Break Every Yoke

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 29 2012

Are we the greater fools?

I’ve been reading a lot of interesting dialogue and debate regarding TFA and other “corporate” reform measures (not my favorite term, but unfortunately the most widely understood). It started back in January when an ed student and TFA naysayer posted a rather spiteful comment on Wess’s post “Bang for your buck”, and I ended up having a constructive, albeit short-lived, e-mail exchange with her about our radically different perspectives on the TFA experience. More recently, by following links from TonyBontheMIC’s post “Don’t Hate Me ‘Cause I’m TFA,” then following links from those links, and so on, I was able to read many different appraisals of the value and effectiveness of TFA, ranging from those who think the organization can do no wrong to those who would scrap the organization entirely, at this very moment, if they had the chance.

I’m glad that this dialogue is happening. I believe that we as a society can progress if and only if we are willing to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19), especially with those whose perspectives radically differ from ours. Yet for the same reason, I’m also saddened and frustrated by much of what I read. The vitriol and judgment in some comments by very intelligent people, even in response to fairly reserved and unassuming opinions (see TFT’s comment on Ms. Katie’s post about charter schools) are downright scary. I’m even more frustrated by my own tendency to become defensive at times and start making comments that I think are impassive and witty, but probably sound just a tad bitter.

People all along the spectrum* of support for corporate reform measures are knowledgeable, articulate, and passionate. Yet sometimes I wonder if we are also wise. I think of a quote by Charles Spurgeon on wisdom:

“Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.”

Maybe somewhere in the shouting match between the pro-TFA and anti-TFA, the pro-charter and anti-charter, the pro-Rhee and the anti-Rhee, we’ve lost some of our ability to take all of our knowledge, training, and background, and come together to actually serve a common, noble purpose. Maybe at some point, students stopped being the focus of the conversation and became talking points in our tirades about what we believe is right and who we believe is wrong. I wish that weren’t the case. I wish we’d acknowledge that no good can come of stereotyping a group of people and attacking their individual motives, whether those people happen to be CMs, traditional teachers, or what have you. I wish we would encourage each other, get to know each other at a personal level, and understand that passionate and unique people everywhere are working and demonstrating progress towards educational equity in this country. Maybe it’s not too late?

“Wisdom is what’s left after we’ve run out of personal opinions.” – Cullen Hightower


* I’ve said this before, but I truly believe that it is a spectrum, along which I probably fall squarely in the middle, judging from the many concerns that I’ve directed towards TFA staff and my TNTP-run certification seminar. I’m not sure it would be prudent to publish those concerns on this blog quite yet, but I hope to do so one day.

3 Responses

  1. carol

    totally agree.. it makes me sad and jaded :(

  2. nicely done.

  3. Hey Mr. K,

    I want to be really clear, the reason I engage in these debates is because I want to push and encourage all you current and former CMs to question and to think critically about the organization you are in. I do believe most of you have your hearts in the right place. But I also think you’ve been mislead, along with many in this country. I reach out to you because I feel that you all do want what’s best for kids but often do not fully understand TFA’s greater impact.

    For example, what do you make of this: ? Do you ever wonder why an ultra-conservative organization like the Walton Foundation supports TFA so heavily? I can’t believe union-busting and lower worker wages is what CMs want. Question, question, question!

    I will continue to have conversations with you all because I know you want to be a part of something that is good for your kids. And I will push you to be a part in making Teach for America better.

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