America, Where Altruism By Any Other Name is Narcissism
Big-time philanthropy is just as narcissistic and capitalistic as any other part of American culture. The recent Los Angeles Unified School District teachers’ strike is but one example of private philanthropy’s underhanded impact on public institutions. Teachers had received only one salary increase since 2007, and had worked off only one three-year contract since 2011. This, in addition to overcrowded classrooms, an insufficient number of support staff, and the siphoning of public education funds for public charter schools were among the reasons 30,000 teachers walked out for six days last month.
Some of the reasons for this strike, though, go back more than a decade, to the influences of the Walton Family Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. They seeded money and influence as part of LAUSD’s push for public charter schools and a three-tiered system of teacher evaluations, both of which have been proven unreliable for raising student achievement. As Sally Ho reported for the Associated Press last year, “the Waltons are the biggest backers of the powerhouse California Charter School Association, which has gotten more than $100 million since 2006 with support coming also from Gates, Michael and Susan Dell and the Mark Zuckerburg [sic]-backed Silicon Valley Community foundations.”
At least in the case of LAUSD, teachers and parents realized that private foundations like Walton and Gates had sold them a bill of goods. But so many nonprofits, politicians, and community leaders have been willing to go along to get along, out of fear and out of the desperate need for funds and non-governmental help. It doesn’t help that those involved in major philanthropy always believe that their money and their ideas are best for ordinary people, despite evidence to the contrary. In the case of Walton Foundation’s K-12 Program Director Marc Sternberg, the Waltons believe they “have a moral obligation to provide families with high quality choices…that in” doing so, they “are also compelling the other schools in an ecosystem to raise their game.” There’s serious narcissism contained within this otherwise well-meaning statement, as if Walton spreading their dollars and their vision for privatized, non-unionized education to places like LAUSD would magically transform public schools for the better.