February 26, 2005

Bill Gates Is a Smart Man

So why does he say such stupid things?

The nation's governors offered an alarming account of the American high school Saturday, saying only drastic change will keep millions of students from falling short.

"We can't keep explaining to our nation's parents or business leaders or college faculties why these kids can't do the work," said Virginia Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, as the state leaders convened for the first National Education Summit aimed at rallying governors around high school reform...

The most blunt assessment came from Microsoft chief Bill Gates, who has put more than $700 million into reducing the size of high school classes through the foundation formed by him and his wife, Melinda. He said high schools must be redesigned to prepare every student for college, with classes that are rigorous and relevant to kids and with supportive relationships for children.

"America's high schools are obsolete," Gates said. "By obsolete, I don't just mean that they're broken, flawed or underfunded, though a case could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean our high schools _ even when they're working as designed _ cannot teach all our students what they need to know today."

Let's see, so according to Bill Gates every student should be prepared for college. The fact that he dropped out of college would probably be better left unaddressed here given his subsequent success. Is it possible Mr. Gates left school a little too early to become familiar with this:

bell curve.gif

Though to be fair, perhaps he's merely fallen under the spell of President Bush and his No Child Left Behind initiatives. Either way, this is a phenomenonally silly thing to say. While I'm not interested in getting into an argument about Charles Murray's book here, I have read elsewhere that almost everything we can measure in nature corresponds to this model. I've also read that to master nature we must first learn to obey it. Pretending that the population of American children are somehow an exception to this virtually universal rule seem to me the height of folly. In fact, I find it difficult to distinguish between the philosophy motivating these ideas and those motivating Year 0 Utopians, of whom I am a self-professed nemesis. Each seems to believe that we can make people something other than what they merely by wishing it so, or what's worse by intellectual or administrative fiat.

This seems to me to be nothing more than another variation on the meme that we must measure equality only at the finish line. I find this to be perhaps the most pernicous idea floating around in our political discourse today. The fact that these ideas are always couched in high-minded idealism in no way redeems the wickedness they have spawned. I could get off an a rant here about the decline of our schools merely mirroring the demise of the family in our society and the concurrent replacement of the state as the head of so many households, figuratively and literally, but instead I'll finish with a question.

Can you name any measurable human trait that does not correspond to a bell shaped curve?

Posted by Charles Austin at February 26, 2005 10:13 PM

Maybe Mr. Gates is sincere, or maybe he just wants to sell more of his products to schools.

Posted by: Kevin Murphy at 09:12 AM

Why yes, yes I can. Quite a few, actually.

Bell curve's are like so 1990's. We're into power laws now.

Bill Gates is the perfect example of a power law, along with Warren Buffet, George Soros and Wayne Huzeinga (sp?). Some people have all the money, and the vast majority have very little in relation.

Other ways to display power laws; Instapundit's traffic on the web in comparison to the billions of site with one or no links.
Yahoo.com, Cnn.com and E-bay in relation to small business websites.

And of course, more saucy, the number of sexual partners Wilt Chamberlin had in comparison, to well, anyone. Or in general, those with hundreds of partners as opposed to the vast majority who have 7 on average.

It may be that bell curves measure potential, and power laws display results in a chaotic system.

Of course, I agree with your main point.

Posted by: Jim Durbin at 02:46 PM

Human traits, JD, human traits.

Alright, I'll take the challenge. How about sex? As in Male vs. Female.

Posted by: J Bowen at 02:48 PM

Well, you got me Mr. Bowen, although I think you know what I mean.

Posted by: charles austin at 09:25 PM