Op-Ed by Alan MacLeod
Taking time off from mismanaging a pandemic and turning lifesaving masks sent from all over the country into an art installation, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared yesterday that he would use the deadly COVID-19 virus as an opportunity to “revolutionize” the state’s school system, inviting Microsoft founder Bill Gates to implement his controversial ideas about education statewide. Cuomo did not divulge many details of what his imagined education revolution would look like but did mention virtual education and remote learning. However, Gates is best known for one thing in education: charter schools.
“Bill Gates is a visionary in many ways and his ideas and thoughts on technology and education he’s spoken about for years but I now think we have a moment in history where we can incorporate and advance those ideas,” Cuomo said. “When does change come to a society?…[when] we get moments in history” he added, “I think this is one of those moments.”
One of only two centibillionaires in history, Gates is the world’s most popular businessman according to polling company YouGov, enjoying a 54 percent positive and only nine percent negative opinion rating. Nevertheless, Cuomo’s announcement was met with consternation by many. “Right-wing Wall Street puppet Cuomo is going to work with billionaire capitalist Bill Gates, one of the richest human beings in history, to privatize public education. “Philanthropy” is a scam. The Gates Foundation’s goal is to privatize everything so billionaires can profit,” wrote journalist Ben Norton.
Gates is one of the most important driving forces leading the assault on the American public education system through the promotion of charter schools. Charter schools effectively privatize the public school system, where the public continues to foot the bill for the school, but has no influence or say in how it is run. While very popular with both the private sector and the religious right, the large majority of unionized public school teachers oppose them.
Thus, Cuomo’s attempt to push through what he promises to be a massive overhaul of the state’s entire education network is a perfect example of what writer Naomi Klein called “disaster capitalism.” In her seminal book,