David Hamburg

On the Responsibilities of Philanthropy, Part I

VTR Date: January 16, 1997

David Hamburg discusses important focal points for philanthropy.


GUEST: Dr. David Hamburg
VTR: 1/16/1997

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. And my guest today is the distinguished psychiatrist who for nearly 15 years has literally directed the fortunes of the Carnegie Corporation, one of our nation’s largest and most prestigious philanthropic institutions. Dr. David Hamburg has been here before on The Open Mind, mostly to discuss his longtime personal imperative and, under his leadership, the Carnegie Foundation’s, namely, the well being of our children. Indeed, my guest has perhaps best set forth his personal philosophy in writing both that a “deep commitment to children is a fundamental attribute of being human,” and that “more and more we Americans are failing to meet the basic developmental needs of our young children.”

Well, now David Hamburg is leaving the presidency of the Carnegie Corporation, though one had only to hear his farewell address, as I was privileged to do mid-January 1997, to know that his influence will long be felt in American philanthropy, indeed in all of American life.

Well, as always, my friend and benefactor was looking forward. And I want him to do just that for us today as well. And so I’ll now ask this truly wonderful American what exactly are the areas to which he would have us most vigorously dedicate our energies, our resources, our intellect, as we approach the millennium. David, where should we focus?

HAMBURG: Thank you very much indeed. A very kind and generous introduction.

Well, there’s inevitably a parochial aspect to this sort of thing, and I might start by saying where I intend to focus, and that reflects directly the commitments of Carnegie Corporation over the past 15 years. First, to take up the cause of children once again. I want to try to write a book, in collaboration with my wife who is an expert in these matters, on the first two decades of life, which would cover a good deal of the agenda we’ve pursued at Carnegie, and the agenda that Betty has pursued as president of the W.T. Grant Foundation.

Now, to move away from the institutions but to the subject matter, fundamentally what we’re concerned with is to understand each phase of child development through adolescence. The first few years, and middle childhood, and early adolescence and later adolescence, sort of zero to 20, and to try to ask, “What are the fundamental requirements for healthy, constructive learning-kind of development in each phase?” And how each subsequent phase builds on the earlier ones so that you have a decent chance to get good outcomes throughout the life-span. That’s a very fundamental proposition, I think, for any society. How do we renew ourselves by meeting the essential requirements for development so that kids grow up in a way that they will probably be healthy and vigorous, learning and problem-solving, decent and constructive.

HEFFNER: It’s an interesting word you use, the phrase, “How do we renew ourselves.” Why “renew?”

HAMBURG: Well, I think each generation, in a way, renews its lease on life by paying adequate attention to the next generation. They express our vision of the world, our value, our most basic commitments as human beings, and we want to try to see to it, in the American dream particularly, that they’ll have better opportunities and be more knowledgeable and more skilled than we have been. And I think there is a kind of renewal, and indeed even a tinge of immortality in that quest.

HEFFNER: Do you think we still feel as strongly about our immortality in terms of our children? And I don’t mean you and your wife and the people you associate with. But if we take Americans generally, what have we learned about their sense of being renewed through their children?

HAMBURG: You know, it’s been a struggle in recent decades. I suppose it’s always been a struggle in one way or another, without a doubt. But we live in a time of such far-reaching transformation that, as a matter of fact, one of the things I’ve recommended to Carnegie and to other foundations for the future is to try to set up more in-depth monitoring and assessment from the point of view of different disciplines and different perspectives to try to understand these gigantic changes that are taking place. And those changes affect families powerfully. Let me come back to that in a moment, but just say what kind of changes I mean. Fundamentally, the advances in technology, especially information and telecommunications technology. But over a very wide range. The whole scientific-technological frontier is simply alive today almost as it’s never been before. So the technology-driven changes have really transformed the economy. It is truly global so that information and ideas and jobs move around the world, and firms become more and more international in character. Research and development and design and production of goods and services can be almost anywhere and very quickly shift emphasis or shift products and services. So that the scale and the rate of change, I think, really is kind of mind-boggling for us. It is another Industrial Revolution, but the changes, I think, occur more rapidly and more extensively than they did at that time. And we know that at that time there were powerful dislocations, social and economic and family and community dislocations. For example, at that time, the massive flow of people from the countryside into the cities on an unprecedented scale, and the factory system, which itself in some ways was prison-like. And there are all kinds of adjustments that had to be made, even though, in the long run, there were enormous opportunities. And I think that’s the same kind of thing that is going to be occurring in the early part of the next century: huge opportunities, long-run benefits for most of the world. But along the way, tremendous dislocations. And I think that many of the ramifications of those changes affect families and communities now. I believe we need to understand that much better than we do at the present moment. But I have no doubt that it’s a difficult time for us to really focus on our children and make sure that they get adequate attention, and even fully to understand what constitutes adequate attention under these conditions. For example: How do parents prepare their children, they’re predicting into an unknown environment to say, “Well, it’s going to be so and so, because that’s the way it was when I was growing up.” Not necessarily so.

