Teach Like a Racist?

Does Teach Like a Champion (TLAC) pedagogy perpetuate a racial hierarchy?

TLAC claims it is a “proven” pedagogy that is rooted in education equity because it puts marginalized students on a “path to college,” but is it, instead, racist? All pedagogies have Explicit, Hidden, and Null teachings that either threaten injustice or perpetuate it; there is never a neutral. In using seemingly innocuous strategies such as “cold calling” or “SLANT,” TLAC author Lemov believes that students are learning how to succeed in the academic world which, to him and supporters, is education justice. Embedded in TLAC pedagogy, though, are many oppressive messages that need to be examined no matter how effective they are at raising test scores. And frankly, higher test scores may lead to college, but do they truly result in college and life success in a racist and classist world?

Employed in segregated schools across the country, Lemov’s simple strategies often come with punitive consequences, unquestionable compliance, required assimilation and feelings of shame for marginalized students and those with learning differences. Learning to play the dominant culture game is imperative for marginalized students, but one can teach students how to play the game without making them become the game. Assimilation may lead to academic success, but it is dehumanizing. Dr. Maria Salazar once wrote,

“My teachers taught me the essentials: reading, writing, and math. However, I never saw myself reflected in the content or context of my schooling . . . I was overwhelmed with feelings of shame over the most essential elements of my humanity: my culture, my heritage, my language, and my parents.   I learned to read, write, and do math … it came at a heavy cost.”

It is true that rigorous education is not, by definition, a White, male, straight, affluent thing, but a rigorous education that forces compliance and teaches certain behaviors as the one right way to be is oppressive. For example. SLANT is not the only right way to learn; it is uncomfortable, inauthentic, and distracting for many learners (especially those with sensory processing disorders or ADHD for example).  Unsuccessful answering in cold calling does not mean one has not mastered content. Making every second count (Give 100% 100% of the time) is not how most successful people learn and live in this world. It is an unrealistic expectation that is not healthy and should not be expected of marginalized students (or anyone for that matter) for their success. These ways of being and doing in education may seemingly work to provide order and achievement. They may be said to provide structure for learning and look “scholarly,” but what are the lived results of this pedagogy beyond test scores and college entrance? Essentially, what is the cost and is it worth the benefits? Says who?

Questioning TLAC can result in one being called a racist, classist educator who wants to subvert black academic excellence and keep people poor.  But that is simply false; no critical educator questioning TLAC wants to revert back to a traditional racist pedagogy that inspired education reform. They also, however, do not want to replace one racist/classist pedagogy for another. TLAC sincerely tries to eliminate the achievement gap and give all students a chance to go to college, but it pedals a pedagogy that, in the end, maintains White supremacy.  J. Berkshire talks about this in her post, Teach Like It’s 1895:

“As I was reading Teach Like A Champion, I observed something that shocked me. The pedagogical model espoused by Lemov is disturbingly similar to one that was established almost a century ago for the express purpose of maintaining racial hierarchy.”

Consider the following and then read more by J. Berkshire to see if you agree.

1. TLAC strategies are not proven using empirical methodology and published in peer reviewed journals.

2. TLAC is for “Other people’s children” (L. Delpit). Of course some strategies are effective, but the strict adherence to TLAC as a bible for teaching is reserved for students of color and low SES.

3. Putting marginalized students on a “path to college” is different then educating them to have the critical consciousness, positive socio-cultural identity, and academic skills/knowledge to  successfully COMPLETE college. (G. Ladson Billings)

4. Some TLAC strategies harm students with learning differences or ELLs.

1. TLAC strategies are not proven using empirical methodology and published in peer reviewed journals. If there are studies, what are the variables? n? p value?

2. TLAC is for “Other people’s children” (L. Delpit). Of course some TLAC strategies are effective and even fun, but the strict adherence to TLAC as a bible for teaching is reserved for students of color and low SES.

