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Sometimes Philanthropy is just Philanthropy

By John Wilson — January 05, 2012 2 min read

I have read with interest the articles in the New York Times attacking education leaders for taking study trips that were underwritten by the Pearson Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Pearson Education. I will admit that after the first article, I had hoped that this would be a one-time article by a cynical reporter looking for a good story that would resonate. Now, there have been two other articles. Of course, I could be cynical, too, and assume that his corporate bosses are pushing this story for other reasons since I know the New York Times Foundation has sponsored very similar trips.

After retiring as Executive Director of the National Education Association, I chose to accept a Senior Fellow position with the Pearson Foundation. I agreed to three days a month to assist Pearson Foundation leaders on fulfilling their mission around literacy, learning, and great teaching. I admit to a conflict of interest when defending this foundation that supports public education and teachers; however, I have no such conflict when it comes to telling what I know to be true.

I attended the study trips in Helsinki, London, and Rio de Janeiro as a voice for teacher unions. The trips were all organized by the Council of Chief State School Officers. That is one of many things I like about the Pearson Foundation. They trust educators to plan their own professional development. The programs were designed and executed by CCSSO staff. There were no sales presentations or side conversations about Pearson products. It was purely an educational study tour of countries doing better at student achievement than the United States. It was about deep and engaging conversations with leaders of those high-achieving countries. It was an experience that could not have occurred without philanthropic support. I worry when our educational leaders are “siloed” and not allowed to experience the global community that exists today, and I am impressed when they take the opportunity to learn from others.

I understand that the media attention to these innocent study tours has created an appearance of inappropriateness and a suspicion around business decisions. That is unfortunate and unfair. I do believe this reporter has not provided all the information about the strict ethics laws that educational leaders follow before taking advantage of these study tours. While education leaders may choose to decline to do future trips, I hope government will budget for our leaders to have a global perspective. I also hope Pearson Foundation will continue giving teachers the opportunity to visit other countries and for Teachers of the Year to come together and share best practices. I hope the Pearson Foundation will continue to donate thousands of books to schools and children to expand literacy. I hope the Foundation will continue to fund schools that are teaching our students 21st Century skills through digital media.

I hope others will speak up about the good work that philanthropic organizations like the Pearson Foundation do. They are vital to the success of our public schools. Let’s not punish those who are willing to fund educational interests that government does not. Let’s use as much ink to praise good work and publish truth.

For me, I subscribe to the words of Swedish statesman and former United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold, “Never, for the sake of peace and quiet, deny your own experience or convictions.” I invite you to speak your truth.

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The opinions expressed in John Wilson Unleashed are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.