I met a Los Angeles named Geronimo at the Network for Public Education meeting in Austin. Of course, that is a pseudonym. Geronimo, who often comments here, met Joanne Barkan, who wrote a post about philanthropy here.
Here are Geronimo’s reflections:
One of the great pleasures of my NPE experience in Austin was getting to talk to Joanne Barkan at length.
In Los Angeles, we have felt the full brunt of “philanthropy”. It has been used as the cudgel to infiltrate the entire operating status of LAUSD by dictating the terms of the pedagogy our kids receive and the orders we teachers are expected to follow. The fact that Gates and Broad have placed not only “their man” John Deasy in the top position, but they have funded other positions in District Headquarters.
Worse, we have no idea how much money they give to Deasy personally nor others in Deasy because they are “private” donations.
It is easy to call yourself a “philanthropist” but often times, philanthropy is politically motivated. I guess this can be good or bad depending on whose side of the “giving” you are on and if this sort of barter is good for your cause.
In an article in THE LA TIMES by Howard Blume on September 15, 2011
(http://articles.latimes.com/2011/sep/15/local/la-me-schools-fund-20110915), we read about how the drive to “philanthropize” LAUSD became public:
“Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy and Hollywood philanthropist Megan Chernin have launched an effort to raise $200 million over five years to benefit local public schools.
“The collaboration, in the works for several months, was announced in a letter signed by Deasy, Chernin and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
“The letter strikingly lists failures of the Los Angeles Unified School District but also asserts that “for the first time in the District’s history, the conditions for bold change are present…. The time is now to harness this potential and it is our responsibility to do so.
“Besides Chernin, the nascent board of the Los Angeles Fund for Public Education includes education philanthropist Casey Wasserman — who has given directly to L.A. Unified in the past — as well as former educator and artist Nancy Marks and Jamie Alter Lynton, a former journalist who is married to the chief executive of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
“‘Donations could support districtwide initiatives, such as a new training program for principals, among other things. They could also bring to the district effective approaches used at charter schools,’ said spokeswoman Amanda Crumley.
And here is the unquestioned-Philanthropic-philosophy-in-a-nutshell kicker of the LA TIMES article:
“One selling point for participants is that the elected L A. Board of Education would have no direct control over the money.
“‘As you know, the innovation Los Angeles’ students need cannot start within a rule-bound bureaucracy,’” the letter states.
“Key education donors have refused to give much, if anything, to L.A. Unified because they question how well the nation’s second-largest school system would use the money.
HOW WOULD THEY USE THE MONEY? At least the decisions would have been democratic and transparent.
HOW HAS DEASY USED THE MONEY? I’ll let history judge.
During the Great Recession, LA. Unified, like other urban districts, had been hard hit by state funding shortfalls, resulting in thousands of layoffs, larger class sizes and a shorter school year. It was the perfect opportunity for “philanthropists” to come in and work their magic under the pretext of providing schools with much needed assistance.
The unions were at their weakest point (and currently, in LA, the union is on life-support).
Deasy, who became superintendent in April, 2011, has made pursuing outside philanthropic financial support a high priority. But this financial support brought political support with all the quid pro quos that have made LAUSD more of a corporation than a democracy. The Big Money is steep inside LASUD and has definite favorites as to who gets to define what “good education” is. Just look at all the money that now gets poured into the School Board races and who “philanthropy” backs. Look at how philanthropists treat teacher unions and the quality-of-life issues they raise.
If this was the NRA who had this sort of inside influence to organizations, people would be outraged. These Philanthropists and our Superintendent uses kids as human shields. They say they will withdraw their money if their policies are not implemented. This sort of hostage taking is obscene and Deasy stays in power because of this implicit threat.
Philanthropy where these multi-billion dollar decisions truly affect the profits of the ones giving the “donations” taints the whole process. Gates and Broad put their money and their “charity” to the very areas that they profit from.
Education is political BECAUSE it is Big Business. To ignore that reality is to be willfully ignorant.
And the Philanthropists have tried very hard to turn Education into Big Business behind the scenes while maintaining their pretense of Switzerland-like neutrality in their public persona claiming to the public: “We just want to help education be better.”
Kind-hearted souls indeed as they write their pro-Reform Op-eds in The Wall Street Journal.
Meanwhile, on the micro-scale of my individual classroom, my kids have to hoe a vastly different path that the Reforms now prescribe their net worth. The billionaires say this is what you get.
Kids. Your education is NOT a Democracy.
If you don’t like it, your solution is very simple. You can always leave the public system to where Gates, Broad, Alter-Lynton, Duncan or Obama send their kids to school.
And finally you will get the education these philanthropists truly believe in.
Thanks again, Joanne for your insight and commentary and commitment to the cause. You continue to be inspiring.