3. Putting marginalized students on a “path to college” is different then educating them to have the critical consciousness, positive socio-cultural identity, and academic skills/knowledge to successfully COMPLETE college. (G. Ladson Billings)

4. Many TLAC strategies do not often work for students with learning differences. Example: cold calling does not maintain the dignity of nor the learning needs for ELLs or students with processing/language disorders. (A Kohn)

Read J. Berkshire’s analysis:

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Rethink the Finger Snap

Many of us want to fight oppression in our communities and in the world, but perhaps we can start by fighting the oppressive practices and systems in our own classrooms. We need to rethink the strategies that we have been told are “proven” and have been urged to employ. Anti-oppression starts with us questioning especially when we are surrounded by a culture that is telling us “this” is right or even required.

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Say “White Supremacy;” Here’s Why

Equity Work is a safe way to describe the work I do in schools. In reality, though, my work is Anti-Oppression work. It is Anti-Racist work; it sees and dismantles White Supremacy in our classrooms, schools, and networks. These words make educators, funders, and leaders uncomfortable (at the very least) and scared, angry and defensive at the worst. But what happens if we stop using these words (or never start using them?) This article helps explain why we need to say WHITE SUPREMACY if we want to undo systemic racism in our schools and society.

http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/no-i-wont-stop-saying-white-supremacy-20170630

TFA Wants My Money: Why I said “NO!”

On November 15, 2016 I received an email from Kevin Huffman (you can read it at the end), a TFA National Board member. He was asking me to donate and said: Visit my campaign page! Here is my response. I tell him what I perceive to be the problem with and the solution for Teach for America.

 

Dear Kevin,

You emailed on November 15, and since you reached out to me, I would like to respond truthfully and frankly. I hope that you will take the time to read my response to your email.

I want you to know that I am one of the TFA alumni that wrote a counter-narrative for the book edited by T.J. Brewer and K. deMarrais; the book that was purposefully discredited by TFA. The book that TFA publicly claimed was “misconceptions” of a few corps members. By doing this, TFA attempted to shame and silence dissension of corps members.

I want you to know that I was a teacher with a M.A. in teaching with 3 years of experience before I joined the corps. I want you to know that I now have a Ph.D. in education and teach in a Critical Pedagogy graduate program.

I want you to understand that while I share your mission, we strongly disagree on what an “excellent education” is.  I want you to understand as a working class and first generation college student, I don’t care if I am representative of the students we teach, or that I added to TFA’s diversity of the corps. My identity didn’t mean I was free of internalized oppression and not oppressing students of the same background as me.

No I will not contribute to an organization that, although has changed, still continues to oppress students, communities, corps members, and public education (see S. Matsui’s book and the research of T. White). Instead, I will work tirelessly to partner with teachers to use critical pedagogy in their classrooms and schools; to encourage the development of Equity Literacy in all schools; to eliminate dehumanizing practices like apology circles, constant behavior narration, no-nonsense nurturing, silent hallways, finger snapping in children’s faces, SLANT, and strict dress codes that sexualize and shame bodies. TFA may not explicitly condone all of these methods, but they align with schools that do. These methods do not “Liberate;” they are the opposite of liberation. They are oppressive.

Lastly, I am offended by your strategic and over-use of people of color on your promotional materials (see below). I wish, instead, that it was your picture on the email from you. It would be much more accurate and personal. Even when I click on the link under your signature that says “Visit my campaign page” it does not show your picture (on your own campaign page). This is misleading.

Thank you for your time and I am available for any sincere dialogue on these issues.

Sincerely,

Amber Kim, ATL 2001


To my fellow alumni,
 
We joined Teach For America for different reasons and had different experiences, but we all emerged bound by a shared vision: an education system that serves all children. We’ve learned many lessons over the years and are approaching this goal from a wide range of roles and sectors, but our collective impact is real.
 
I’ve now experienced Teach For America from many angles. I taught bilingual first and second grade. I worked at summer institutes helping new corps members prepare. I joined the staff full-time to focus on growing the Teach For America network. My daughter was taught by a brilliant corps member. And, as a state education commissioner, I saw corps members and alumni lead critical change in my state’s largest cities.
 
