10/05/2009 at 01:00 AM EDT
In the past five years Bill and Melinda Gates have spent $4 billion to fix the U.S. education system—and plan to spend another several billion. On Sept. 8 they sat down with PEOPLE senior editor Nancy Jeffrey in L.A. to talk about preparing all kids for college, raising the bar for teachers and how they're bringing up their own children, Jennifer, 13, Rory, 10, and Phoebe, 7.
Small talk at the Gates dinner table
BILL: Everybody gets to talk about what they're thankful for.
MELINDA: We'll bring a discussion topic or they will. Something in the news or a book, such as Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, which just got redone. And we talk about the foundation's work: They have a pretty good understanding of diseases, from HIV/AIDS to malaria and polio.
Date nights—but don't call it that
BILL: Hardly a week goes by that we don't take at least one night that it's just the two of us going to dinner. We go to a lot of movies [Slumdog Millionaire, The Reader].
What about all that money?
BILL: [The kids] understand most of the wealth is not coming to them. Our youngest has not prepared her arguments against it as fully as she might over time [laughs]. We want our kids to grow up in a normal way.
Spending billions on schools
MELINDA: A great education sets a kid on a really fantastic [path]. But the public school system serves only about one-third of kids really well. We know how much we both benefited from an incredible education. That's something every kid ought to have.
Bill—soon, on Twitter!
BILL: A few years ago I had like 20,000 [friend requests] on Facebook, so I gave it up. But I'm going to reappear. I want to share some of my trips and experiences. And I have a new way to do that using Twitter and Facebook.