Dear Mr. and Mrs. Gates:
I have to admit Iím a bit nervous about writing a letter to you. After all, you are the owners of a multi-million dollar company and everywhere you go, people recognize you. But you and I share a common passion: Education. I certainly am not alone in admiring you for your unrelenting determination to see the level of education in our country rise dramatically and to see more of our students graduate and go to college or the workforce, prepared. Many of my fellow educators and I are equally determined.
Isnít it crazy that while many of us are wondering where our federal government is going to get $830 million to send to Texas so we donít lose more teachers, we are also crossing our fingers in hopes that they will indeed accept our application and make those monies available? Who would have believed we would get to this point?
Over the past few years, I have read about various educational initiatives funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I loved when I first read about your efforts to put more computers in public libraries in cities with a high number of economically disadvantaged citizens. So many times Iíve wished I could afford to give a new computer to every student in the school where I teach because I know it must be so difficult not to have access to the Internet and to word processing programs at home.
I also think itís beyond commendable that you have come to the Rio Grande Valley to personally see programs your foundation has funded. We have politicians who are making critical decisions for our region of the country who have never been here or who have come only on a campaign stop. Itís great that you take the time to meet the students in the schools where Gates Foundation monies are being utilized.
I have to admit I havenít always agreed with the programs you have funded, but thatís OK, right? We can sincerely respect individuals and not always agree with them. I know you have been deeply involved in the process of re-designing high schools in our country. Clearly, there are pressing concerns in our high schools that must be addressed, such as the ever-rising number of drop-outs, the number of students who graduate from high school and must enroll in remedial classes because they are unable to pass tests that high school graduates should pass with ease, and discipline issues in many classrooms that prevent students who want to learn from being able to. Nevertheless, I canít accept that the traditional high school experience for all students should be turned upside down in order to address our pressing concerns.
If I may be so bold, I would love to suggest two re-design ideas I would love your foundation to consider. The first is one I hear students say on a regular basis: I wish our classes could have no more than 15 students. Students love the personal relationships they are able to develop in smaller classes and the individualized attention they can get from their teachers. I canít help but think that a school would not have to be completely re-structured if teachers taught 90 students per day rather than 180. And letís find the schools in our country with the most demanding K-12 curricula and make it available to students in all regions so people will stop saying disadvantaged students arenít capable of achieving quite as much as their more affluent peers. We both know thatís completely inaccurate, but we also know the earlier we begin, the better. Itís about the opportunities, isnít it?
Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Gates, for taking the time to read this letter and especially for your undying passion for education.
Chris Ardis is in her 27th year of teaching, 26 of those with McAllen ISD. Visit her web site at www.chrisardis.com for education news and much more.