For me, the uniquely unsettling election season deepened my belief in the value of national service, the need to support young people who roll up their sleeves and do the hard work, and the importance of building strong, diverse, local communities. I’m proud that Teach For America has grown and evolved over the last three decades. I’m proud that we continue to compel tens of thousands of young people to apply for the chance to work in our highest need schools. I’m proud that the corps looks more like the country today, with a much higher percentage of teachers of color and teachers from low-income backgrounds than the teaching force at large. 
 
No matter where life has taken us, each of us plays a role in creating a better future for kids. With two weeks left to go in the Alumni Challenge, I ask you to fuel this fight with a financial contribution. Every dollar donated to a region by November 29th will be matched.
 
Many of us make a small gift each year to our alma maters as a point of pride and responsibility to the next generation. I hope you will consider doing the same for Teach For America—and to double the impact of that gift by giving today.
 
Together, we can grow and strengthen the movement.
 
With gratitude,
 
Kevin Huffman (Houston ’92)
Teach For America National Board
Former Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education

Open Letter to White “Woke” Educators

This is not a post trying to re-educate Trump supporters. (I don’t have many of those that follow me.) This post is for my fellow White and “woke” progressive educators. This is a post to challenge us and hold us accountable.

The Problem: How many of us work for schools (charter & district) that tout Educational Equity and primarily define that equity as “4 year college access” or college success? Schools that hyper focus on rigor and high expectations? Schools that believe it is their job to teach kids “character” and “grit” and “courage” (as if the students aren’t already children of character, grit, and courage and/or developing those qualities at home and in their communities.) How many of us work in schools that are primarily staffed by White, middle-class (at least) people but serve kids of color who are targeted by systemic racism and classism, sexism, ableism, and cis-sexism at every turn? Schools that rely on compliance driven methods like silent halls, strict “professional” dress codes that sexualize and shame our female students, and SLANT which tell students how they must sit to learn. Schools that choose to communicate with (at) students in non-humanizing ways like over-used Behavior Narration (this is not how we talk to our children in our homes). Schools that have an over-reliance on strategies like “Turn & Talks” that communicate, “I don’t trust you to speak to each other like human beings so I must even structure and regulate how you speak to one another.”
We defend these methods by saying they are developmentally appropriate and what students need to be able to learn at high levels and close the “achievement gap.” We say that our marginalized students do not have structure in their homes and that they rely on this structure. But this is not what the students say when my colleagues and I interview them. Furthermore, this is not what I see when I enter White, suburban/affluent schools. Are White student developing at a different rate? Do White affluent students always come from better, more structured homes free from sexual abuse, alcohol addiction, and divorce? Simply put, no.

The Impact: when we educate Black and Brown and Poor and Female students in this manner—when we teach them to comply with the demands of White people to earn a college ready education—we teach them to comply with White Supremacy. We teach them to do exactly what White people with power tell them to do (and for “their own good.”) When we teach them a curriculum that validates White, heterosexual men for the sake of 4 year college acceptance letters (no matter how “culturally responsive” the methods may be), they begin to believe a skewed truth, a truth where they are less legitimate and less human.
College Access and completion is not the only answer to ending education inequity. A college education, as my friend Wisdom Amouzou states, is simply not enough to uproot systems of oppression like racism and rape culture. If it was, why did so many people with a college education vote for Trump? (Look at the statistics of college-educated voters for Trump.)

