Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Teach For America Not For Yourself

Richard Cohen, Op-Ed Columnist over at the Washington Post, wrote a column today in defense of Teach For America. The real point, a point by the way in which I wholeheartedly agree with, was that Tea Party Republicans are trying to slash programs they don't like under the guise of budget cutting. In reality, you don't get rid of "useless" programs, such as Teach For America and expect all of our problems to wash away. Swing for the fences. Eviscerate the defense budget. Tax the hell out of the top earners in the nation and reinvest it into those who never stood a chance. But, that's just an opinion and it's not what this blog is about. I'm not going to blast Cohen, because frankly, I just think he is ignorant - a fact which he essentially admitted to in the column - about Teach For America.
In full disclosure, I was one of the 48,000 Teach For America applicants this year. I was not selected for an in-person interview. Only 5,300 were, so I guess at first I didn't feel too bad that I wasn't amongst those invited to partake in the cause. Then again, I never really stood a chance did I? For one thing, the TFA Corpse is largely an Ivy League affair, about 1/5 of the graduating class from Harvard applied to the program. Plus, I'm white. I'm from a relatively middle class family and I grew up in a suburb of Washington, D.C., not exactly the redemption story that would captivate the application reviewers. But, perhaps, the cookie-cutter billboard faces that illuminate the TFA ads adorning college campuses across the country aren't actually the answer to the education crisis. They're not the type of people capable of making a difference. Not in my mind anyway. A potential flyer might highlight the plucky Latina from Los Angeles, or Joseph, the Jewish guy from New York City, or Derrick, the good-looking black guy who rose from the mean streets to the ivory towers going back into urban school systems to change lives. Sounds great on paper. Sometimes, I think that's all that matters to a lot of people.
All the while, the types of people who genuinely could make a difference are bypassed in the selection process to make room for self-serving, pretentious, frauds. It starts from the top at TFA. No doubt, the program is noble in its ideals and perhaps, sometimes, in its practice. I certainly hope that dividends are yielded, but I fear that the people at the frontline are not properly equipped to invoke change, let alone inspire a revolution. In my experience, the types of people who apply for TFA, try as they might to convince you or prove to you otherwise, are more interested in garnering the revere and praise of their peers for their "nobility" than actually making a difference. What about staffing yourself with people that genuinely care about kids? People who sincerely want to see others actualize their potential. They do exist, believe it or not. People that kids can relate to. They don't have be black, or latino, or white, or whatever, they just have to be funny. Or be passionate about real things, like sports, or music, or movies. Things that people can relate to, because without that nobody can trust you, you're just another stiff teacher that doesn't get it.
If we're going to spark a change with the youth, we need to enlist more real people, not the heroic University graduate who so humbly is donating their precious, valuable time throwing the less-fortunate a bone. What about hiring a man of the people, rather than someone who somewhere in their subconscious can't wait to write Teach For America on the resume so that their future interviewer at some Fortune 500 Firm can laud them with praise? It's pathetic, almost a way to equal military service for the "intellectually elite," an Iraqi war for the educated; let's go help these poor people turn their lives around so they can turn out to be just like me. The arrogance is astounding.

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