There’s an email circulating about how Bill Gates had a talk at a high school and laid down eleven rules that they won’t learn in school.

First of all, Bill Gates didn’t give this advice. As noted on several sites, these “rules” are excerpted from “Dumbing Down Our Kids” by Charles Sykes published in 1995.

So, right off the bat, we have an email that can’t be trusted as accurate.

It is true, however, that Gates is critical of high schools and is contributing money to make improvements. Here’s an actual quote from him:

“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.”

And, here’s the complete speech, which seems pretty thoughtful to me. (And I don’t think very highly of Mr. Gates, as a rule.)

I haven’t read Sykes’ book, but it appears to be somewhat reactionary and political. Here’s a summary of some of his recommendations:

“Sykes’s recommended reforms include abolishing the federal Department of Education and its state counterparts, abolishing undergraduate schools of education, establishing more alternative routes to teacher certification and merit raises for good teachers.”

That’s not all bad. It’s not fair of me to judge a book I haven’t read (but I’m going to anyway), and he may have many excellent points. However, Sykes is a journalist, not an educator, and a list of his other books makes me wonder how much of a scholar he is: “Profscam: Professors and the Demise of Higher Education” “A Nation of Victims: The Decay of American Character” “The Hollow Men: Politics and Corruption in Higher Education” “The End of Privacy”

I’m not a professional educator. I haven’t stepped foot in a grade school for years. With that admission, here’s my point-by-point view of these supposed rules. I also include what, I believe, is the original quote from his book rather than the modified version with changed text and sensationalizing BOLD text.

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it! (Originally “Life is not fair; get used to it.”)

Nothing new here. But how many educators and parents discuss the meaning of fair? Equitable? Balanced? The implication here is “since life isn’t fair, there’s no point in teaching otherwise.”

My bottom line is, life isn’t fair, but people should be.

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. (Originally “The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself.”)

“Esteem” means to regard favorably, with respect, to prize. It’s a learned emotion that can be attached to accomplishments. People can have great esteem, but not accomplish whatever Sykes thinks they should. They can also accomplish (from society’s view) great things, but have lousy self-esteem. There’s nothing wrong with teaching self-esteem. If Sykes’ point is that students should be taught how to handle failure without denying it, I agree with that.

Many businesses do care about their employees’ self-esteem. They know that workers who feel good about themselves and their jobs are more productive. So, in point of fact, the world will care about your self-esteem. Sykes appears to think that this occurs in grade school to the exclusion of all other teaching. Maybe, in some schools, for a short time. But I doubt it’s a rampant as he implied, even ten years ago.

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. (Originally “You will not make 40 thousand dollars a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice president with a car phone until you earn both.”)

This is true for most high school students. In 1995, $19/hour was a pretty high rate. It still is. I don’t recall any high school counselor implying otherwise. That’s why they encourage graduates to attend college.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss. (Originally “If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss. He doesn’t have tenure.”)

This is both wrong and rude. There has been evidence, in the last several years, that grade school students are being given more homework and expected to be involved in more extra-curricular activities than before. The students go to school all day, then after school activies, then homework until late into the evening. Most of their parents don’t work that hard.

The snide remark about tenure isn’t warranted. I know that college professors can receive tenure. I wasn’t aware that high school teachers could as well. How about bosses? Most of them aren’t in too much danger of being fired. The implication that tenured teachers are lazy and ineffective, but managers aren’t, is ridiculous.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity. (Originally “Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger-flipping; they called it opportunity.”)

Balony. This is just “back when I was a kid” nonsense. I’m sure that even during the Depression, teens didn’t want the menial jobs and said so. This is simply part of being a teenager, it has been for thousands of years, and it’s up to parents, not teachers, to inform them otherwise. In fact, how many parents don’t require their children to get jobs?

Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them. (Originally “If you screw up, it’s not your parents’ fault so don’t whine about your mistakes. Learn from them.”)

