Adam Ruins Doing Good

Aug 27 2019

Adam takes down the do-gooders and reveals how Teach For America is harmful to both students and teachers. He then uncovers the ineffectiveness of recycling and calls out the billionaires who create charities for tax breaks.


"Actually, it DOES! According to one study, compared to students taught by CREDENTIALED teachers, kids in Teach For America classrooms perform SIGNIFICANTLY worse in reading and language arts."

Julian Vasquez Heilig and Su Jin Jez. “Teach for America: A Review of the Evidence.” National Education Policy Center, 2010.

"But what REALLY hurts students is Teach For America's high TURNOVER rate. The program only requires a minimum TWO-YEAR commitment, and almost three-quarters of their members QUIT within five years!"

Rachel M. Cohen. “The True Cost of Teach for America’s Impact on Urban Schools.” American Prospect, 5 Jan 2015.

"...for many corps members, TFA is basically just a glorified resume booster."

James Cersonsky. “Teach for America’s Civil War.” American Prospect, 9 Jul 2013.

"How DARE you! Sure, I and my fellow corps members may have PERSONALLY benefited a bit -- but that doesn't mean we don't care about education! Some alums have stayed in teaching, and even went on to become state superintendents!"

“Our Impact.” Teach for America, 2019.

"...charter school movement doesn’t always serve enough of the neediest students like English language learners and students with disabilities."

James Vaznis. “Many charter schools lag in enrolling students lacking English fluency.” Boston Globe, 30 Oct 2016.

"And as a result of all these unfair working conditions and ANTI-teacher sentiment, public education budgets and teacher salaries are in decline, teachers are leaving the profession at record rates, and schools are essentially being turned into test-prep factories, depriving kids of things like music, art, and physical education."

Michelle Hackman and Eric Morath. “Teachers Quit Jobs at Highest Rate on Record.” Wall Street Journal, 28 Dec 2018.

"We can ruin WHOLE BATCHES of recyclables when we "aspirationally recycle", tossing in things we HOPE are recyclable, without bothering to check if they ACTUALLY are!"

Livia Albeck-Ripka. “6 Things You’re Recycling Wrong." New York Times, 29 May 2018.

And, by recycling CONTAMINATED materials. For example, cardboard pizza boxes shouldn't be recycled unless you've ripped the grease stain out of the box!

“Frequently Asked Questions: Contamination.” Stanford Recycling, 2019.

"Around 25% of recycled materials end up contaminated, and NONREUSABLE. It's become SUCH a problem, China, the United States' biggest recycling buyer, has BANNED its companies from taking any more of our used plastics!"

Maggie Koreth-Baker. “The Era of Easy Recycling May Be Coming to an End.” FiveThirtyEight, 10 Jan 2019.

"The Chinese ban has so completely UPENDED recycling operations. For months, the state of Oregon just dumped all their recycling in the TRASH without telling anyone!"

Cassandra Profita. “This Is Why a Lot of Our Recycling Is Going to Landfills.” EarthFix, Oregon Public Broadcasting, 13 Jun 2018.

"OK, Corpus Christi recycles ALL plastics, but not glass."

“How and What to Recycle.” City of Corpus Christi, 2019.

"Chicago recycles glass, and all plastics except #6."

“What Can I Recycle?” City of Chicago, 2009.

"...And Denver recycles EVERYTHING, but... no LIDS? Like - ANY lids?"

“Recycling Directory.” Denver: the Mile High City, 2019.

"It's not in their interest to! Most major recycling plants are owned by landfill companies. So they make money even if your stuff ends up at the dump!"

David Bornstein. “The Conflict of Interest That Is Killing Recycling.” New York Times, 15 Aug 2018.

"It's actually CHEAPER for plastic companies to let old products go to waste, and make NEW ONES from petroleum."

Sarah Kramer. “The one thing that makes recycling plastic work is falling apart.” Business Insider, 5 Apr 2016.

