This morning my former colleague Mike Petrilli at the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute wrote a paean of praise in honor of billionaire Eli Broad. He began it by saying:
It wouldn’t be super-hard to poke fun at Eli Broad. (Diane Ravitch did a mean-spirited version of that when she called him and his peers “The Billionaire Boys Club.”) Here’s a man who made his fortune building tract housing in the ‘burbs, who micromanages grants down to the penny, a man who names more than a few things after himself (the Broad Prize, the Broad Fellows, and his latest museum project, simply The Broad). He’s the 1 percent of the 1 percent of the 1 percent, and not ashamed of it, either.
I was surprised to hear Mike say that it was “mean-spirited” of me to refer to him and Bill Gates and the Walton Family Foundation as members of “the Billionaire Boys’ Club.” They are billionaires and they are guys. So I wrote Mike and asked him if I had said anything that was inaccurate, and he said, no, nothing inaccurate, just mean-spirited.
I admit I didn’t realize that people as powerful as Eli Broad (“the 1 percent of the 1 percent of the 1 percent”) were so sensitive to criticism. If I offended him, I am truly sorry. I don’t aim to offend.
But I hope that he will give some thought to how his actions affect the lives of other people, people he will never meet. Certainly he is not sensitive to the pain that he causes parents and communities when he sends out graduates of his Broad Superintendents’ Academy to close down their neighborhood schools. No matter how much they cry, he doesn’t hear them.
And he doesn’t give a hoot when parents and educators complain that the people he trains have an unpleasant habit of taking control of the state or district political machinery and short-circuiting democratic control of public education. For a chilling reminder of the Broad methods, read this account of a letter
from a former employee of the New Jersey Department of Education.
I wouldn’t want Eli Broad to think I was mean-spirited in describing him and his foundation. I didn’t intend to be mean at his expense. In turn, I wish he would be sensitive to the feelings of parents and educators who love their local public school and don’t want anyone to turn it into a charter run by outsiders. I know it is hard for extremely wealthy people (“the 1 percent of the 1 percent of the 1 percent”) to put themselves in the shoes of the “little people,” the people who are pulling down $40,000 or $50,000 or even $70,000 a year. It’s hard for a triple 1-percenter to imagine why such people care so much about their school or their job or their career or having a decent pension for their old age. But, Mr. Broad, if you should read this, please remember: They have feelings too.