I guess people actually read this thing after all...who knew? A few weeks back, I wrote a post about philanthropy and the role that billionaires with a checkbook were playing in the debate over the future of Philadelphia public schools. I'd love to take credit for the whole concept, but truthfully I was just putting some local spin on a remarkable New York Times op-ed by the philanthropist, filmmaker and billionaire's son Peter Buffett. Well, the piece caused a big stir, perhaps because of the notion that I was "criticizing charity," which -- when you say it that way -- sounds a bit like "criticizing puppies." (The reaction was like this.)
To be crystal clear, I wasn't "criticizing charities" (or puppies!); to the contrary, I urge everyone reading to this to be as generous with their time and money, to help those who are less fortunate, as is humanly possible. But, yes, I was criticizing something: A system rigged to create a few billionaires who have more money than they can spend and so when they're not taking over international yachting they give back through philanthropies. A system that then imposes their often narrow vision on entities like public education in Philadelphia that should be run democratically and for the good of all people -- solutions that do things like close neighborhood schools in neighborhoods 3,000 miles where the philamthropist lives.
And I'm pleased to report that some folks get it. I'd like you to meet the folks of Resource Generation, young people who grew up wealthy and want to give something back. They published a letter this week that agrees with the premise of my post: That fixing the problems of public education requires publicly funded, democratic solutions. Here's an excerpt:
What our city needs from wealthy people now is for us to advocate for and participate in structural change that will ultimately improve the resourcing of our schools. Require us to opt in to the public sphere, not choose to pay to set our lives apart: