The season of giving is upon us. In the month of December, most Americans find themselves ignited with a civic spirit and generously give of their time, their talent, and their treasure. At my little school in Red Hook, Brooklyn we aim to make giving a value that is present throughout the year. Our school, and hundreds of schools across New York City and the country, participate in the Penny Harvest, a Common Cents program.
The Penny Harvest is a program that is aimed at igniting the civic spirit of a new generation and teaches children about the importance of philanthropy. Students harvest pennies throughout the fall. Common Cents turns those pennies into dollars and the children turn those dollars into good deeds. Common Cents awards each school's "Student Roundtable" a grant. Roundtable students engage in a democratic process to identify local and global needs and design service projects and make donations to causes they, and their school as a whole, feel are important. Students at my school have assisted BARC animal shelter here in Brooklyn, they have created a certified bird habitat, and have started a GRRReen Campaign at our school, which includes holding an annual GO GRRReen festival to increase their community's environmental awareness.
The children in my school have certainly learned what philanthropy is through our partnership with Common Cents; we have been named a School of Excellence because, school-wide, our children engage in a myriad of service projects and programs, which ultimately empowers them to make a positive difference in their world. From my perspective -- as an urban educator -- empowerment is the most important element of a program that serves children and families who have historically been disempowered. All too often, decisions are made for subsections of our citizenry without their input; often, the decisions being made do not wholly benefit those they are intended for. If only we worked to empower those that have been so often left behind, we could engage in policy discussions that would move our society forward. Instead, we ignore the actual stakeholders, particularly when it comes to education policy, creating results that are often not beneficial to the intended targets.
As the saying goes, "Nothing about us, without us," and I love those who have added to the end, "...is for us."
Our students are well on their way to becoming engaged, and thoughtful citizens. They have learned that everyone has something to give, no matter how small. More importantly they have learned that giving is an act that reminds us all of our interconnectedness; that our efforts should be spent benefiting the many, not the few, and that when even one of our citizens suffers, we all suffer. The grown-ups who largely consider themselves philanthropists today, particularly edu-philanthropists, could use a lesson from my students.
From Gates, to Broad, to Bloomberg, edu-philanthropists have been pouring their time, talent and treasure into education. They tout themselves as education reformers, but, largely, their dollars are not simply good deeds. Instead, their gifts are thinly veiled attacks on our public education system. Edu-philanthropy is education's Trojan horse.
Edu-philanthropists cloak themselves in the slogan of reform and civil rights, they have gained access to our public education system with their wealth, and they seek to dismantle our public education system from the inside. They deliver shiny new trophies to poor communities in the form of charter schools, but all that glitters is not gold. Their covert operations seek to destroy unions with ideas such as merit pay, because their oligarchy cannot survive if there is a vibrant middle class of "commoners." With healthcare and pensions, who can question their authority? They insert ideas of 'choice' and 'accountability' with jingoistic appeals to freedom and opportunity, but these words are merely masks for "vouchers" and "data," which will further sort and separate our children, creating a more disparate system than we already have. Their ideas are born out of a free-market ideology that only reinforces the roles of privilege and subordination in our country, roles true believers in education seek to eliminate.
There is an obvious economic benefit for the privileged few to control our public education system. For one, they can privatize it and gain access to, in their words, the "untapped K-12 market." Secondly, by controlling the education sector, they can maintain the disproportionate distribution of wealth in our country.
Recently there has been push back from us "commoners," those of us who actually have children in, or teach in, the public education system. One of the greatest examples of this was the defeat of Mayor Fenty in Washington, D.C. Even in this case however, where the voice of the people whose children's education is at stake was so strong in rejecting the "reforms" of Fenty and Rhee, edu-philanthropists sat in waiting to make sure their ideas for education reform, with the dual carrot-and-stick of their millions in funding, stayed in place. Is it considered philanthropy when the targets of your gift giving are loudly saying, "No thanks!"?
This is a gift horse we should look in the mouth. Edu-philanthropists speak of education reforms that go against the ideals they uphold for their own children or the children of their peers. They speak of policies that limit the job security, wages, pensions, and health care of working folks while they sit on their millions. What may seem like a gift, is actually a sneak attack on our public education system.
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