When is philanthropy not philanthropy?

 Our principal is very big on having an annual philanthropy project.  That’s actually a lie. We have several of them.  Every department is supposed to come up with one, plus there are projects that are “school-wide”. I’m all in favor of philanthropy.  This year, as a part of our character education program, each of our third hour classes were given a choice of projects.  My class, love them that I do, decided on the old standby:  bringing in canned food for the local food pantry. Now, they are a great group of kids.  Academically, one of my very best, and a really easy group of kids to love for their work ethic.  While I normally abhor this, I made them a deal:  if every single member of the class brought in at least three cans, I would guarantee them the day before Christmas Break off with a pre-approved film and treats.  I told them, it could not be an average of three per person … it had to be all 23 of them.  I also challenged them:  bring in food that you would want to eat.  I know that this is the time to empty that can of Creamed Eels or Corn Nog (fans of the Simpsons know what I mean).Though it took them until the last day,  all 23 came through.  So I need to come up with a 70 minute or less film for them in a few weeks.This prompted a discussion with a colleague who was sure I had stroked out offering a day off:  is it philanthropy if you do it for reasons other than true altruism.Of course, the biologist scoffed: “altruism doesn’t exist”.  I reminded said person that this may be true in animals, but even The Selfish Gene admitted that humans were pretty above that.Of course, that put the whole light of school sponsored projects like this in a light.  For kids of this age (high school), many (not all) did this for a day off, and wouldn’t have anyway.  Perhaps all I did was give them an out to appease their souls for a while.  Those kids really did this for their own.  I think that while for a few kids, it gives them an opportunity to exercise their otherwise well worked “kindness” muscle, I wonder if this gives the rest a chance to get out of doing something nice. This has even bigger implications for school districts that have sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars over time into character education programs that emphasize philanthropic projects which are requirements for graduation.  I’ve often asked myself: What does this teach?:  that volunteerism is to be associated with “forced”?  that character is something you display when it is required ?It is such a new thing in education that I am sure no reliable research shows what is going on, not that this will stop ed. researchers from supporting it or tearing it down when the time comes. Until then:  I am open to suggestions for good hour long films to show in a few weeks.  Any suggestions? 

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6 Responses to When is philanthropy not philanthropy?

  1. Alan P says:

    Well, one might also argue that it gives students who wouldn’t normally exercise this sort of of kindness the chance to do so and see what it feels like. Sort of a test-drive with no obligation to buy, but you really hope they do.

    You can’t fit The Blues Brothers into the class, can you? I wanted to try it when I was the band substitute teacher (you know, the film is all about music), but there was too much f*** this and that. G-rated, I’m sure, compared to how they talk now.

  2. Tom N. says:

    Episodes of your favorite TV show, the Simpsons, run a half hour each. Why not a couple of those?

  3. teganx7 says:

    I have thought about the pilot episode, which also happens to be a Christmas show.

    Regretfully, even an edited version of the Blues Brothers is too long (it would be shorter to walk them down the block and show them where the movie was filmed).

  4. Beth says:

    2 classics which your students may or may not have seen –“Charlie Brown Christmas” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (the cartoon, Seuss original…not the Jim Carrey thing)

    Want to really make it fun? Offer up extra credit or some silly token gift for the student who comes up with their best “Peanuts kids” dance imitation.

    Now, I know what you’re thinking…”Beth, you teach little kids, and these are high-schoolers”. Trust me, when it comes to this time of year, they ain’t all that different. 😉

    BTW–I agree with Al on the point about “kids taking kindness for a test-drive”. It’s unfortunate, but the notion of giving back to one’s community is not often on the agenda of today’s parents, leaving one more thing that “the school can teach ’em”. It is our responsibility as educators to expose our students to different ways in which they can be charitable-IMHO.

  5. Beth says:

    PS– It is NOT 2:18am. Fix your posting time clock please.

  6. teganx7 says:

    It is now 1:07 am ….. but I did fix the clock from universal to Central time …. 🙂

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