Prison-like Schools for the Sake of Achievement?

“All day long, an immense amount of time and energy is spent making sure young African-American students are taught to obey.” — Dr. Hadi-Tabassum, Education Week

We have heard of the school-to-prison pipeline.  In this commentary, however, Dr. Hadi-Tabassum describes how turnaround schools that are claiming to educate kids of color are skipping the pipeline altogether.  Dr. Hadi-Tabassum explores the existence of schools where “you see lines of African-American children crossing the school with their hands behind their backs or their fingers pressed against their lips to indicate silence, and their eyes always facing front.”  I, similarly, speak out against compliance-based methods in my piece, “No More No Excuses” and believe that we should not “force kids (that, yes, are already legitimately “behind”) to learn in rows and lines and for “extended days” without arts, play, fun, freedom, power, and choice (even if that is most effective in the short-term for raising test scores) because it is not humanizing; it is not developmentally appropriate; it is not just!” We should not do these things because we know the results: even if students achieve and their data shows that they are “equal” with their White, affluent counterparts, we know that they are not deemed equal in this society, AND THAT MATTERS.”

Read Dr. Hadi-Tabassum’s entire commentary in Education Week and demand that there is an end to prison-like schools for our youth of color that operate under the guise of social justice and academic achievement for all.

*For more information on preparing culturally responsive and critical educators/students for social justice, please visit:

Cultivating Colorblind Racism: The Real Movement Behind TFA

The following is adapted from “Perpetuating, Committing, and Cultivating Racism: The Real Movement Behind TFA” my chapter in the forthcoming book Teach For America Counter-Narratives: Alumni Speak Up and Speak Out (2015, Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.).

People know about the Klan and the overt racism, but the killing of one’s soul little by little, day after day, is a lot worse than someone coming in your house and lynching you.  –Samuel L. Jackson

When I joined TFA, I was not the typical corps member. I was already certified with three initial years of teaching.  I also had just earned my M.A. in instructional strategies. So why did I join TFA? I thought that I could change the world by teaching in “tough” schools where “underprivileged” students (mostly of color) did not have access to excellent teachers. At my core, I was attracted to being part of a movement to improve education for low-income students because I myself came from a low-income community.

In August of 2001 I began my corps experience a savior eager to level the field.  Armed with knowledge and “grit,” I taught hard and my students learned. They recited facts, discussed texts, and defined science and geography terms. Their achievement scores increased, but my students undoubtedly learned something else, something much more powerful:

I unintentionally and quietly taught my students that something must be wrong with them so much so that White teachers would cycle into their community, do their time, and then be gone. I taught them that who they were and where they were from were not good enough. Not a single one of my lessons focused on my students’ rich history, the necessity and beauty of their dialect, or the strengths of their community.  I did not teach them about systems of oppression or about colorblind racism that cuts deep and is internalized but is hard to see and to describe, especially for adolescents. My students did not learn how to respond to or to redress inequity. While TFA was telling me to be a transformational teacher, TFA was encouraging me to assimilate students and perpetuate the status quo.

Yes, my students learned; and yes, I closed the achievement gap for some, but at what cost?  No, I did not go into my students’ homes and lynch them, but I may have killed their souls little by little, day by day, for two years.

*For more information on preparing culturally responsive and critical educators/students for social justice, please visit: