemingly dedicated teachers, struggling to make changes recognizing the difficulties presented by broken homes, poverty, lack of technology and the need for accountability. Teachers, craving for recognition, are expected to react positively to this aspect of the presentation, thus winning them over to his views. In reality, there is no freedom to innovate within the standardization movement that has descended upon the schools?

One element in the Gates view is the need for the "brightest and the best"Â teachers to be placed in the classroom. He demonstrated the human side of these presumably dedicated teachers who demonstrated needs for guidance from authorities both from within the school and from outside, to find the ways to affect improvement in standardized test scores.

Interestingly, the words "common core curriculum" were not mentioned throughout the presentation, but the standardized test is derived from the common core and it played a predominate role. It was designed to show how smoothly the assessment process takes place. Each student filled in the bubbles on the answer sheet and the sheets were collected and placed in the automated feeder for the digital reading of the pre-determined correct and incorrect answers. There wasn't a flaw in the flow of answer sheets through the feeder; not a single glitch occurred. The unchallenged statistical data were displayed on a chart that identified where each student placed on the scale of grade levels, below, above or at grade level. Each teacher nervously approached their mail boxes and withdrew the sealed envelope that contained their fate.

Of course "persistence"Â was given a rating of highest virtue, intended to allay any anxieties these teachers might be experiencing with their students who did not pass. Consistent with the behaviorist positions taken by the Gates people and their disciples, rewards were given to those who showed improvement in their test scores and those who failed stood by with unnatural determined looks. This practice is believed to provide motivation for those who failed, to work harder to pass the tests.

The tests were prepared by outside agencies; their contents were not known by the teachers and the students could only hope they had been instructed in what would be asked in these secretly prepared and administered exams. The film deliberately avoided showing students vomiting with anxiety when faced with this process.

The exam results recorded in the records of each student remain there for the rest of their lives. Perhaps as in New York State, the scores are sent to InBloom, Inc., to be stored in an electronic cloud, available for sale to publishers of instructional materials and manufacturers of gadgetry assumed to prepare the students for success. There was no recognition of the developmental considerations that are prevalent in the lives of each individual. Students were all treated alike and tested with the same standardized test.

A brief reference to the limitations of standardized tests was included but it was followed by the injunction "the tests are V E R Y important." To this we all can agree. In the words of Marion Brady, published in the Washington Post on Wednesday, April 27, 2011, "Standardized tests are enhancing and destroying reputations, opening and closing doors of opportunity, raising and lowering property values, starting and ending professional careers, determining the life chances of the young, and shaping the intellectual resources upon which America's future largely hinges."

This vast experiment with kids' minds and America's future was put in place without broad national debate, without in-depth research, without trial pilot programs, and without answering questions posed again and again by those who know something about teaching--know about it because, unlike those making policy, they've actually taught.

No alternatives were suggested in the film since they might not fit perfectly within the parameters of the Gates philosophy. The viewer is led to believe these tactics and strategies adopted from a concept of behavior modification will rid us of the ills of education. These practices represent the salvation of our competitive businesses in this global economy. With such huge sums of money being used to lobby for the behaviorist views for change and reform, how can we who challenge their views get a hearing? The picture does not appear optimistic.

See Remaking Our Schools for the Twenty-First Century.

See New York Times' review.

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