Sunday, April 27, 2008

Why Bill Gates should not be president

Bill Gates recently gave a speech at a High School about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school. He talks about how feel-good, politically correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept set them up for failure in the real world.
Rule 1: “Life is not fair - get used to it!” Why? Life was less fair 200-300 years ago and it was because of those valiant people who just didn’t accept things that they made a difference, which is why we have the freedoms we have today. That’s not to say we should hedonistic do as we please or neglect our long term survival for the sake of current causes, but isn’t there a place for dissidence. Bill Gates advice actually shows the hallmarks of a ‘politician’ who has been compromised by the process that has consumed him. Might he be pursuing a political career. What other challenge is there for someone of his standing?
Rule 2: “The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself”. True. But then would it not serve the world to have greater empathy for others since enlisting others is an important aspect of leadership. If you want to enlist others, then you need to have concern for other people.
Rule 3: “You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both”. True. But I don’t think many kids have such expectancies. More likely its parents who offer their kids such perks, afterall it is the parents who are empowered to offer these benefits.
Rule 4: “If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss”. False. Actually your teacher has more power because as a child you don’t have full mental capacity, and few legal rights to do as you please. You are obliged to go to school. If you are not satisfied with your job, you can easily leave if you can find another, if you live at home, or have savings. Should you? Not in the first instance. I ‘talked too readily’ so I would advice kids to negotiate like an adult. My experience was however that I didn’t have such good role models so I lost confidence in them. Still looking for them. The problem is – the more I learn – the higher my standards rise. Even Bill Gates doesn’t qualify.
Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity. True, but not convincing advice if you don’t suggest why. ‘Flipping burgers’ gives you immediate cashflow that serves your goals. It is a menial task that does not define you, just as ‘taking out the garbage’ does not define your worth or identity.
Rule 6: “If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them”. False. Parents had a responsibility. A great many of them default for lack of personal development, which stems back to their parents. I think the more important point is that it does not serve you to externalise responsibility for your life. I see nothing wrong with raising your dissatisfaction with your parents as its part of conflict resolution. Actually I think the response of the parents is more telling.
Rule 7: “Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room”. Nonsense. Parents become ‘boring’ because they did not expand their minds to match the challenges of society or parenting. Instead they resorted to ‘discipline’ rather than explaining, and in the process they lose the child’s respect. We are not discussing pre-teens here. They are a different case. The problem is growth is becoming even harder. We need to know and do so much more today than in the past, which demands higher levels of ‘social organisation’ but the ethical framework is not in place to handle these challenges. Kids are going to be the biggest victims as a result of these changes because they have the least voice.
Rule 8: “Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life”. True. And why is that wrong Bill? It is wrong because its an objective reality. Life requires challenge, demanding a realistic self assessment of your capacity to accomplish tasks. Such schools as Bill describes are actually setting children up to fake reality. There are a certain type of ‘fake’ parent who would we want to delude their kids as well as their own sense of reality. What they need to know Bill is that its the ‘parents fault’ – see Rule 6 Bill.
Rule 9: “Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time”. Nonsense. Adults established the summer break. This rule would be better framed. Life requires you to have a purpose. Perhaps the most deprived person is the person who has yet to frame a purpose. A purpose exists at many levels though, and much depends on whether they have the basic character values which will allow them to identify and pursue a purpose when they see one. Parental support helps. A child with a purpose is more inclined to pursue that goal after school and during summer break.
Rule 10: “Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs”. Wrong. I don’t think there is anything wrong with television per se, I think the problem is that the content is not helpful. There is too much content that reflects the values of Bill’s generation. So it might not reflect our lives, and certainly we should not attempt to mirror the lives of actors, but as a medium of communication, its conveying someone’s values. The problem with TV is that it does not serve you if you have an appropriate long-range purpose. The answer for parents is to help their kids find a purpose, and then you might be surprised by how little TV they actually watch. But there is nothing wrong with TV.
Rule 11: “Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one”. Inaccurate. Well I don’t see much value in being ‘nice’ or ‘mean’ because neither conveys how you really feel. One is attempt to please; the other is an attempt to vent anger. Better advice would be to recognise the value that people serve in your life, and to understand them. But really its more to do with failure to develop a child’s independent intellectual development.

Andrew Sheldon