Gates has poured billions of dollars over more than 15 years into major projects that he fervently believed would improve public schools. None have turn out quite as he had hoped.
There was, for example, the creation and implementation of the Common Core State Standards, which most states adopted years ago but that became so controversial that some states have dropped them and many more have moved away from the federally funded tests designed to go along with them. Gates, the chief executive of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, recently conceded that the organization made big mistakes with the Core implementation, something many teachers have been saying for a long time.
Gates’s love for data also led him to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to develop teacher evaluation systems that can supposedly figure out the “value” of a teacher with the use of student standardized test scores — a method that assessment experts said was unreliable for those purposes. Most state adopted these systems but more recently have started to drop them. Another effort gone awry.
This time, the philanthropist has come up with a way he thinks will people who live in extreme poverty in poor countries around the world can improve their lives. How? By raising chickens. He wrote about it here in a piece “Why I Would Raise Chickens,” which says in part:
If you were living on $2 a day, what would you do to improve your life?That’s a real question for the nearly 1 billion people living in extreme poverty today. There’s no single right answer, of course, and poverty looks different in different places. But through my work with the foundation, I’ve met many people in poor countries who raise chickens, and I have learned a lot about the ins and outs of owning these birds. (As a city boy from Seattle, I had a lot to learn!) 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.
So Gates is now an expert on “the ins and outs of owning” chickens, and he believes that people who live on $2 a day should raise them. They are, he wrote, easy and inexpensive to raise, a good investment, and a food source for children. Also, “they empower women,” he wrote.
Gates said he partnered with Heifer International to donate more than 100,000 chickens in various countries, but not everybody was thrilled with the donation. In fact, one government minister was outright offended. Bolivian Development Minister César Cocarico rejected Gates’s offer of hens, saying:
“How can he 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.”
Reuters notes that Bolivia has a thriving poultry business.
Gates intended most of his chicken charity to go to sub-Saharan Africa, where, again, not everybody was thrilled. Reuters reported:
Some critics said the program was a publicity stunt and wouldn’t solve the underlying problems of poverty in Africa. “Our father, Who art Uncle Bill, Hallowed be thy whims …” Nigerian satirist and author Elnathan John wrote on Twitter.Gates acknowledged that some might scoff at the plan, but insisted that he believes it will have an impact. “It sounds funny,” Gates wrote on the project’s website. “But I mean it when I say that I am excited about chickens.”
Gates no doubt means that he is excited about chickens, and, surely, chickens are a good thing for people to raise in some parts of the world. The issue to Gates critics isn’t that he wanted to help out poor people, but that he decided he knew what was best for them, just like he has done in the education world. It’s the way of a great deal of philanthropy today; wealthy donors fund pet projects whether or not experts say they are worthwhile. Too often the donors don’t find out what is really needed in a particular field, yet their huge investments can drive public dollars into these projects, too.
On her blog, education historian and activist Diane Ravitch asked this question:
Wouldn’t it be great if public schools and superintendents could respond like that to Bill Gates? Something like this: “We are professional educators and we know what we are doing. Please don’t offer money to try out your experiments on our children. Please take your advice and your money elsewhere.”
The Gates Foundation did not respond to a query about the Bolivian minister’s comments.