We Need to Talk About Our Philanthropy Problem.

This week, the announcement of a massive collaborative between the world’s largest foundations and their philanthropic underlings underscored a disturbing and growing trend among America’s billionaire elite: the use of unprecedented levels of wealth to remake social policy.

If you’re one of those kindhearted Americans who still believes that the nation’s richest families are simply giving away their wealth to little people like us because they care, allow me to do this:


Private foundations have long been used as tax-havens for the elite, but “philanthropy” has lately been retooled to serve a new function: the seeding of a new “social capital” market that has the potential to reap these self-proclaimed lovers-of-humanity billions of dollars in profit.

This new market, still in the works but advancing at lightning speed, relies on the complete undoing of the public sphere.

That whole Bill-Gates-Common-Core thing? Sure, he wanted everyone to have to buy his Microsoft products… but not as much as he wanted to build a data-tagging system that he and his cronies could use to “measure” and then profit off the “impact” of their investments. 

Data is king in the new social capital markets, which is why it’s no coincidence that Congress is currently ramming through several bills expanding the role of the Feds to collect and aggregate data on pretty much everything, starting from when you’re a neonate.

And maybe even more creepily, when it comes to “evidence-based policy”, it turns out that “evidence” doesn’t actually mean science or truth or even what’s remotely good for us.

Evidence means data, which can be p-hack’ed (massaged, if you will) anyway investors like.

And so we have folks like Tripp Jones of Massachusetts calling for an expansion of “evidence-based policy” while children die at alarming rates in his former for-profit foster care program; folks like Bill Gates relentlessly terrorizing the public school system in pursuit of an investment-friendly sector; and the folks who managed to balloon the national student debt to astronomical levels advancing new credentialing systems and grading systems…

…all under the guise of philanthropy.

Recently, education historian Diane Ravitch called for congressional investigation of Bill Gates and his out-sized and undemocratic role in the takeover of public education.

But I think we need to take this one giant step further.

Gates is one giant, gnarly tree in an dark, overgrown forest of private “givers” who are dead-set on remaking our nation into something reminiscent of a feudalistic society.

I say it’s time to investigate the whole rotten system that’s allowing this to happen.

Seriously, folks.  This just can’t be okay.


A Plea to Future Teachers

Every now and then, a high school or college student will ask for advice about entering the teaching profession.

I typically give the standard two-cents:

Stay away from Teach for America.  Find a grade level you love.  Be prepared for the first year or two to grind you down to the bone, but stick with it.

Recently, however, there’s something else I’ve realized I should add:

Study economics, finance, and marketing.

These subjects may not interest you now, but these are the forces that will dictate so much of what you are expected to do in your classroom.

No one ever gave me this advice, and I so wish they had.

For a long time, I thought that the endless, ever-changing demands placed on teachers came from education experts. I believed, truly, that the teachers that came before me were mostly backwards dinosaurs using antiquated, oppressive teaching techniques; that public schools had become rotten, outdated places in need of dedicated young people like me to shake things up; and that standards and testing and technology and data were about nothing more lifting kids up and out of poverty and into the limitless possibility of a college-educated future.

It has taken one long punch-in-the-gut, slap-in-the-face dose of reality to discover just how duped I was, and hours upon hours of research to learn what’s actually driving the changes happening to public education.

There is a terrible disconnect right now between those in the classroom – those who have committed their time, energy and livelihoods to the well-being of young people – with the powerful financial and technological forces that are rapidly reshaping our schools.

Now – maybe more than ever?- we desperately need more bright minds who are able to bridge the divide between these two worlds –  thinkers and fighters who, in the game of tug-of-war between power and money on the one hand and innocent little lives on the other, will stand on the side of children.

So, while you study Piaget and Vgotsky and all the rest, please – learn more than I ever did about how money and markets and power work.

Find out who’s really in charge, and then, rather than join them (even though the money will be much, much better) help us fight them.

We need you.