The Solution: As White seemingly “woke” educators, we need to educate ourselves about the complexity and intersectionality of inequity and oppression. We need to see that the problem of inequity is much deeper that the “achievement gap” and will not be solved by simply “closing the gap” and having our Black and Brown and poor and female students prepared for a rigorous–yet racist, classist, and sexist–4 year college education and experience. We need to reject curricula that legitimizes and validates White, straight males. We need to reject methods that force students to comply with power. We need to replace those methods with humanizing pedagogy and critical pedagogy (please Google these terms). We need to fight policies that require strict dress codes, force silence, and make students SLANT. We need to let children laugh, play, and run in elementary schools. We need to feed kids of all ages healthy, fresh foods. We need more project-based, experiential learning. We need to teach students Equity Literacy and to have them practice seeing, responding to and redressing inequities. Lastly we MUST EDUCATE OUR WHITE and MALE and AFFLUENT and HETEROSEXUAL STUDENTS DIFFERENTLY. Only then can we say we are not part of the problem. Only then can we say that we are truly working for Education Equity.

Support: If this is something you want to do, please reach out. I have colleagues that do this work with me; I have resources to read and view; I have connections to schools and networks that are doing this work. Please stop believing in schools that claim equity but actually oppress. We will need more than college educated kids to stop racism, sexism, classism, cis-sexism, Heterosexism, and ableism in the United States.

White Privilege in Racial Justice Work

Let me start by emphatically saying: THESE ARE NOT MY WORDS. I did not write the following, but I completely own it. Paul Gorski posted a piece from his preface to his book, Everyday White People Confront Racial and Social Injustice. He explains how White privilege works for him (me) in his (my) anti-oppression and racial justice work.
Paul writes:
  1. I am often offered money, praise, and other rewards for going into communities and organizations and saying things that people of color in those communities have been saying, sometimes for generations, and often at their personal, physical, and professional peril.
  2. I was able to build a career out of doing social justice work without being seen as self-absorbed and self-serving. Rather, I’m often seen as brave for doing work for which many people of color are criticized, demeaned, targeted with violence, fired, and de-professionalized.
  3. It’s one thing to do racial justice work, and it’s something else altogether to be doing racial justice work while experiencing the weight of racism. One major difference is that I can, if I choose, retreat from racial justice work when it feels hard or inconvenient, while people of color cannot retreat from racism.
  4. I am often credited for ideas, concepts, and frameworks related to social justice that are not original to me even when I say they are not original to me.
  5. I can be seen by many people as a change agent or activist simply by writing essays or books about racism, by teaching courses about racism at a university, by speaking at plush diversity conferences, or by doing cultural competence or diversity consulting, regardless of whether I do any racial justice work for which I am not financially compensated and regardless of how I spend the rest of my time.
  6. I have the option of softening my racial justice message for particular types of audiences if doing so will help me sell more books or have a higher likelihood of being hired as a facilitator or consultant, and I can do so without making my parents or sister or niece and nephew, who are white, vulnerable to racism.
Thank you, Paul, for posting this and making these truths transparent.

TFA Critic NOT a Hater

Never assume that every critic is a hater. Not everyone is hating on you. Some people are telling you truth.

Despite the fact that I am very critical of TFA’s mission, approach, and how it responds to criticism from alum and concerned stakeholders, I still believe that because I am an alum (ATL 2001), I am TFA.  Furthermore, there are many like me that are TFA, in some way, but are also very critical of TFA and its impact. We are trying to tell the truth about TFA and challenge TFA’s dominant narrative. We are leaders working for education equity by researching, writing, publishing, organizing, and facilitating community and political action; yet, because we are critical of TFA and the reform movement, we are silenced by TFA and called “Haters” and “Traitors.” We are not applauded in One Day, the alumni magazine, or placed on countless panels at TFA events (like golden boy Michael Johnston). Instead, we are refuted, minimized, and deemed as enemies of the cause (i.e. an excellent education for all children). Our work and our empirical research findings are characterized by TFA and its supporters as invalid and “misconceptions” that are “no longer true.” Furthermore, we are never given space–physical or otherwise–to be critical of and vocal about the mistakes we believe our organization is making and the harm that it is doing to students, communities, corps members and education reform in general. There are never any sessions or sanctioned spaces for leaders like us, and we are TFA too!

