Bill Gates, John Legend, and Sir Ken Robinson are among some of the bigger names joining TED next week to discuss education and the dropout crisis in the nonprofit conference series’ first ever televised special, which will air May 7 on PBS. The event—which brought together teachers, learning experts, education researchers and more—was recorded before 800 educators at the Brooklyn Academy of Music earlier this month; here’s a preview of what was on the agenda.
John Legend, the nine-time Grammy Award winner who calls himself a cheerleader for liberal arts education, hosted the proceedings. Legend has worked closely with educators and sits on the boards of Teach for America, Stand for Children, and the Harlem Village Academies.
The presenters were a mix of educators and social activists.
Rita Pierson, a teacher from Houston, TX, kicked-off the event by reminding attendees that education reform should be about human connections and relationships. “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like,” she said.
Microsoft founder and “impassionate optimist” Bill Gates addressed the fact that the USA is globally in fifteenth place in educational achievement. He stressed that teacher evaluation offers “little useful feedback” and said he feels “our teachers deserve better.” He also noted that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation believes that “everyone needs a coach” and is investing in meaningful evaluation methods.
Gates’ talk didn’t set well with some members of the audience. “Bill Gates is not an educator and does not represent (or fund) directions in education that are in the best interest of teachers,” Bob Drake, a chemistry teacher and a member of the Educational Services Advisory Committee for New York City’s public television station WNET, told School Library Journal.
Nevertheless, the focus of Gates’ comments was on trend for the event. “Testing shouldn’t be the dominate culture of education,” concurred Sir Ken Robinson, an inspirational speaker on creativity whose 2006 TED Talk is the most popular in TED history. In his presentation, he faulted No Child Left Behind for promoting “conformity” and “low grade clerical work,” which he said creates an educational culture that de-professionalizes teachers. “Command and control is what’s wrong with education,” he added, noting that, rather than “a climate of control,” we should be fostering a “climate of possibility.”
For Amanda Akdemir of the Mt. Pleasant-Blythedale Union Free School in Westchester, NY, the event was “both inspiring and motivational.” She told SLJ, “Every teacher [should] watch the talk and be reminded of the power we hold in our careers to transform the future of this country.”
TED is a nonprofit created in 1984 devoted to “Ideas worth spreading.” Initially it brought together people from the technology, entertainment, and design fields, but has since broadened its scope.