Just me and him. Alone in an elevator on a long ride to the top floor. I’ve dreamed of this for quite some time, but even so, my hands are sticky and my mouth is dry. Will I have the guts to say what I’ve rehearsed in my mind so many times? I remind myself that I’m wearing my big girl panties, and I urge my brain to speak, but it doesn’t sound like my voice coming out.
“Hi, I’m Jennifer, a Mom from Tennessee,” I say. He looks up from his gadget that looks like it came from a Star Trek episode. It will probably be the hot item for next Christmas season with people camping-out in front of Best Buy weeks before it is released to get it. “Hi,” he says and looks back at his device which starts blinking a bright red.
I figure I’ll break the ice by telling him about my kids. “I am a Mom of two children who both love school and want to be teachers someday when they grow up.” That sounds lame, but it really isn’t to me. My children are one of the most important things to me in my life.
He looks up from his device to look at which floor the elevator is now at, then looks back at the device.
I take a deep breath. “I know you are Bill Gates, and I just want to say that, um… I just want to say that you are wrong about public schools.” There, I said it. He looks up from his device but doesn't say anything. I let it all gush out, “You are misinformed. You are listening to the wrong people. Public schools are not failing. America is not in an education crisis.”
Suddenly, the lights flicker, the elevator makes a strange groaning sound, shudders, and stops. We are both holding on to the elevator handrail with shocked looks on our faces. The elevator is strangely still. Bill pushes the button for his penthouse office, but nothing happens. He pushes it again. Then he frantically pushes other buttons. Every single one of them. Twice. Nothing happens. He pulls on the little red alarm button. (From personal experience when my children were younger and quicker than me, I know that red button is supposed to make a very loud alarm sound). There is only silence as Bill pulls frantically at the red knob. At least the lights are still on. It sure would be creepy to be stuck in here in the dark with him.
Bill looks at me. I shrug my shoulders, what do I know about elevators? After all, I’m just a Mom. Bill looks at his device which is still blinking. He puts it in his pocket and takes out another device that looks like a cell phone. He starts pushing buttons on it, but nothing happens. He says a mild curse word under his breath, and then he says, “The battery is dead on my cell. I knew I should have gone with an iphone.” I’m not sure if he is kidding or not. I say something lame about how much I love my android phone, but wish the batteries lasted longer, too.
We are stuck. In an elevator. Between floors. Just Bill Gates and a little old Mom from Tennessee. Awkward is a good word to describe it.
Maybe he didn’t hear me before the elevator stopped. I’ll try again. “So, I know I’m just a Mom from Tennessee and you’re the richest person in the world, but I want to let you know you’re listening to the wrong people about public education.”
Bill interrupts me and asks how much money I want.
“No, no, no,” I say, “you don’t understand. I don’t want your money. I just want you to hear me.” Bill’s expression clearly shows he doesn’t believe me.
I continue, “I’m a stay-at-home Mom who volunteers in my children’s schools. I see what is going on with this awful emphasis on standardized testing and the inappropriateness of Common Core. I hear from teachers who are frustrated, but unable to speak up. I see how public schools are being given to charter investors to make huge profits from. This is all so wrong. Please hear me when I say you are listening to the wrong people. You’re giving your money to the wrong people.”
Bill takes out the red flashy gadget again. It is still flashing. He pushes some buttons and it projects an elaborate bar graph of bright colors on the wall of the elevator. I’m amazed that such a tiny gadget can do that! He says, “My advisors and fellow billionaires tell me that children are in failing schools, that their schools have low standards, that their teachers have low expectations and are lazy, that the teacher’s unions are corrupt and causing all of this, that America’s public schools caused the global stockmarket crash, and that schools need to be run like businesses to succeed.” He points to the graph illuminated on the wall, but it looks foreign to me. It shows USA compared to other countries with a zig-zag line across it in red. It looks bloody important, but what do I know, I’m just a Mom.
He points at the wall and says, “Look at the data. See those test scores? You can’t argue with data.” No, I can’t. I don’t understand what that chart means or even what test it is showing. But I do know someone who does! I pull out my android smartphone and pull up “The Assessment Landscape” on Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1r9_ZpNbU6A