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Many educators cheered the news, announced earlier this week, that a consortium of tech firms had pledged a collective $300 million towards bettering STEM education in the United States. A New York Times article on their donation spoke of it in glowing terms — a trade group executive described its potential to advance “opportunity,” while Ivanka Trump called STEM skills “foundational.” The positive press about a charitable gift is probably not too surprising. Most of us have a gut reaction to the word “charity.” It implies goodwill, and a philanthropic spirit. Because of this cultural understanding of charitable giving as “pure,” giving is generally tax-deductible.
Yet, as with any monetary relationship, charity is a form of control. It also teaches an idea about the way the world works — about what kinds of things are important to fund and what aren’t, about how social change happens, and about who is responsible for “fixing” the world’s problems. Charity’s answer to that last question, usually, is “the rich.”
Just as the corporate investment in employee amenities pays off in terms of productivity and loyalty, this $300 million donation to STEM education will eventually pay off in the form of lower wages for programmers and engineers. It’s a very long game, true. But to think of this $300 million charitable donation as somehow pure of heart, or a “gift” of some sort, is mistaken. Eventually, the tech industry will reap the rewards, and the profits...