I wrote the Op-Ed following this introduction for the Daily Bruin when I first returned to UCLA as an undergraduate last September. It was patently ignored by the editorial staff, as were my requests for modification guidelines to get it published. While I have a haunting suspicion that some of the editorial staff may have been protecting Teach for America (TFA), I got so busy with my course-load that I was unable to pursue it any further. When I contacted the UCLA Student Organizations Leadership and Engagement department before the winter break, they informed me that if I wanted to start an organization I needed two fellow students and had to apply during a one week window. Once more overwhelmed in the winter by my course-load, commute, and full time job, I missed that window entirely.
In the meantime a grassroots movement against TFA and neoliberal corporate education reform has grown around much of the work Students United for Public Education (SUPE) has initiated. In mid-February SUPE staged the #ResistTFA campaign on twitter, and it became the top trending item that day. The campaign received national attention, and forced TFA to issue a written response. Although in the middle of a researching for a paper, I was able to tweet a shot I took earlier that day in Powell Library, and dig out an old shot of when I served the empire to point out that even boot camp is longer than TFA's "training." The campaign continued well after the twitter storm. It was so successful, that within weeks the corporate bellwether was publicly discussing increasing the length of their training. While the goal is the abolishment of TFA altogether, getting them to discuss the harm they cause by foisting unprepared and untrained missionaries on low income children is quite a feat.
SUPE's #resistTFA efforts have now been joined by United Students Against Sweatshops, another national group, that has launched a "'TFA Truth Tour' to Expose Dark Side of Corporate Education Reform". They embarked on a 15 campus tour to expose TFA's role in neoliberalism and privatization.
Hannah Nguyen, the student discussed in my original article below, has been organizing non-stop. She was one of the panelists for the Network for Public Education's 2014 National Conference, and is the executive director of the EmpowerED: Los Angeles Student Power 2014 conference being held this Saturday, March 29, 2014.
This brings us to the original piece. I'm still tasked with trying to launch a SUPE chapter at UCLA. However, I declared for Winter of 2014. As of now I am an unofficial graduate (it's not official until UCLA puts it on my transcript). The good news is now I finally have time to do things like mow my lawn and organize students groups. The bad news is that while I'm technically still a UCLA student for a few more weeks, we really need current students to step forward and take up this mantle. I'm making an appeal to any current Bruins, or anyone who knows one, to get in touch with us at SUPE and help make this a reality. The original article, rejected by the student newspaper, still contains the case for why UCLA, a public university, should be one of the main fronts of resistance against the corporate onslaught against public education as embodied by TFA.
The window for starting a new UCLA group this spring is from 9am on April 7, 2014 to at 5pm on April 11, 2014. The instructions for doing so are online. I'm still willing to mentor young activists doing this. I'm also willing to help hand out flyers and talk to students on the weekends. Jackie Goldberg teaches at UCLA, and would probably be willing to be one of the signatories if two students approached her. Let's work to make UCLA a campus willing to defend the public commons! Let's resistTFA!
Students United for Public Education recruiting Bruins
Robert D. Skeels is a Senior in Classical Civilization, he writes about education policy for Schools Matter
I'd like to introduce an exciting student organization that many of my fellow Bruins will want to get involved with. Last year a Rutgers student named Stephanie Rivera met with University of Wisconsin-Madison students named Michael Billeaux, René Espinoza Kissell, and Dan Suárez. The result of their meeting was the founding of an organization called Students United for Public Education (SUPE).
Advocating for public education, and establishing itself as a bulwark against corporate neoliberal education reforms, SUPE grew quickly and garnered support from progressive educators and activists everywhere. The distinguished Professor Diane Ravitch gave SUPE and Rivera her blessings. The renowned National Education Policy Center (NEPC) provided Rivera space to publicize SUPE. I promoted SUPE at various sites when I ran for the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education last winter. SUPE has established alliances with several widely recognized national education organizations including Parents Across America and the Network for Public Education.
You may have heard of Hannah Nguyen. She is the courageous student organizer who confronted controversial school privatization advocate Michelle Rhee at Rhee's recent local promotional event. The YouTube video of the exchange went viral, and several people, including Dr. Ravitch, wrote about the occurrence. Nguyen is much like Ravitch in that she started off supporting neoliberal education reforms, but later recognized their destructive effect on our schools and communities. She is now a powerful advocate for authentic reforms and for a student voice in all education policy discussions.
I first "met" Ms. Nguyen online in May as we were both critiquing the destructive activities of the Walton Family Foundation funded school privatization group, Parent Revolution. It was then I learned Nguyen was a national organizer for SUPE. I mentioned to her that I had just been readmitted to UCLA after a nineteen year hiatus. She told me that she was establishing a local SUPE chapter at USC, and asked me if I'd be interested in doing the same at UCLA. I contacted my friend and Schools Matter colleague Stephen Krashen, Professor Emeritus at USC, and we met with Nguyen to lay the foundation for Los Angeles based chapters. After organizing our respective universities, the goal is to reach out to the local California State Universities, Community Colleges, and high schools.
I've been tasked with establishing the UCLA chapter of SUPE. I need help. We're looking for students who care deeply about public education and want to change the discourse about our schools. SUPE's goals and beliefs can be found on their website and on the NEPC announcement page. They are founded on progressive principles that, among other things, reject school privatization, corporate control, teacher bashing, and the misuse of standardized tests. SUPE embraces equity, educating the whole student, use of culturally relevant curricula, and advocating pedagogical practices that are long proven to work.
As a middle aged 90026 commuter undergraduate with a full time job, mortgage, wife, sponsees, and already overcommitted with copious community activism and volunteer work, I'm best situated to serve an advisory role for students able to take on the lion's share of the organizing work. However, I know there are students who would be thrilled to establish a Bruin chapter of SUPE, and defend public education from forces that are wont to privatize the system from K-12 through the university.
SUPE's current project is their Students Resisting TFA Campaign. As a major component of the neoliberal reform project, Teach for America (TFA) enjoys both widespread hype in the corporate media and financial support from ideologically charged donors like the Walton Family Foundation. Numerous progressive education advocates including P.L. Thomas, Gary Rubinstein, Susan Ohanian, and others have shown that regardless of stated intentions, TFA serves as a reactionary force, exacerbating inequity and inequality in our schools, and often serving as a means of undermining organized labor. Some of the strongest testimony against TFA comes from their former corps members. Students Resisting TFA provides resources to help prospective TFA candidates reconsider their interest in the program.