HEFFNER: You think we can learn to live with change?

HAMBURG: We certainly have. And our particular culture has been one of the most adaptable. We have pretty much valued change for change itself. But nevertheless, it is difficult.

HEFFNER: But the change … You say “valued change for change itself.” Aren’t you referring essentially to those technological changes which have not, to our realization, really impacted yet upon our values, our religion, our sense of what it means to be a human being?

HAMBURG: Yes, I think so. The technological changes have been so attractive in offering opportunities. You know, in some ways, we can live, ordinary people can live as kings never could. And those, in quest of the benefits of those technological changes, we do bend ourselves out of shape to make adaptations. And there are many interesting facets of it. Take one that affects children very much now: We have seen, for a variety of reasons, women moving into the workplace as paid employees. They always did an enormous amount of work but they didn’t get paid for it. But as that’s happened, it creates great economic and social opportunities. And the whole pool of talent of half the population now becomes available for the economy. But, at the same time, that raises a question of who is there at home with the children. And the fathers are only very slightly compensating for the mothers being out in the workplace, and both fathers and mothers have a very difficult task of integrating work and family. I think that’s one of the most general problems we now face, even in the most affluent sectors of the society.

HEFFNER: Perhaps particularly in the most affluent.

HAMBURG: Particularly.

HEFFNER: You know, one of the things that has struck me, as a grandfather, has been the change in concepts of leisure for my grandchildren. I didn’t grow up in the country. I spent a couple of years in Arizona – the best years of my life – when I was a kid. But there was a sense of leisure about activities, a sense of steadiness, of certainty, and of leisure. Of a lot of time sort of “gone fishing.” And I have the sense that our children and grandchildren don’t have that today. There is so much by way of the technological revolution that puts them before computers, that gets them doing this, that, and the other thing. Is that a concern that the Carnegie has addressed itself to; that you will address yourself to?

HAMBURG: We have not dealt with that in a central or well-focused way, but it has come to my attention, for example, that there are economists who have studied this matter, and some think that we’re working very much longer and harder hours than we ever have before. Certainly the situation of raising young children, even with two parents pitching in, is a very complicated one. If they’re both at work and they’re both taking care of the children. That is hard work from early in the morning until late at night, the combination of whatever their professional work is and the work at home with the children. Now, if you have, say, a single mother, single parent in either case, usually a mother, that problem is really compounded. But I do think a large proportion of our population is working harder than ever, spending more hours at it, and probably having a less clear sense of leisure despite the paradoxical sense that there’s so many more opportunities for leisure entertainment than we ever had before.

HEFFNER: Leisure entertainment, yeah, but … And you’ve talked about your concern about the impact of media and of entertainment upon children. If you had to characterize the changes that you see coming as we reach the millennium in terms of children and their development, those different transformational stages that you talk about. What are they going to be?

HAMBURG: Well, one of the powerful realities is that income and respect in the society depends even more than ever upon education, and that education now is also more complex than it used to be. I mean, at a minimum there has to be some technical competence in the world of the future, some grasp of mathematics, science, technology; not at a professional level for most people, but enough to cope with a high-tech economy. There is also a necessity for really lifelong learning, because almost everybody will have to make several career shifts, even the successful people, there’ll be several career shifts, as technological changes occur, economic and social changes occur, and you have to be very light on your feet to adapt to that. It’s not the old situation where, if you were really lucky and capable, that you might be with one company or in one professional thrust for a lifetime. You’re going to have to be ready to change and learn and move and uproot yourself. So that what I’m saying is that education is really crucial; at the same time, it’s more complex and demanding and more lifelong in character than it’s ever been. And all of that gets into a trajectory in the early years, even, to a considerable degree, in preschool education, let alone in elementary and secondary education. So we’re just learning how to do that. And we’re trying to provide education and greater complexity for a greater proportion of the society than ever. We’re not saying that just a small percentage could do all the good stuff; we’re trying to say that everybody ought to have a shot at it in most democratic societies now. So I think that’s a very hard task.