This February, though, at TFA’s 25th anniversary summit in Washington DC, I will be facilitating a sanctioned space for critics of TFA. The “Critics Not Haters” brunch will be held on Sunday, February 7 from 9 to 11am.  All critical Summit participants are welcome to come and process their experiences at the Summit as well as critique TFA in general. This brunch came about after several deep conversations with TFA National staff. I requested space for all TFA alums, including critical alums, to collaborate and discuss perspectives that are important to them. This brunch is a space for TFA critics to build community, make connections, and hear numerous TFA counter-stories.

In case you’re wondering about my lens and critical perspective on TFA, I have published my counternarrative in the book, Teach for America Counter-narratives: Alumni Speak Up and Speak Out. I have reviewed and promoted Sarah Matsui’s book, Learning from Counternarratives in Teach for America. I have also written about my disappointment and anger with TFA’s public response which sought to minimize and discredit the counternarratives of people who had the courage to speak truth to power, Opposite of Equity: TFA Attempts Narrative Control.

IT_hater

In addition to these pieces, it is important for me to state that I am very critical of how TFA has constructed, promoted, and empowered a very narrow, hegemonic definition of an “excellent education.” I am critical of the fact that TFA (often covertly) proclaims that an excellent education for all children is simply the content of the education that has historically been provided to and reserved for affluent, White children rather than an education that prepares students to challenge the deep injustices that undergird our society.  I believe that TFA (covertly and overtly) pushes its corps members to deliver–unapologetically and uncritically–that kind of “rigorous,” “No Excuses” education to the students they serve while in TFA. Then, because of their (limited) experience in TFA, corps members go on to promote, teach in, lead, and create “No Excuses” schools where it is normal to hear “Voices off!” commanded or to see black and brown students marching in straight, silent lines to class. Schools where teachers are armed with their copies of Teach Like a Champion and equipped with robotic and patronizing “behavior narration” in order to improve test scores. Test score equity, though, is NOT equity when the means and methods used to achieve equal test scores are dehumanizing and rely on controlling the bodies, voices, and minds of other people’s children. In his video Education for Liberation Wisdom Amouzou (a TFA alum and former STRIVE teacher) explains why these No Excuses school are not equity-driven:

“When I see a system that might produce great data but fundamentally disempowers my students; when I see a system in which my students will graduate conformists instead of transformative, it is very much undermining what we are doing [in terms of educating for EQUITY]. We assume that access to a college education is enough to uproot systems of oppression; It simply isn’t. It is fundamentally a low expectation of what education can be.”

 

TFA’s creation of this definition of excellence may have been unintentional or even well-intentioned; TFA’s promotion of and alliance with these methods and No Excuses Charters (no matter how covert), however, is intentional and consistent. TFA tries to appear neutral and denies any formal connection, but the ties between TFA and the reform movement are evident and strong.  TFA does not take any responsibility for the test-score obsessed, compliance-driven machine it has put in motion, nor does it own the harm that it does to students and the communities it purports to serve. So, yes, TFA makes me think critically. It makes me angry, makes me sad, makes me fight, makes me speak out, but it does not make me a hater.

For more information on Amber, visit www.amberkkim.com .

 

 

 

 

 

Education for Liberation, Not Assimilation

Bravo Wisdom Gillchrist Amouzou! Thanks for showing us that true education equity is about teaching students to be transformative resisters–able to see, understand, deal with, respond to, and redress oppression.  And to do all that, Wisdom shows us that students must know themselves, their assets, and the strengths of their communities. They must form deep reciprocScreen Shot 2015-12-08 at 10.02.32 AMal relationships with their peers and educators. Relationships rooted in being authentically known not steeped in compliance, assimilation, and judgment of character. Furthermore, students must have educators that are not afraid to let go of overly simplified notions of “excellence” and give students power and voice.

“We assume that access to a college education is enough to uproot systems of oppression; It simply isn’t. It is fundamentally a low expectation of what education can be.”

