Sign of the Times, Part One:
No sooner did word leak out that Mark Zuckerberg will appear on Oprah today to announce a donation of $100 million to the Newark public school system than the media long knives were unsheathed.
According to the naysayers, the Facebook CEO was making the donation to counteract the negative depiction of him in The Social Network as, in the words of the New York Post, "a conniving backstabber who may have stolen the idea for his social networking site."
Or he was making it "as a way to ward off any negative stigma" arising from his new standing on the Forbes 400 as America's 35th wealthiest person. New York magazine called it "the PR move of the month."
Even the Wall Street Journal, which called the donation "generous, courageous, and inspiring" said: "Mr. Zuckerberg may be young. But he already has learned a lot about the offsetting PR value of philanthropy."
So the $100 million donation to Newark's crumbling public schools is not in and of itself the story? The story is figuring out the motivation behind it? Is this what we have come to? Can you think of anything more ridiculous?
I really don't care why Mark Zuckerberg is donating $100 million of his own money that will make a profound difference to the lives of Newark's children. I care very much that it's being done -- that one of America's worst school systems will be getting a massive infusion of funds.
The stats couldn't be more troubling: despite spending $22,000 a year per student, the graduation rate in Newark hovers around 50 percent; only 1 out of 5 Newark students who do graduate go on to a four-year college; over 85 percent of Newark students who go on to community college need remedial help in English and math.
So let's skip the dime store Freud and celebrate Zuckerberg's game-changing gift.
Sign of the Times, Part Two:
Zuckerberg's donation is an example of the kind of big, bold steps that are needed in these troubled times -- as is Newark mayor Cory Booker's attempt to tackle the chronic failure of his city's schools head on by demanding greater local control of the state-run schools and working on raising a matching $100 million from others concerned about the crisis in education.
Zuckerberg and Booker -- who will appear together on Oprah -- are demonstrating that we all need to bring a sense of urgency to the problems we are facing and make ourselves part of the solution.
Zuckerberg could have given $10 million and still gotten a load of good PR. Instead he's giving $100 million.
I spent the morning at the Clinton Global Initiative, announcing the commitments being made in the Science, Technology, Education, and math (STEM) category and then moderating a panel on Technology and Democracy (one of the panelists, Pierre Omidyar, had made commitments totaling $55 million to promote government transparency globally and mobile technology in developing countries). Before the first session, I talked with President Clinton and Robert S. Harrison about the need to hold a domestic CGI to address all the growing needs here at home.
Among the roughly 300 commitments expected to be made at this year's event (as reported by Reporters Uncensored's Maura Kelly on HuffPost), were $60 million to replace the stoves that produce the smoke that takes the life of a woman or child somewhere in the world every 16 seconds, and a commitment from Procter & Gamble to provide 2 billion gallons of drinkable water a year -- a move that will save a life every hour of every day.
The problems we face are enormous. But so is the amount of available money, energy, creativity, caring and dedication to making things better.
So let's keep the long knives in their scabbards.
P.S. On Monday, Oprah did a show about Waiting for Superman, the powerful new documentary about the failure of America's education system. The show included the film's director Davis Guggenheim, Bill Gates, Chancellor of Public Schools for Washington D.C. Michelle Rhee, and John Legend. On today's show, along with the announcement from Zuckerberg and Booker, Oprah is going to feature her viewers' reaction to the film. Hello, America's schools? The zeitgeist is calling!
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