Well, this is good general advice, even though many children are screwed up by their parents. Again, is this something teachers should be saying in grade school? Are they saying something else? Are teachers really telling students that their mistakes are caused by their parents? Or that they should whine and not learn from their mistakes? I find that hard to believe.

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. (Originally “Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way paying your bills, cleaning your room, and listening to you tell them how idealistic you are. So before you save the rain forest from the blood-sucking parasites of your parents’ generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.”)

This, frankly, makes no sense. Once again, how is this relevent to the educational system? Yet another “these ungrateful kids” remark. It’s also patently untrue. Parents, until the child is 18, are required to pay bills (meaning, family bills). They aren’t required to clean the child’s room, nor are they required to compell their children to do so. I don’t think most teens are telling their parents how idealistic they are. They may be telling them how much they want a new Nintendo. Also, I can tell you, for a fact, my parents were never boring and they did all these things and more.

What’s wrong with idealism? It’s idealism that has changed the world for the better. Honestly, the reason I’ve succeeded, have a social conscience, produce excellent work, and care about this world is because I learned idealism from my parents. It was they who preached idealism to me. I just listened.

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. (Originally “Your school may have done away with winners and losers but life has not. In some schools they have abolished failing grades, they’ll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This, of course, bears not the slightest resemblance to anything in real life.”)

I’m going to try and not give my opinion on grading systems. I’m not informed on the issues. Neither are most parents. In fact, neither are most educators. Teachers teach their subjects within the guidelines given to them. They don’t normally have time to read the studies on how grading impacts students in the long term, what alternatives there might be, and so forth. This is one of those topics where it’s easy to have an opinion, but it’s not so easy to really know what you’re talking about.

“Winners and losers”? Is this the value we should teach? How about working together to accomplish common goals? In fact, more and more business leaders and managers admit that they want their workers to be less self-interested. Winning and losing is relevent in sports. It occurs in business, certainly, to a limited degree. But Sykes has this all wrong. Almost no business says to its staff “you’re a winner, and you’re a loser.”

I’ve been in many businesses in the “real world.” I’ve worked well over a dozen types of jobs. Businesses routinely give second, third and more chances. They probably give more chances to “get it right” than most teachers. They do this because it’s less expensive to keep an employee (usually) than to hire and train a new one. They recongnize, as Sykes apparently does not, that making mistakes is normal and you have to build your employees up. Almost no business can afford to fire employees for anything more than the most extreme mistake.

It’s Sykes’ comment that “bears not the slightest resemblance to anything in real life.”

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. (Originally “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.”)

Huh? How many points is he trying to make here? It’s true that the school system isn’t structured the same as most work environments. There have, in fact, been proposals to have school all year, with what amount to vacations between sessions.

Employers may not say, explicitly, that they’re interested in helping workers “find themselves”, but Sykes’ sarcasm reveals he thinks such activities are a social weakness. The fact is, many employers and managers are very interested in encouraging their employees toward self-improvement. They do this, again, because it helps the business. Happy workers are generally more productive. Also, they recognize that if humans feel they’re improving, and that the company has helped them do that, then loyalty will increase.

Like I said, I haven’t visited a classroom in years. Are teachers really trying to help kids “find themselves”? Or are they just trying to teach their subjects, and at the same time encourage their students to do more than just memorize facts?

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs. (no change)

Yes, this is true. In real life, people also have to go to school. I’m pretty sure teachers aren’t telling students any different. This is irrelevent to education, at least as stated. This is just Sykes’ personal opinion. They don’t teach this in school? Well, maybe that’s because it should be taught by parents.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one. (no change)

No, chances are you’ll end up working for the boy or girl who was involved in lots of school activities and whose parents were in business management. You’re more likely to work for the school bully, because he has learned to control the people around him. (Not that I’m encouraging bullying, but my point is, who’s more likely to become a manager? The stereotypical nerd who keeps to himself, or the stereotypical football quarterback?)

What kind of a comment is this, anyway? How about “be nice”, period.