By Molly Belt
In a few weeks I’m having surgery. I trust my surgeon to be up-to-date on the latest information regarding my condition and the treatment thereof. I trust her to know how to perform the procedure. I have faith that she’s basing her diagnosis and treatment on best practices coming out of the medical field.
If I were to find out that my doctor was basing her medical decisions regarding my care on the opinions of those who run a foundation and donate millions, or even billions, of dollars to the medical profession with the proviso that care be provided in line with what the wealthy “philanthropists” think is “effective” (despite having no medical background themselves) I would no longer have faith in my doctor.
I don’t want someone with no medical training telling my doctors how to treat me. I don’t want someone with no aviation experience telling pilots how to fly a plane. If my house is on fire, I want the firefighters to put it out based on their expertise in how best to deal with fires, not the opinion of a foundation populated by people who probably couldn’t light a campfire.
Education “reform” strikes me as much the same. In fact, I don’t even like calling it “reform”. It’s more of a hostile take-over. Currently, there are some very wealthy individuals, and the foundations they sponsor, who would like to control the decisions on how education is provided in this country. Giving them the benefit of the doubt that their motives are good, (and not profit-driven) I still wonder why they are being given a place at the table, much less such a prominent one. “ ‘Most of the complaints about the foundations are coming from teachers unions or education professors who happen, in this case, to disagree with their preferred strategies,’ says Frederick Hess, education policy director at the American Enterprise Institute.” (Billionaires in the Classrooms, by Alan Greenblatt). Exactly. When the professionals, the experts, are saying that these “reforms” are not positive for education or will not be effective, why do we demonize them instead of listening to them?
Would we demonize doctors for saying they know better about patient care than someone with no medical experience? (Well, if we were insurance companies we would, but that’s another article). Would we demonize pilots for saying they know how to fly planes, so those without experience in aviation should stay out of it? Would we demonize firefighters for wanting to fight fires based on their professional standards and expecting others to respect that knowledge? Why is it acceptable to say that educators don’t know how to educate kids, but Bill Gates does because he’s got money?
And why, for Pete’s sake, are we calling it philanthropy when there are strings attached? Webster’s defines philanthropy as: “1: goodwill to fellow members of the human race; especially: active effort to promote human welfare; 2: a: an act or gift done or made for humanitarian purposes b: an organization distributing or supported by funds set aside for humanitarian purposes.”
It’s one thing to give money that is earmarked for a certain use. If I were wealthy I might give my alma mater, Northwestern, money for a scholarship earmarked for a theatre student. That’s philanthropy. If I were to tell them I would only donate if they change how they educate theatre students at Northwestern, that is a control issue, and I should seek therapy. Although at least I can say I know a lot about theatre. The people who want to tell educators how to educate do not have education backgrounds. They have business backgrounds. They would probably not make it a full week teaching in a school, and maybe they should have to do at least that before being allowed to influence education policy.