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?