Wisdom has worked for a high performing Charter Network (see the shirts students are wearing) and has recently created a video that states:  “When I see a system that might produce GREAT DATA but fundamentally disempowers my students; when I see a system in which my students will graduate CONFORMISTS instead of TRANSFORMATIVE, it is very much UNDERMINING what we are doing [in terms of educating for EQUITY]. We assume that access to a college education is enough to uproot systems of oppression; IT SIMPLY ISN’T. It is fundamentally a LOW EXPECTATION of what EDUCATION CAN BE.”

Wisdom also explains the lies of compliance: “We tell students that if they can essentially shut up, walk in a straight silent line and sit down in class and listen long enough to see a return on our investment in May (when they take that standardized test), they will achieve their dreams–they will find LIBERATION for their community. And to me it is a HOAX. It doesn’t take into account what it means to be SYSTEMATICALLY OPPRESSED.”

He describes the pain of an education that ignores the oppression that students have faced and will face in college and beyond: “It does a great deal of VIOLENCE to your consciousness to constantly see inequity in your community and never be given the tools to either comprehend that pain or address that pain, to HEAL that pain.”

Wisdom calls for an excellent education that is not rooted in merely test-score equity and access to college.  He calls for an excellent education that also develops students with a positive socio-cultural identity and equity literacy (the ability to see, respond to, and redress inequity and oppression).  It is not an easy task, but you can watch the process unfold with Wisdom and his students: Education for Liberation VIDEO

 

 

The Truth about TFA: a book review of Learning from Counternarratives in Teach for America by S. Matsui

Teach for America (TFA) purports to be a “force for good” in education—an organization that works tirelessly to end educational inequity, yet there are a growing number of TFA alumni, public school teachers and students, and education researchers who are organizing and speaking out against TFA. Why? How can a “good” force working for social justice in education be bad? What is the fuller truth about TFA?

A fuller truth about any person, place, or organization is always layered and full of edges, curves, contradictions, and intersections. A fuller truth allows for this complexity and the dissonance it creates. A simplified truth, in contrast, is a partial truth. It is a more comfortable, vague, and “catchy” truth, but it is a distortion. To distort the truth—and consequently the reality of a problem or an organization—does not require animus or the telling of lies; instead, one only needs to massively underrepresent or marginalize wider facts and dissenting perspectives and enthusiastically promote one’s simplified and partial version of the truth to iconic status in a way that obscures those facts and differing perspectives.

TFA may not be deliberately lying and intending harm, but TFA’s narrative about itself as an organization–the problems in education, the solutions to inequity, TFA’s impact on achievement, students, corps members, and communities—is a simplified and enthusiastically, intentionally, well-promoted version of the truth. In fact, TFA is on college campuses, in government offices, meeting with funders, and in the ears of charter school networks and thousands of current corps members speaking its version of truth–a distorted, partial truth. To fight inequity, though, people need to know a fuller more accurate truth, and this can only be known if suffering is allowed to speak and if it is heard. Hearing stories of hurt that run counter to TFA’s version of the truth, though, is difficult when suffering does not have nearly the budget that TFA has to amplify its voice.

This is where Sarah Matsui and her recently released book, Learning from Counternarratives in Teach for America: Moving from Idealism to Hope (2015, Peter Lang), comes in to play. Sarah let suffering speak and amplified the counternarratives of corps members in the hopes of helping people—including TFA—hear and know a fuller more complex and problematic truth about TFA. In allowing suffering to speak, Sarah not only amplifies the experiences and feelings of the 26 corps members in her study, she validates the thousands of corps members who have felt the shame, guilt, anxiety, depression, indoctrination, and pressure that TFA pushed on them. I am one of those thousands. As a TFA alumni who has recently published my own counternarrative in the book Teach for America Counter-Narrative: Alumni Speak Up and Speak Out, I was anxious to see how the stories of the 26 Philly corps members compared with my own and helped to convey a more fuller truth.

