Let Them Eat Cake, Bill? My First Letter to Bill Gates


Hi Bill,

This is my first letter to you, but ironically enough, we both know you’ll never read it. However, I hope my words here inspire my other readers to consider advocating for ideas similar to those I will propose here. Perhaps one of them will gain traction in the ranks of the billionaire’s boys club.

Full disclosure, Bill. I am not a billionaire. Not even close. I bet you make in one minute what I earn in a year. So naturally you might be skeptical of my qualifications for advice giving on this matter. Who am I to tell you how to spend your money?

But I can relate. Really. Once I received $500 back on my taxes and I debated: Do I put that in my kid’s college fund? Or…do I buy a pair of Frye boots? Of course, the former seems to reflect the moral high road. But, my kids only nine. College is a long way off. And, I don’t even know if he’ll choose to go to college. You know how that is. Conversely, the boots bring immediate satisfaction. The purchase benefits my family indirectly. You know adage when Mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.  Sure kids, you can have a second dessert, I’m so happy! Hell, maybe I’ll even cut a slice off for my husband tonight, so long as I can keep the boots on.

Sure, how to spend 500$ isn’t a big deal to you. But I know you of all people can relate to the ways one might justify morally ambiguous expenditures, and how tempting it is to rationalize self-serving behaviors as somehow being to “the benefit of others.”

Many, myself included, feel this way about your overt and aggressive intrusion into education policies via your billions of dollars, in the name of providing “benefits to children.” Dude, admit it—it’s your version of Frye boots.

But…I do believe that philanthropic giving. It’s far better to give to others than keeping it all for yourself. Generosity is a good thing. And I can think of many better ways for you to spend your billions that really help children than crafting harmful education policies that are headed for a major train crash for children, teachers, and communities everywhere. Forget Common Core, charter schools, and online learning.

You know what children in economically challenged communities really need? Food security, health services, purposeful community activities, a place to go after school, libraries, and access to other social, emotional and economic resources.

So let’s take the first item as a prime example. What if you were to build a chain of quality grocery stores which would make available healthy and affordable food to families living in what are known as “food deserts”?

An area where the distance to a supermarket is more than ¼ mile, the median household income is at or below 185% of the Federal Poverty Level, over 40% of households have no vehicle available, and the average Healthy Food Availability Index score for supermarkets, convenience and corner stores is low (measured using the Nutrition Environment Measurement Survey).

You claim to show interest in bridging racial gaps in opportunity by forcing all children to take the same tests and digesting the same curriculum … as if these will become the “great equalizers.” Forget that. Think: FOOD SECURITY! One study notes:

African-Americans are the most disadvantaged when it comes to balanced food choices, although other racial groups do suffer as well. African-Americans, on average, travel the farthest distance to any type of grocery store, and their low access communities cluster strikingly. Chicago’s food deserts, for the most part, are exclusively African-American.

In a free market system, a company cannot always sustain itself very well without a large amount of income to keep it going. Many grocery stores fail, or fear opening in lower income communities because they are not “profitable.” Of course, there are a myriad of other reasons gesturing to systemic racism, but for our purposes, let’s stick with the money theme since that’s what you’re best at. With billions of dollars, you don’t need to worry about sustaining profits. And with your billions, you could make sure that the food remains affordable. Think “Whole Foods” …but available to everyone.  Food deserts exist in both urban and rural areas. Here’s a map of food deserts across the United States to get you started.

Children benefit from access to nutritious foods—they perform better in school. It leads to a reduction in health concerns and illness that affect growth and learning. Students perform better in school when they receive adequate nutrition. Really. You don’t need McKinsey and Company to spin you volumes of research to prove this point. Hungry kids suffer. Healthy kids have a greater chance of success. Duh.

Good nutrition promotes not only physical growth and health, but also cognitive development, helping children learn from infancy through adolescence and beyond… A balanced diet helps children perform better academically. A hungry child may have problems paying attention and thinking. This is why breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. A healthy breakfast of whole grains, low-fat protein, low-fat dairy and fruits and vegetables improves children’s concentration, creative thinking, alertness, problem-solving skills and hand-eye coordination. Meals provide brain fuel. A 1996 study by the Hebrew University found that children who ate breakfast at school performed better on standardized tests than children who ate earlier at home, or did not eat breakfast at all. (Live Strong)

Even better, in all of your grocery stores you could hire local people from the community, helping to reduce unemployment in those neighborhoods and growing their economy, and even set up apprenticeship programs for young adults. You could contract with local food growers and further help the local small business owners or farmers.

Please do not confuse my proposition here with your insane efforts to control the international food industry through technology. You’re messing everybody up with that shit with Monsanto.

I mean simply, a grocery store that provides healthy real food options to families, provided from local or sustainable growers, whenever possible.

Imagine the immediate and tangible benefits these grocery stores might yield for children and whole communities. The average business person might find the proposition financially risky. But you…YOU Bill, don’t need to worry about that. Imagine opening healthy food options all over the country to communities whose food choices for a 2 mile radius might often be limited to corner markets, fast food chains and liquor stores. And it would grow the local economy through employment and school children would be given the fundamental physiological tools for growth, development, and learning.

Why not Bill? Isn’t this better than funneling billions to other non-profits, corporations, charter schools, and lobbying efforts to wield a mighty “behind the scenes” hand, completely re-crafting the education of all of us all in your likeness?  Does that really serve OUR interests?

Or does it serve yours? Isn’t public education really little more your version of Frye boots? Is Common Core your educational version of Monsanto? Who really are you helping?

I double-dog-dare you— open some grocery stores instead of opening more charter schools. Help families feed their children healthy foods instead asking us to force feed them a dubious curriculum in school.

Call my bluff, Bill. Show me I am wrong. Open a chain of grocery stores. Please?

Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

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