By Biz Stone and Craig Newmark
The famously nerdy founder of craigslist, Craig Newmark, grew up in a lower middle class family in Morristown, NJ. The neighborhood junkyard was his playground. If it weren’t for teachers like Mr. Shulski, there may never have been a craigslist. Craig’s teachers had big hearts, they cared deeply, and they instilled a strong belief in him that he could create his own opportunities; that he could dream big.
I grew up on-and-off welfare, absent a father. However, I was lucky to be in a public school with teachers whom I felt I could talk to. They encouraged my ambition and made me feel like anything I wanted to do, I could do. And I did, too. I pulled off my entire high school career with a no homework policy after discussing with my teachers precisely why it just wouldn’t work for me given my other responsibilities.
Today’s teachers have that same heart, that same desire to instill kids with hope, to encourage their natural capacity for wonder and learning, and to set them on the best possible trajectory for success no matter what their family life may be like. These are the kind of teachers that supported Craig and I. They’re still at it with that same drive and that same incredibly positive attitude. All this, despite their situation.
Public school classrooms across this country are not equipped with even the most basic of educational supplies. We’re not talking iPads, interactive flatscreen TVs, or even chemistry equipment. We’re talking nineteenth century school supplies like paper, pencils, paint, and books. Yes, in the United States of America we depend on teachers to groom those who will inherit this nation and expect them to do so without books.
What’s $1.6B? The latest valuation of some Silicon Valley startup? Nope. The average American school teacher makes about $50k a year. They pay their taxes and live on what’s left. And yet, nine out of ten public school teachers in the United States reach into their own pockets every day to buy basic school supplies for their lessons. Cumulatively, these teachers spend $1.6B of their own money on school supplies. Annually.
As entrepreneurs who have made careers out of solving human problems with a little help from technology, these facts and figures are shocking, deplorable, and embarrassing to Craig and myself. We strive to build large scale systems for people to connect and get things done and yet this is the shamefully true situation for classrooms all across America. That’s why we have turned our attention to DonorsChoose.org.
We are getting behind DonorsChoose.org and encouraging others to do so because they are addressing this problem. DonorsChoose.org demonstrates the potential for technology to enable communities to self organize, to improve lives, and to achieve the noble goal of making it easy for anyone to help a classroom in need. Let’s have a nation where students in every community have the tools and experiences they need for a great education.
DonorsChoose.0rg provides a structure for individual donors to make a meaningful connection via the web with individual teachers in struggling classrooms, and allows you to be witness to that impact and growth. Through this platform alone, 17.5 million kids across the United States have benefitted. I got my start with DonorsChoose.org through a $25 gift card given to me by Stephen Colbert when I first appeared on his show.
Through Stephen, I got to know the founder of DonorsChoose.org, Charles Best. Along with Craig, my wife and I serve on the National Advisory Board of Donors Choose — a position which I consider an honor and proudly serve. This, our latest adventure with Charles, is called #BestSchoolDay. My wife suggested we do a flash funding, I got Jack and Ev on board. Craig signed up too. In total, we got 50 donors and $14M for classrooms in need.
A flash funding is when a donor decides to fund several classrooms, without warning. Each classroom project on DonorsChoose.org has a goal. For an example, have a look at classrooms in need of support and notice how modest some of these asks are—with just a few dollars to go in many cases. Any little bit helps, sometimes only $10 to go. #BestSchoolDay is history in the making — the biggest flash funding ever.
My wife and I are funding Boston, where I grew up, and all of Contra Costa County in California which includes Richmond, near where we live now. Craig is funding Detroit and New Jersey. Today, DonorsChoose.org announced #BestSchoolDay. This effort will impact every state in America and that’s just the beginning. The great power of the web means you too can participate, at any level, to the #BestSchoolDay.
We believe that the true promise of a connected society is people helping each other. People are fundamentally good, when you give them the right tools, they will prove it over and over again. This is born out in our work as technology entrepreneurs, we see it happen every day. DonorsChoose.org, through the power of the web, has the ability to not only make meaningful connections, but to positively impact education in America.
Biz Stone and Craig Newmark are American internet entrepreneurs and philanthropists. Biz is the co-founder of Twitter, and AskJelly.com — a new kind of search engine helping people help each other. Craig is the founder of craigslist and craigconnects, which helps people who are doing good work that matters.