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The Foundation Conundrum: Do We Accept Donations That Help Public Schools or Not?

September 21, 2017

Earlier this week I wrote a post in response to an article written by Lisa Haver in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The post discussed the possibility that some donations from some billionaires might be worthy of consideration despite the fact that they were offered by “unqualified” individuals. The following is a comment I left on Diane Ravitch’s blog in response to her reaction to the same article:

Until we get a change in thinking in our country about the role of government, we are going to be stuck with plutocrats determining where investments should be made in the public good. As this Slate article from 2006 notes (see link below), we’ve been through this before at the turn of the 20th Century… and the result was the construction of libraries in many small towns across America, the donation of lands for several national parks, and the creation of foundations whose funding sources were the result of exploitative practices by plutocrats who short-changed their employees and the government because they believed they had a clearer understanding of the needs of the country. 

I am no fan of the plutocrats… but I am open to the idea that in some cases their intentions are pure (i.e. see the billions Mr. Gates spent to eliminate polio) and am open to the notion that some of their ideas might have merit (i.e. advances in technology, algorithms and brain science that are being exploited by market researchers could be applied to education).

Here’s a conundrum: If billionaires like Ms. Chan and Ms. Jobs are offering additional resources to public education should we reject the money under all circumstances? I don’t have a clear answer… yet… but I do appreciate the libraries Mr. Carnegie provided and the National Parks the Rockefellers gave to our country.

A footnote: to the best of my knowledge no one in the international medical community complained that Bill Gates had no training in medicine and therefore had no business tackling polio… And while it might be possible that his investment portfolio included some stocks in medicine that enriched him, I don’t believe he was driven by the profit motive.

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