Furthermore, some aspects of it we’ve barely begun to scratch the surface. We think about the global economy. “The global economy.” What does it mean to live in a global economy? It means probably lots of people will have to deal with people from other cultures, more so than ever before. And if you’re going to do business in many different countries, the question arises of what languages do you need to speak, what cultures do you need to understand, to what extent, what kind of attitudes do you need to have about novelty and human relationship, about meeting strangers and relating to them. How does education deal with that? Hardly at all, at the present time. So there are really big challenges, I think, to adapt to this new world that our children and our grandchildren will have to do.

HEFFNER: When you say “Hardly at all,” David, and you use that nice phrase, “We’re going to have to be light on our feet,” you’re saying then that our present school systems do not teach us to be light on our feet.

HAMBURG: They’re moving in that direction.

HEFFNER: Are they?

HAMBURG: I think so. At least at the best. We’ve supported, at Carnegie, a lot of the most interesting education reform efforts around the country, and I think that they are catching hold and spreading. There’s still a situation where you have a lot of good working models in different communities, but instead of being two or three, it may be, today, 100 or 150 communities that really have interesting and substantial education reform efforts going, and it may well, in the next 10, 20 years, really cover the country in a comprehensive way. But, even so, it’s uneven with respect to what parts of education reform are going well. But there certainly is a growing sense that we have to have lifelong learning. If you have to have lifelong learning, that’s partly an attitude and expectation that we build in early: “Look, kids, what you’re learning now is only part of what you’re going to need to learn.” But it’s more than that. There’s a growing acceptance throughout education that means you have to find ways to keep curiosity alive. I don’t say stimulate the curiosity, because children at the early ages are the most curious creatures imaginable. They’re discovering all the time. But to keep that curiosity alive that means much less emphasis on rote learning and memorization which, anyway, is less relevant in the age of the computer; and rather to stimulate inquiry and problem-solving and to want them to understand more and to find pleasure in discovery. So, for example, in the teaching of science, we used to give long lists in the life sciences of genus and species and phyla and what-have-you, the categories. And they are important categories. But now it’s much more the process of discovery. How do you find out what life is? How are cells and molecules built? Not to memorize stuff, but to look at the process by which we find out what they are. And I think that’s a very important part of adaptability and being light on our feet through the whole life-span.

HEFFNER: When you talk about process, I think of the criticisms that have been leveled against what we called, when I was maturing, “modern education” or “new educational theories.” Are we moving back to that movement forward in which we say rote learning is not that important? There came a time when we began to move back to the notion that, by gosh and by golly, rote was important, up to a certain extent anyway. Where are we now in this debate?

HAMBURG: Well, there was some, a concern, a legitimate concern, that if you move too far away from, let’s say, memorization or just sheer discipline in learning that you might get into a situation where anything goes, a kind of flabby, weak approach to education. And, you know, there are parts of the learning process that are just kind of sheer hard work and some memorization and all. But on the whole, on the whole, I think there is a spreading consensus in the scientific and educational community that the rote-learning approach is not rewarding. Certainly not in technical fields. Yes, you have to have intellectual discipline, but you must stimulate the curiosity and the problem-solving and the adaptability and seeing new possibilities and new combinations being opened to that. So it becomes the antithesis of dogmatism or rigidity in education as the situation looks now.

HEFFNER: So that change, involvement with change, acceptance of change, preparation for change, being light on your feet, this is what you consider key to that continuing education process that you’re going to devote yourself to those first 20 years?

HAMBURG: That’s certainly a fundamental part of it. Now, I think too that education really has to broaden in certain respects. For example, when I was in medical school, I don’t think the thought ever occurred to me or to most of us, including my distinguished faculty, that education was one of the principal pathways to health through the life-span, maybe the most important one. It just didn’t really come up. But we now know that, if you take the smoking example, for instance (there are many others), we now know that what you understand about how to take care of yourself, how to avoid major risk factors for disease and disability, has an enormous amount to do with your own life-span. So that the shaping of healthy lifestyles in childhood and adolescence is one of the crucial tasks for what profession? For health? Yes. For education? Yes. There’s an intersection between education and health that I think is fundamental and has not been an important part of education up to now. And I think we have to find new ways of … Carnegie has supported new ways of, for example, of teaching the life sciences so that they are fundamentally sound, intellectually stimulating, and show clearly the relevance to health. And that’s another part of the broadening process. It’s a big burden to place on education, but I think it’s reality.

