What about the children? Palo Alto High School teacher Esther "Woj" Wojcicki took time away from educating future reporters to write about America's teens for the Huffington Post. In the piece, she promotes a nonprofit letter-writing project sponsored by Google and touts the use of Google Docs. No surprise there: Woj, whose daughter Anne is married to Google cofounder Sergey Brin and whose daughter Susan is a Google executive, has been promoting Google's pet causes from the first. But only now, after Valleywag has twice pointed out Woj's failure to disclose family conflicts of interest, has she started to include a disclaimer. Too bad it's deceptive.Woj's new disclaimer reads:
I am a long time high school journalism teacher at Palo Alto High School, Palo Alto, CA, but I also have children who are either employed by or otherwise have a financial interest in Google. I am not employed by Google and own no Google stock.
The disclaimer is true in a Clintonian sense. However, Woj does not say she has previously been employed by Google as an "educational consultant" from 2005 to 2006, creating several programs which promoted Google to teachers. Her otherwise lengthy Huffington Post bio does not disclose this fact. That's not the end of her conflicts of interest. Woj joined the board of Creative Commons, a nonprofit group which promotes alternative means of licensing copyrighted works, in July. Earlier this year, Wojcicki promoted a Creative Commons project without disclosing any ties to the group — such as whether she was, at the time, in discussions to take a seat on its board. At the least, the appointment has the appearance of a reward for her positive coverage. Which makes me think that disclosure is simply not part of the journalistic curriculum at Paly. Susan Wojcicki rented out her garage as Google's first office; the Wojcicki family has been entwined with Google practically from its inception. Woj's Google obsession in the Huffington Post would be less disturbing, perhaps, if she stuck to promoting Google's nonprofit efforts. But some plug for Google's products seems to sneak into her writing, too. Whether or not she's got a current, personal financial conflict of interest, she's clearly got an emotional one. Would Bill Gates's mother-in-law bash Microsoft products? So perhaps Woj is incapable of seeing a tie to Google as something worth disclaiming. Perhaps she has so internalized its don't-be-evil worldview that identifying oneself as connected to Google feels like bragging that she's a good person. Doesn't every good person support Google, the company of good, and all the good it does in the world? If that's really what Woj believes, she should exercise the critical thinking she ought to be teaching her in the classroom and recognize that her bias runs so deep that she can't even write a truthful disclaimer. And if so, she should stop writing about Google, Creative Commons, her daughter Anne's genomics startup 23andMe, and the various other investments her extended family is entwined in. I can think of no better example Woj can set for her students. And if she can't, or won't? Perhaps its time for Paly's administration to stop letting her teach her journalism students the wrong lesson.