Bill Gates, Jr. & Sr. on U.S. Education System

Bill Gates, Jr. (Courtesy of the World Economic Forum)

For as prosperous and sophisticated a nation as America is, why aren’t our public schools better? That’s one of the many questions that father and son, Bill Gates, Sr. and Jr., pondered this week in a chat at the 92nd Street Y in New York City.

The first half of the conversation consisted of Bill Gates, Jr. asking questions of his father, who recently authored a book entitled Showing Up for Life: Thoughts on the Gifts of a Lifetime. Every audience member received a free copy of the book at evening’s end.

The second half of the conversation consisted of audience questions submitted in writing, which father and son asked each other in turn. I wrote down the following question and duly passed it along to an usher, without much hope it’d make the cut: “What do you think of Malcolm Gladwell’s theory that the years 1953-1955 were the perfect time to be born for the computer revolution?”

Happily, my question was the very first one asked. (In recent weeks, I’ve been thinking and writing a bit about Gladwell’s third book, Outliers: The Story of Success, which is why this question occured to me.) Junior responded that historical circumstance and chance definitely play a part in success — being in the right place at the right time matters — but he also pointed out, much to the audience’s delight, that he wasn’t the only person born in 1955! So, founding Microsoft and reigning as the world’s richest person for 10+ years required more than simply being born in the “right” year.

Gates also said that open-mindedness was key to his ability to foresee the money-making potential of software. Such open-mindedness, he suggested, was a function of his relative youth.

Both father and son had some interesting thoughts on the U.S. education system, and I encourage you to watch the entire video of their chat once it becomes available here on the 92nd Street website. The video should be online later this week.

Justin Snider

POSTED BY ON June 6, 2010