For one difficult year, I was an assistant professor at the Detroit Institute of Technology. It was a year after I graduated from MSU and started my fledgling accounting practice. I taught all the unglamorous night courses that no one else wanted, such as drugstore accounting. I scoured lesson plans, textbooks, and teachers’ guides and tried as hard as I could to keep the attention of my 40 students each evening. A lot of them were older than I was, worked two or more jobs, or had just come back from fighting in Korea. Public speaking made me nervous back then, and some of my students fell asleep on me. I can’t say I blame them. It was incredibly challenging work that left me with a lifelong respect for teachers.
Now, nearly 60 years later, that early experience has become all the more important because of our philanthropic work in education. One of our family’s greatest priorities is to transform urban school districts by putting in place the leadership, innovations, policies, and institutions that enable students and teachers to succeed.
Given the scale of the problem, working to fix public education is the most unreasonable mission I’ve ever taken on.
I am old enough to remember when America’s K–12 public schools were the best in the world. I am a proud graduate of them, and I credit much of my success to what I learned in Detroit Public Schools and at Michigan ...