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 behavior narration, no-nonsense nurturing, compliance driven methods (“silent hallways” and “enter the class silently and complete your Do Now), 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.

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.