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.


Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

5 thoughts on “We Need to Talk About Our Philanthropy Problem.”

  1. Agreeing with Charlotte– the link defining “p-hacked” gives a shrewd look at how data for *scientific journals* is manipulated. The data for “evidence”-based policy collected by agenda-driven govt agencies would no doubt be several orders of magnitude less reliable. Heck we see it daily in ed-accountability data driving low grades threatening closing of schools & firing of teachers: the ‘normalbaum” of school admin driven by test score data based on crummy tests aligned to crummy stds… already leading us to “schulsterben”!


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