Sarah’s book is not so much a call for an end TFA, but, instead, it is a call to everyone—TFA staff members, TFA corps members, districts officials, parents, students, public school teachers—to pick up the rock that is TFA, to turn it over and examine all the crevices, bumps, and sides, and to know the full truth about TFA. This is a book of hope not doom because only when people of all different backgrounds and from all different positions, know the full truth can healing and change begin.

Most powerful for me is how Sarah’s investigation doesn’t solely or only focus on the typically described downfalls of TFA and its approach. There are already many pieces written about the impact (or lack thereof) TFA has on student achievement data, the destabilizing effects of the 2 year commitment, and the problems with creating leaders (not teachers) by recruiting leaders (not teachers) to teach our most marginalized youth. Sarah’s book has a different focus entirely, and therefore, her book is very different from other TFA critiques.

Sarah, a former corps member and TFA staff member, began her research driven by the desire to understand the intense depression, anxiety, and alcohol abuse of the corps members around her. Her research, at first, had only one purpose: to inform TFA and to drive interventions that would support her fellow corps members and alum. After engaging in the qualitative research process, though, she began to see commonalities in the counternarratives. Sarah took note of how the stories of corps members by TFA were drastically different than the stories from corps members in TFA. She also noticed how very few of those counternarratives of critical corps members ever surfaced; their stories of suffering were ignored, marginalized, or shamed into silence. Sarah then distanced herself from TFA and committed herself to learning from and amplifying the stories (counternarratives) of corps members.

So what can we learn from the counternarratives in Teach for America? One of the most important things that Sarah uncovered in her research is what is causing the painful counternarratives of corps members—the TFA Script. TFA’s Script (referred to as the TFA Kool-Aid) is its version of the truth about itself and educational inequity in the U.S. The book describes TFA’s Script as “…the stuff that sounds good and draws people to invest their funds, their resources, and themselves in TFA” (p. 23), but Sarah weaves together evidence that this script is an oversimplified, not-connected-to-reality version of the truth that negatively impacts teachers, learners, and leaders.

For those who live and operate within reach of this TFA script, they begin to believe that excellent teaching is “nothing elusive” and that hard work of TFA corps members (and subsequently their students) can overcome the effects of poverty and the racism and classism that caused the inappropriately termed “achievement gap” in the U.S. Therefore, when corps member (and subsequently their students) fail at leveling the field in a sustained and pervasive way, they blame themselves for not working hard enough to succeed. Believing this myth of meritocracy that the TFA script narrates burns out many of our TFA corps members and students; Sarah documents how corps members become physically and mentally exhausted and sick; they become anxious and plagued with guilt and shame; they try to cope with dangerous drinking habits and by abusing drugs. In short, besides the horrible effects this TFA script has on our marginalized and underserved students, schools, and communities, the TFA script destroys our human resources needed for fighting systemic inequity.

The truth about TFA is complex so, yes, there are corps members that seemingly succeed. They end up leaving the TFA corps believing that there is “nothing elusive” to ensuring “one day” all children receive an excellent education. They whole-heartedly buy that “working hard” leads to “getting smart” and ending the “achievement gap.” I wonder if this is even more dangerous than burning our human resources? When meritocracy and the words of TFA’s founder, Wendy Kopp, resonate in the hearts of corps members, those same corps members head out into the world post-TFA to spread this partial and toxic truth. They end up opening “No excuses” charter schools or writing legislation that punishes teachers that do not end educational inequity through working hard and making children work harder.

The truth about TFA is not simple and requires all of us to examining the uncomfortable, messy, and painful parts of TFA. If enough of us know the truth, though, then there is hope. Hope for healing, hope for change, and hope that we can construct a more complicated and nuanced narrative to fight educational inequity. There is so much to learn from the counternarratives in Teach for America, as long as they are heard. This book amplifies those counternarratives. Some may chide Matsui for dwelling on the “problem of TFA” and not being solution-orientated enough. I, however, will stand firmly beside Sarah and know that solutions can only come after we take the time (and entire books) to examine all sides of TFA; we must let suffering speak and hear truth.