How To Give Away a Million Dollars
Ideas from Nora Ephron, David Brooks, Jane Smiley, and others.
An example: Boston Arts Academy, a Boston public high school—not a charter school, a straight-ahead public school—across the street from Fenway Park's outfield wall. The school uses art as a model and means for intellectual work. Studying an art—mastering a literal or figurative instrument—can help students focus their powers. Proficiency develops confidence in the ability to learn. The idea is not to train professional artists, but to use the worthy, engaging difficulties of art as a means toward accomplishment and concentration—in a word, learning.
The 400 students, mostly "minority," excel annually on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests. The school head, Linda Nathan, has written cogently against "the testing mania," but she sees to it that BAA students shine on the MCAS—absurd and costly though the test may be.
Admission to BAA is competitive. Ninety percent of the graduates go on to college: some to community colleges, some to Brown, Boston University, etc. Most students live far from the Kenmore Square campus. They spend considerable time on public transportation between school and home. Many have part-time jobs. BAA's atmosphere is extraordinary: People look one another in the eye; the social norm is casual good manners. The seedy, cheerful converted warehouse feels like a place where work gets done. Distinguished Boston musicians, dancers, writers volunteer time to the school—motivated partly by that atmosphere.
Along with its primary goal of education, BAA does a public service by respecting the arts as fundamental.
I might put my million into instruments, supplies, and music, art, dance, writing teachers for some needy school district. I might use some of the money to bring people from that district to visit Boston Arts Academy for a week or two, to see how it works.
My partner is a more charitable person than I am, and he would donate the million to Adopt a Minefield—an international organization to clear land mines and provide survivor assistance. I am more punitive than he is, so I would reserve $200,000 for a legal fund to prosecute and imprison the CEOs of corporations who manufacture land mines (and, later, hopefully, other weapons targeted at civilians, such as cluster bombs).
Illustration by Rob Donnelly.