Are You Laughing or Crying?

Market Forces Joke

I’m a big fan of comedians who can put me in stitches while remaining apparently oblivious to their own jokes. I don’t need tickets to a comedy club to have my funny bone tickled, though. All I have to do is listen to what Bill Gates and other assorted dilettantes have to say about public education.

Gates broke out of the education comedy pack with his gig at the National Conference of State Legislatures in 2009, where he said that a common set of standards in education would “…unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching.” His frank and edgy humor surprised people who didn’t understand that what he says to get laughs out of an audience he himself takes perfectly seriously.

Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.” This is Bill at his most sophisticated; after all, he knows full well that teachers are his tools. Technology is the means by which they will be pushed aside, so that students—instead of working together—will work separately, each facing their own glowing screen. Just another example of Bill’s subtle humor.

“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” This quip always makes me chuckle. Bill’s a magnificently successful businessman who just can’t imagine that educators might not share his views, and that’s why I enjoy watching him set himself up for a fall. I’d love to have a handful of bananas to toss in his path. Better yet, I think I’ll sell bananas to educators outside the Gates Foundation headquarters here in Seattle. I’ll be as rich as Mr. Gates in no time.

If you think that Bill kills with his one-liners, you ought to listen to the slick yarns the Koch Bros. like to promote.

Koch Industries leads with the statement, “…all forms of energy—whether oil, gas, wind, solar or biofuels—should be allowed to succeed or fail on their own in the free market, without the assistance (or hindrance) of government subsidies or mandates.” The punch line? The Kochs buy and sell about a tenth of all ethanol produced in the US, picking up plenty of cash from government subsidies. What a hoot!

And how about this “well-Koched” nugget: “We always strive to act with integrity, even if it’s politically unpopular.” Hey, maybe that’s why they spend so much on political campaigns! By winning, they can act without integrity and blame voters for the popularity of their ideas…Kinda makes me think that the boys have confused integrity with consistency, because their unethical actions certainly have established a pattern. Maybe they share a learning disorder and need 504 plans?

Their ideas for higher education are even funnier. The Kochs, paragons of virtue that they claim to be, recently handed Florida State 1.5 million dollars, asking that the university establish a course called “Market Ethics: The Vices, Virtues, and Values of Capitalism.” Suggested textbooks? (Wait, wait…) The books of Ayn Rand! (Cue groans from audience.)

The Kochs are equal-opportunity jokesters, and have no compunction about playing pranks on religious as well as secular educators. For instance, the funny fellas dangled a cool million in front of the staff at Catholic University of America in DC, with the requirement that the institution teach “principled entrepreneurship.” When the faculty identified the consistent principles of the Kochs as greed and duplicity, they demanded that the money be rejected. The Kochs seem to have had the last laugh, however. University officials pointed out that parochial colleges have been accepting Koch Koin for some time, and they saw no reason to demonstrate fidelity to ridiculous ideals like truth or social conscience at this late date. I got a pretty good laugh out of the idea that people might expect otherwise.

You know, you can choose to cry about the damage done to society by these purveyors of falsehood, but their claims deserve belly laughs, and that’s no joke.

Let’s just make sure we have the last laugh.


© David Sudmeier, 2014

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