I wish that the New York Times were not behind a paywall. I wish you could read this article in full. It is an interview with Melinda Gates.

You would get a sense of a very rich and very privileged woman who doesn’t realize how out of touch she is with the lives of ordinary people.

The interviewer wants to know how she feels about her privilege, given the rise of tide of anger against elites and the super-rich.

Here are a few snippets:

One of the recurring criticisms of large-scale philanthropists is that they aren’t interested in any redress of the economic systems that create inequality. But in order to rectify inequalities, doesn’t a radical rethinking need to happen? Bill and I are both on the record saying that we believe in more progressive taxes. We believe in an estate tax. We don’t believe in enormous inherited wealth.  

There are certain places where Bill and I sit where that is not a popular idea. Bill will be the first person to tell you, and Warren Buffett will be the second, that they could not have done what they did without having grown up in the United States, benefiting from the United States education system, benefiting from the infrastructure that exists here to build a business. If they had grown up in — pick your favorite place — Senegal, they couldn’t have started their businesses. There’s no way. So they have benefited. But we do need to think about how we right some of these inequities. How do we open our networks of power for women and people of color? We have to think about our privilege. I have to think about my privilege every day.

Yet, they choose to live in the lowest-taxed state in the nation, where there is no income tax and no corporate tax. With all of Gates’ power and influence, he has not lobbied the Washington State legislature to pass a progressive income tax. The schools of Washington State have been underfunded for years, and it took a long-running court case to get the legislature to allocate more money to them. Meanwhile, Bill used his influence to fight for a charter school law, enabling about 3,500 students to attend charter schools in a state with a student enrollment of one million.  Warren Buffett and Bill Gates had very different experiences in “the United States education system.” Bill went to private school in Seattle, with small classes, lavish facilities, and experienced teachers; his own children attended the same elite private school. Warren Buffett went to public school in Omaha, sent his own children to public school in Omaha, and they sent their children to public school.

What’s a recent epiphany you’ve had about your privilege? That it’s not enough to read about it. You have to be in the community with people who don’t look like you. When I read about a shooting, maybe in the south side of Seattle, I’m not living the experience. Whereas if I have a friend who’s a person of color, they most likely are living that experience or know somebody who was part of that community. And so my youngest daughter and I — she has a lot of friends whom I’m meeting, and they’re of very mixed races, I love that — have this motto that we go by: Every single person who walks through our door should feel comfortable in our house, despite how large it is and that it has nice art. And, believe me, there are people who show up at my front door who are not that comfortable. So sometimes that means sitting down inside the front door with our dog — and I’m in my yoga pants, no makeup on — and petting the dog until they’re comfortable being there. And only if we’ve made them comfortable can we be in real community. I have to do more to break down those barriers. It is very hard for almost anybody to show up at my front door….

To get back to philanthropy: What about the notion that the foundation’s work on an issue like public education is inherently antidemocratic? You’ve spent money in that area in a way that maybe seems like it’s crowding out people’s actual wants in that area. What’s your counter to that criticism? Bill and I always go back to “What is philanthropy’s role?” It is to be catalytic. It’s to try and put new ideas forward and test them and see if they work. If you can convince government to scale up, that is how you have success. But philanthropic dollars are a tiny slice of the United States education budget. Even if we put a billion dollars in the State of California, that’s not going to do that much. So we experiment with things. (Including funding small-population schools, bonuses for high-performing teachers and supporting the development and implementation of the Common Core educational standards.)

 If we had been successful, David, you’d see a lot more charter schools. I’d love to see 20 percent charter schools in every state. But we haven’t been successful. I’d love to say we had outsize influence. We don’t.

Certainly you have more influence than, say, a group of parents. Not necessarily. I went and met with a group of three dozen parents in Memphis. We thought we had a good idea for them. They were having none of it. So we didn’t move forward. A group of parents, a group of teachers, they can have a very large influence.

Well, Melinda is wrong about the influence of the foundation and the Gates’. After all, they singlehandedly (or four-handedly) funded the Common Core standards and paid out millions to every organization they could think of advocate for them. More than anyone else, the Gates Foundation imposed the Common Core standards on the nation, and they flopped by any measure one could think of. All of their “experiments” on the American educational system have failed. But she is right that the charter movement has stalled. In some states where the Gates’ have been most active, only 3-5% of the students are in charter schools. Now that scandals appear daily in the charter industry, this investment is blowing up too. And as she said, “a group of parents, a group of teachers, they can have a very large influence.” Yup. Parents and teachers can beat big money. They can beat the Gates’ money and protect their public schools from being one of Bill & Melinda’s “experiments.”