February 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

‘TED Talks Education’ to Air May 7 on PBS

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.

Host John Legend at the taping of TED Talks Education. Photo by Joe Sinnott, courtesy of WNET.

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.

Bill Gates at the taping of TED Talks Education. Photo courtesy of TED/Ryan Lash.

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.”

Sir Ken Robinson at the taping of TED Talks Education. Photo courtesy of TED/Ryan Lash.

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.

Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.



  1. Having Bill Gates talk about education is like having Ted Bundy talk about women’s rights, the prognosticators only revealing the core of their evil. Education for Bill Gates is like his company, not meant to empower creative individuals but to build monoliths of bureaucratic automatons.

    Curiously, the evidence to both of these malicious individuals arises from the same educational institution, the University of Washington, most notably its School of Law – where the politico Bundy was given free reign and the local lobbyist/bond underwriter firm of Gates Sr made, tellingly, one of its first pre-Foundation forays into ‘public relations’. That’s a subject I’ve written on, a story also picked up by the more mainstream Rick Anderson, in the Seattle Weekly.


    In general the Microsoft Corporation has engaged in employment practices that make second class citizens of many, many individuals – illegal corporate immigrants, if you will. This can be seen from the beginning in the 1990’s class action ‘perma-temp’ lawsuits against both Microsoft and the local County Government.



    Most recently, Chief Counsel Brad Smith – emerging as the visible civic leader for the Corporation on a number of topics – has generated press in his support for the single employer H1-B visa program – while, curiously doing so very little to actually support the training of IT engineers at local educational institutions.

    The fact is the company was not built by smart people, it was build by Lawyers stealing smart people away from other companies – just like they now want to steal away America from its owners for the benefit of their Enterprise level corporate ‘clients’.

    The details, and FAILINGS of this ‘legal’ management style can be seen in a number of ways – here’s one I’ve written up based on the comments of one Jack Abramoff – himself known for a bit of untoward influence on higher education: