Benefiting the benefactors

Yesterday’s Times reports another example of people figuring out how to do well by doing good: architecture students at Parsons the New School for Design get real-world experience designing and constructing buildings for charities.  There’s nothing new about the practice, which in law and medical schools is called "clinical training"–but it does raise the question who’s benefiting whom. 

Teaching hospitals plume themselves on providing great training, with patient service the means rather than the end.  (Ask anyone who’s ever been treated a university medical center!)  Law school clinics are very much the same, with some so committed to the students’ real-world experience that they even charge clients–which makes the "charity" component of the transaction shrink nearly to the vanishing point. 

There’s nothing the matter with a system that benefits everyone but we should direct some rigorous analysis toward its projects.  How can we evaluate them if we don’t know what they’re supposed to provide?

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