Isn't it galling when people whose conclusions you often detest are so darn intelligent? Isn't it even more aggravating, when their writing is passionate, eloquent and well-informed? Bill Schambra's new piece at Chronicle of Philanthropy is a high-spirited, almost boisterous, critique of old line foundations. Having pummeled his opponents, with what may well prove to be unanswered shots, he ends, somewhat gratuitously, I thought, with a plea for charter schools.
Anyone wanting to see how foundations can move the policy needle might do well to study American Enterprise, Hudson (where Bill works), Bradley (where used to work), Heritage, and other conservative think tanks whose policy experts do well by doing good. (Hunh? Yes, just ask them.) They do well by not only writing public policy papers for legislators, but by getting out and around on tv, and in the public press, as Bill does here, to build awareness of issues (like charter schools) and get the public informed, or persuaded, on behalf of specific policies within a larger horizon of political philosophies. As far as I know, career opportunities for those on the left are few when it comes to being a philanthropy policy expert, or pundit. I do not begrudge Bill his cushy job, nor do I covet it, but I wish he had a peer to the left, someone as well informed and articulate, as iconoclastic, who could, with Bill, maintain a high level of debate and stir up public interest around the intersection of foundations, public policy, and democratic action.
Bill's essay should make steam come out of the ears of many foundation folks. I do hope they come forward with a rebuttal and keep the discussion going. Maybe Rick Cohen of NCRP will weigh in. Too bad that the Chronicle does not have a comment section under the article. I wish Bill would start a blog and post his essays, so others could jump in and comment, but he might find that answering his outraged opponents would be a full time job. In the stuffy world of foundations, Bill deserves some kind of award (maybe a bronzed grenade mounted on walnut) for serving as an an agent provacateur.