A Harvard sociology class where students will distribute $100k in grant money

A Harvard sociology course with $100,000 in grant money to distribute sounds like a cross between the work of a typical intro-level social problems course and what foundations do:

While most Harvard College students focus on what they will take away from a course, students who enroll in Sociology 152: “Philanthropy and Public Problem-Solving” this spring will have the opportunity to give back­—in the form of $100,000 in grants to Boston-area non-profits of their choice.

Students enrolled in this new course will split into teams based on area of interest. Each team will conduct research on a particular social issue, ranging from homelessness to education reform, and will eventually choose a local organization to provide with a grant.

The Once Upon A Time Foundation, based in Fort Worth, Texas, has donated $100,000 for students enrolled in the course to distribute to non-profits. The foundation has funded similar courses at Stanford, Princeton, Yale, and various colleges in Texas.

Harvard Kennedy School Senior Lecturer Christine W. Letts and Senior Research Fellow James L. Bildner will co-teach the class, which will be open to both College and Kennedy School students. “It’s an exceptional opportunity,” Bildner said.

An opportunity indeed.

While this could be good practice, I wonder if students might reach another conclusion: handing out just $100,000 is not enough to tackle serious social problems. Even major money sources like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation can only do so much.

Quick review: Watching The Social Network at Harvard

This weekend, the movie The Social Network, a disputed origin story about the founding of Facebook, hit theaters to nearly universal acclaim.  I had the opportunity to see the movie on the second day of release and can add my wreath to the many laurels heaped upon this Aaron SorkinDavid Fincher collaboration.  However, since so many others have dissected this film so thoroughly, I will refrain from a typical movie review as I feel I have little to add.  I will instead comment briefly on just how surreal it was to watch this movie at Harvard.

The AMC Loews Harvard Square 5 is located one block off the Yard at Harvard University, and the mood at the 6:30pm showing on Saturday, October 2nd was electrifying.  The audience appeared to be a mix mostly of college students and their professors, and they clearly had come to have a good time.  When the Mark Zukerberg character, played by Jesse Eisenberg, made a crack early in the movie about Boston University students not needing to study, there was a collective gasp.  When the exterior of The Thirsty Scholar made a cameo appearance, there were actual cheers.

This movie was about us–not as representatives of some abstractly-defined generation nor as students coming of age during web 2.0–but as residents of Mt. Auburn Street, two blocks away.  In the men’s bathroom after the movie, I overheard a conversation between two students debating the wisdom of trying to get into one of Lawrence Summer‘s classes now that he is returning to Harvard (after working as director of the White House National Economics Council).

Many of the best movies take us from our own specifics into the universality of the human condition.  While I am sure that The Social Network will do this for many people, it had quite the opposite effect on me.  For me, it took that most abstractly universal of all web phenonmenon–Facebook–and gave it a specific human face.  One that might well have been in the theater with me last night.