Monday, October 29, 2012

The New Face of Philanthropy

This weeks reading addressed the rising trend of how philanthropy is dictating the future of American education, particularly the future of public schools. Our class witnessed how this type of philanthropy can manifest itself in the structuring of education by highlighting the importance of test scores as a way to produce citizens that will be productive in the market system. One of the the things that came up in these readings in the decline helping foster a true democracy. According to Kovacs, "In a democratic school system, parents, students, teachers, academics and business leaders would participate in curricular decisions" (Kovacs, pg. 1). The privatization of public schools, under the guise of philanthropy has stripped the public of their voice in matters relating to education. This is dangerous and troubling because we all still believe that school choice is perpetuating freedom. Shouldn't people be able to have access to good education?

It seems that this push is supposed to change how Americans are socialized. A Nation at Risk set the tone of American failure in the global system, which have steadily saturated the school system to fill the void and to have America be "on top" again. This is where democracy crumbles and corporations step in facilitate what children can and should be learning (Saltman, 57). As we saw in the Harlem Children's Zone, the school is heavy on rewarding students for having high test scores and this is seen as a positive step in the education of at risk students. These test scores are a way for they system to fortify those who they think will "make it" and those who are not fit to participate in the American workforce.

Overall, I think that America has internalized that public means socialism and heavy control from the government. Private is looked at as grassroots and an institution that is built to specifically cater to the needs of individuals. These readings have solidified that the public has been demonized, even though this system was created to create democratic citizens who are active in trying to fix problems that arise within the system. The private sphere has been glorified, but in reality it puts control in the hands of few who may have good intentions, but are governed by the market system. Do we really want to do away with dynamic and creative thinkers?

Philanthropy is a great thing. In the case of education, however, it is restricting the methods employed to improve our already broken system. NCLB and RTT cater to the needs of corporations and allows them to donate millions of dollars, which then takes funding out of the hands of the state, which allows them to make the rules on what education should look like. Another issue is that philanthropy is never scrutinized the way that these articles break down how theses foundations are gaining a lot of control; how can giving away money to needy schools be bad? Overall, the problem here is that the students who need the most help are the ones being used in this large experiment to make the market regulate every aspect of our lives. Can America afford to keep this trend in education going?


  1. I found the Kovacs and Christie article very compelling, as it pointed out the complications and sneakiness of philanthropy and education policy. As Addy pointed out, donations to 'fixing' education seems to be an unquestionable good, yet the digging done by Kovacs and Christie reveals otherwise. Yet, I think what I found to be the most compelling thing in the article was the way it addressed action in the conclusion. Very few scholars have bothered to offer a call to action, and even fewer have offered practical steps. Kovacs and Christie, however, point out that "relationships must be cultivated with pro-democracy reformers in areas such as economics and urban planning, as these individuals can help us reach wider and larger audiences using language that may be unfamiliar to scholars who spend most of their time in the world of education policy" (p. 13). This simple recommendation does several things. For one, it rings of democratic spirit, affirming the idea that scholars of various fields are stronger together as we work towards a common goal. It also recognizes the fact that more people must become aware of the issues before anything can be done, thus incorporating the masses (the "wider and larger audiences") into their plans for change. I felt that in doing this, Kovacs and Christie were strengthening their argument. We see that not only is democracy (in education and in a broader sense) necessary, but it's also possible. Not only can we theorize about it, but we can also take practical steps towards it.

  2. Addy mentioned some interesting points in her post, and I really connected to the rhetorical question “how can giving away money to needy schools be bad?” It’s true; wealthy elites like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have said that they favor higher tax rates for the rich to insure that mega-wealthy people like them are reinvigorating the society in which they live. In their eyes, what good does their accumulation of capital do if the infrastructure around them is in shambles? If our education system isn’t providing students (and the economy) with the appropriate skills, then everyone (including the rich) stand to lose. One can argue whether this is a collective or self-interested concern.
    The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is headquartered out of Seattle, WA, where I grew up so this foundation was always very salient in the news I read. Especially, having gone to public schools from K-12, Gates’ Foundation funding was always a really hot topic and governed a lot of decisions made in my schools, although at the time I was largely unaware of the larger repercussions of this interaction between private funding and public institution. This editorial I found (from 2005) gives a seemingly ubiquitous point of view about the incredible value of Gate’s Foundation funding in the eyes of many. It is in response to a decision made by the foundation to redirect funding away from Seattle Public Schools, allegedly because of unstable, ineffective leadership and unclear academic direction. Some of the writer’s rhetoric echoes the (sometimes desperate) relationship between venture-philanthropists and public school boards.
    The article opens with a particularly telling line: “The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation carries enough credibility on education issues to make its stinging rebuke of the Seattle Public Schools resonate.” Yes, the foundation “carries” credibility, but if these decision-makers are only given the responsibility of placing value because of their multi-million dollar handouts, we lose the real value of actually having experience with education when forming policy.
    “When casting about for blame, the School Board ought to look in the mirror,” the writer asserts. “The board has adopted a chilly tone toward philanthropy” as if this was a completely brainless misstep. Perhaps Seattle Pubic Schools actually had it right.
    “Gates and schools: lessons for Seattle”