"NOPE! Typically, plastic bottles are only recycled ONCE before they're Down-cycled" into crappier products like POLYESTER CARPETING, and then THROWN OUT."

“Is Recycling Worth It? PM Investigates its Economic and Environmental Impact.” Popular Mechanics, 13 Nov 2008.

"And as a result, half of ALL plastic becomes TRASH in less than ONE YEAR!"

Laura Parker. “We Made Plastic. We Depend On It. Now We’re Drowning In It.” National Geographic, 20 Dec 2018.

"Since the 1970s, corporations have moved towards selling more and more SINGLE-USE plastic products. And they've used the promise of RECYCLING as cover for their profitable plastic pollution!"

“Conflicts in Chemistry: The Case of Plastics.” Science History Institute, 2019.

"These plastic producers began promoting recycling SPECIFICALLY to eliminate our guilt around buying more and creating more waste."

Jane L. Levere. “After the ‘Crying Indian,’ Keep America Beautiful Starts a New Campaign.” New York Times, 16 Jul 2013.

"In fact, some studies suggest that when the option to recycle is available, we wind up buying, using, and wasting EVEN MORE!"

Jesse R. Catlin and Yitong Wang. “Recycling gone bad: When the option to recycle increases resource consumption.” Journal of Consumer Psychology 23.1 (2012).

"But recycling was NEVER enough to stop the waste caused by this capitalist culture of consumption. In the past 50 years, use of plastics has increased TWENTY TIMES, but only 9 percent of plastics made since 1950 have been recycled."

Sarah Kaplan. “By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans, study says." Washington Post, 20 Jan 2016.

As a result, we're now facing a trash CRISIS. By 2050, there will be more pounds of PLASTIC in the ocean than FISH!

Sarah Kaplan. “By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans, study says." Washington Post, 20 Jan 2016.

"But the truth is, he ACTUALLY gave the shares to an LLC that HE controls, and he can do almost anything he wants with that money,including investing in for-profit ventures. For all intents and purposes, the money is STILL HIS."

Natasha Singer and Mike Isaac. “Mark Zuckerberg’s Philanthropy Uses L.L.C. for More Control.” New York Times, 2 Dec 2015.

"But money donated to private foundations is mostly untaxed – which means these billionaires can put their OWN interests ahead of the U.S. public’s!"

Robert Reich. “What Are Foundations For?” Boston Review, 1 Mar 2013.

"Beats me! It's EXPENSIVE! Charitable tax deductions cost 70 billion dollars per year. That's enough to fund the entire Department of Education!"

Ben Casselman. “The Tax Deduction Economists Hate.” FiveThirtyEight, 3 Apr 2015.

"Tax laws only require these types of charitable organizations to spend 5% of their investment assets annually -- and that could just be on salaries and expenses!"

Pacific Foundation Services, 2016.

"Less than 10% of charitable contributions go towards basic public needs."

Peter Singer. “What Should a Billionaire Give - and What Should You?” New York Times, 17 Dec 2006.

"Meanwhile, 75% of all donations over 50 million dollars go towards universities, art museums, hospitals, and other things you billionaires can slap your names on."

David Callahan. “How Top Philanthropists Wield Power Through Their Donations.” New York Times, 14 Apr 2017.

"And the result of all this 'philanthropy' is that BILLIONAIRES have more power than VOTERS! Estimates say the amount of billionaire money that's put toward shaping our laws is somewhere around $10 billion per year. That's more than annual contributions to political candidates, parties, and super-PACS COMBINED!"

Elizabeth Kolbert. “Gospels of Giving for a New Gilded Age.” New Yorker, 27 Aug 2018.

For Further Reading:

Since the episode was written and shot, ProPublica has done a deep investigation into the ties between Teach for America and the charter school movement.

The Guardian published a deep dive this year on the impact of China’s changing recycling rules have had on U.S. trash.

Our expert Anand Giridharadas’ book Winners Take All is an engaging, clear read on what exactly is wrong with billionaire philanthropy.