Bill Gates on Poverty and Education: Blame the Poor


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.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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Jose BatchellorDana TrotterThe Polish Wolf Recent comment authors
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The Polish Wolf
The Polish Wolf

I agree that poverty can put roadblocks in the way of academic success, but I also think it’s more complicated than simply “poverty = academic failure”. Obviously students facing hunger, lack of transportation, and other hurdles have a harder time succeeding in school. But students in this situation are hardly the only ones dropping out and failing at school, so technically Bill is right to say that education can be improved (to an extent) in a situation of poverty. And students who face these barriers inherent in poverty can also be helped a great deal by simple social programs to… Read more »

Dana Trotter

Hey! That’s a very nice post. I’m very sure I will suggest it to my co-workers.In the event you put up extra posts please email them to me.

Jose Batchellor

Very interesting topic, thanks for putting up.

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