Bill Gates has used his billions to impose his ideas, despite his total lack of experience as a teacher or student or parent in the nation’s public schools. He surrounds himself with people who obviously never say no to him, never tell him his ideas are wacky and harmful.
Anthony Cody set himself the mission of explaining to Bill Gates why his ideas were wrong and what he should do instead. Cody even got the Foundation to engage in a dialogue with him.
I was honored to write the preface to my friend Anthony’s book.
This is what I wrote:
Anthony Cody is a teacher. For Cody, teaching is not just a job. It is his profession. It is his way of life. It is the place where his brain, his life experience, and his heart are joined. Having spent eighteen years as a middle-school science teacher in Oakland, California, having achieved National Board Certification while teaching in one of the nation’s toughest urban districts, Cody embraces teaching as his mission in life. He now coaches teachers, mentors teachers, and tries to instill in them the love and spirit that animated his own teaching.
When Cody began blogging on a regular basis in Education Week, he called his blog “Living in Dialogue,” which was an acknowledgement that truth is elusive and that there are usually at least two sides to every argument. Each column ends with pointed questions, inviting readers to agree or disagree with him, not to accept whatever he wrote as authoritative. He writes in the spirit of the science that he taught, with an informed mind, but with a skeptical bent, encouraging readers to question him and to question their own beliefs.
As a regular blogger, one with a particular interest in the teaching profession, it was only a matter of time until he began taking on the myriad of interest groups that are now seeking to undermine and destroy his beloved profession. He developed a large following, as he sharpened his ideas and his aims. In time, he recognized that the most powerful force in opposition to his own ideas about teaching was the Gates Foundation.
With his blog as his platform, he trained his sights on the Gates Foundation. While others feared to criticize the richest foundation in the United States, Cody regularly devoted blogs to questioning its ideas and programs. He questioned its focus on standardized testing. He questioned its belief that teachers should be judged by the test scores of their students. He questioned its support for organizations that are anti-union and anti-teacher. He questioned its decision to create new organizations of young teachers to act as a fifth column within teachers’ unions, ready to testify in legislative hearings against the interests of teachers and unions.
Perhaps because of his persistence, perhaps because of his earnest tone, perhaps because of his experience, Anthony Cody managed to get the attention of the Gates Foundation. The Foundation agreed to engage in a written debate with Cody. At the time, some of his admirers wondered whether the Gates Foundation would find a way to buy off or mollify or silence one of its most outspoken critics. But they underestimated Cody.
He exchanged several blogs with high-level members of the Gates Foundation, and his blogs were incisive, carefully documented, and fearless. The main point that he made—drawing on his own experience in Oakland as a classroom teacher but also on external and unimpeachable data—is that poverty is the greatest handicap to the academic performance of students today, not “bad teachers.” He knew that the Gates Foundation had helped to fund the anti-teacher propaganda film “Waiting for ‘Superman,’” and he saw the hand of the Foundation in almost every effort to reduce the status of the teaching profession and to replace it with scripts, standardized testing, and technology.
This book is a record of Anthony Cody’s valiant struggle to force the nation’s most powerful foundation and richest person to listen to the voice of an experienced teacher. Did Cody succeed? It is hard to know. Even as Cody was debating the Gates Foundation, it was spending billions of dollars to develop and implement the Common Core standards, which was yet another attempt to “teacher-proof” America’s classrooms. Cody knows that past efforts at “teacher-proofing” the schools were never successful. He knows that good schools depend on teachers who are well prepared, devoted to improving their craft, and devoted to their students.
There is no replacement for well-prepared teachers or for a school where collaboration—not competition—is the norm. Cody also understands that teachers alone—no matter how good or great they are—and schools alone—no matter how good or great they are—cannot overcome the handicaps imposed on children, families and communities by inequality, poverty, and segregation. This is his message to the oligarch who runs the Gates Foundation: Will he listen?