HEFFNER: Well, I was going to ask you about that. You say “It’s a big burden to place upon education,” and a generation ago we were becoming quite critical of the increasing burdens we were heaping upon the educational system. Are you suggesting we even go further down that line?

HAMBURG: I am, actually. But I think you could only do that if you recognize the centrality of teaching and the importance of teaching as a profession. And one of the themes throughout my period at Carnegie has been ways to strengthen the teaching profession. Now, it goes back to Andrew Carnegie himself who was a very great believer in professionalization in different fields, but certainly in education. But we have, for example, early in my term and late in my term, supported commissions that looked in a very broad, synthesizing way at what we know about teaching as a profession and what are the constraints and limitations now and how teaching can be strengthened. This last one was chaired by Governor Jim Hunt of North Carolina. And that commission went deeply into the problem. It was done jointly with the Rockefeller Foundation. And we really felt that there is a great opportunity for teachers. This burden I referred to is also an important, a fascinating opportunity for teachers to deal with subjects that are so important and to stimulate kids, and, for that matter, adults, in ways that go beyond anything we’ve done before. But the society has to really build respect and income and facilitation for teachers.

Let me give you an example. We’re all very hopeful about technology in education. The use of the computer can have a revolutionary effect on education. But the experience so far shows quite clearly it doesn’t really do much good, and may be doing some harm, just to dump good hardware into the classroom. Just doesn’t work. The teachers have to be engaged. They have to be prepared; they have to find it interesting; they have to know what they’re doing; they have to feel proud of it, and judicious in their use of it. Moreover, you’ve got to have really good content: software that is meaningful for education, otherwise it becomes again entertainment; or a word processing, which is useful, but doesn’t go very far in education. So that vast potential of technology of education is certainly not automatic. And I believe, and I think there’s a growing consensus believes, crucially on the way teachers are dealt with and the professionals of teachers in handling that technology.

HEFFNER: Well, you know, just in the couple minutes we have left for this program, and then, as you know, I’d like to go on and talk about that other prong of the Carnegie activities and your own activities, having led Carnegie in that direction: peace.

It was interesting to me to hear you speak at the time of your farewell dinner, what I call your farewell address, about Carnegie and change. And you said it was rather unique, that Andrew Carnegie had placed in the hands of his board of his trustees the ability to change and to reflect the changes they saw in society.

HAMBURG: There’s a wonderful phrase he used: “Conditions on Earth inevitably change.” In 1911, he invented the concept of the general-purpose foundation. Up to then, philanthropy had been limited, at any case, and sharply focused, say, for your church charity or whatever. And he invented the concept of the general-purpose foundation and gave to it what was, at the time, as far as we know, the greatest fortune in the world. And he said, essentially, “I’m not wise enough to say what will be important in 30 or 50 or 100 years, and I therefore ask my board … ” He said, “The greatest tribute the board can pay me is to use their own judgment about what will be important and how philanthropy can help in the future.”

HEFFNER: And that’s what you’ve done.

HAMBURG: That’s what we’ve done.

HEFFNER: You see that process of change continuing.

HAMBURG: I do. But, at the same time, there are great themes. You know, Carnegie was identified very much with the themes of education and peace.


HAMBURG: And I felt we should pick up those themes and adapt them to the 1980’s and ’90’s and to the year 2000. And we’ve done that as I think he would have wished. But the themes are fundamental and enduring.

HEFFNER: Dr. David Hamburg, I’m really grateful to you for talking about half of what it is you’re going to focus your attention upon. And I won’t say “in retirement,” because you’re not going to retire. Thank you for joining me today.

HAMBURG: Thank you.

HEFFNER: Stay where you are, and we’ll do our second program.

HAMBURG: Very good.

HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time as well. And if you would like a transcript of today’s program, please send $4 in check or money order to: The Open Mind, P. O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, New York 10150.

Meanwhile, as another old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck.”