"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, October 23, 2015

Disaster Capitalism and Teach for America

by Jim Horn

During the eugenics glory days of the 1920s, American elites who deemed themselves the only citizens fit for democracy argued that, for the Republic to work, a new class of leadership was required to efficiently steer society in directions that the great unwashed herd was incapable of doing through real democratic governance.   Walter Lippman was a chief spokesman for this new American variety of practical fascism under the guise of democracy, and he carried on an active debate in the press with John Dewey.  

As conditions coalesced for the horrific rise of the Third Reich, Dewey persistently argued that the goal of democratic governance is not to prepare a super-corps of efficient administrators to run society but, rather, to educate the citizenry so that they can adequately judge the worth and implications of policies, knowledge claims, and actions.

Lippman was the first to argue for what he termed the "manufacture of consent," by which he meant the manipulation of public opinion along the lines of the technocratic elites' chosen policies.  Now almost 100 years later, and with the help of social media manipulation, "knowledge" production by think tanks, and corporate philanthropists' paternalistic creations like TFA and KIPP, Lippman's democratic dystopia is coming to its propagandistic fruition.

The difference between then and now is that there is no widely-circulated public debate being waged about the desirability of societal leadership by a privileged corps of elite Adderall-addled converts whose humanity and empathy have been displaced by a bare-knuckled arrogant zealotry aimed at socioeconomic solutions that strengthen the inequality and steroidal hierarchies undergirding capitalism.  

The debate so far about Teach for America, for instance, has been focused narrowly on how TFA harms public schools, children, and the teaching profession.  Important for sure, but the focus has had little to do with TFA's primary thrust toward brainwashing a new generation of "leaders" who have drunk the TFA kool-aid and who will carry corporate America's paternalistic values far beyond schools and into every social and political niche.   Once a Corps member, always a Corps member!

It is obvious, too, that the continued battering that TFA has taken regarding its negative effects on educational matters has had an impact, so much so that TFA has had to look for new opportunities to recast itself as a protector of the undertrodden, rather than as a exploitative tool of capitalist hegemony.  

Such an opportunity presented itself with the disastrous string of unnecessary deaths of young black men at the hands of the police.  As the Black Lives Matter movement began to take shape, so did the desire to use the accompanying tragedies to embed TFA alums into leadership positions of the new movement.  Below are links to some recent articles by activists who have witnessed this attempt to use BLM as a device to advance the agenda of TFA and to subvert the battle against institutionalized racism.  Read carefully.  Think hard.  TFA is poison of the most dangerous kind.

Grading TFA.  (This blog post by Orchestrated Pulse offers a TFA communication complaining about the outing of two TFA stooges in Black Lives Matter)

Also, see an article prior that got TFA's attention:  Teach For America’s Embedded In Black Lives Matter

This article has much of the same information but with a few more details:  The Movement Lives in Ferguson 

And finally, below, a letter to TFA stooge, DeRay Mckesson:

Dear Mr Mckesson,

As the social justice caucus within the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, we were surprised to see that you are coming to Philadelphia to speak alongside leaders of Teach For America (TFA). The Caucus of Working Educators is committed to racial justice in our schools and society, and we stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

We see Teach For America as working in opposition to the goals of publicly funded education for all students in Philadelphia and to the goal of increasing the number of teachers of color and teachers who are committed to building relationships with communities over the long term, which we see as an integral component of culturally responsive teaching.

We view the hiring of cadres of racial, cultural, and geographical outsiders with very little teaching preparation as part of a larger neoliberal effort to privatize education and replace unionized teachers (many of whom are teachers of color) with young, inexperienced teachers (most of whom are white and do not intend to stay in the teaching profession and commit to the long-term improvement of their teaching practice).

This practice of displacing African-American teachers, in particular, is already underway. While Philadelphia’s teaching force increased by 13 percent from 2001–2011, the percentage of black teachers dropped by 19 percent. This has contributed to Philadelphia having the greatest disparity between the race and ethnicity of the student body and those who teach them. Only 31 percent of Philadelphia teachers are of color compared to 86 percent of the student body they are teaching. This is unacceptable.

TFA has ties and parallels with the charter school movement, which we see as undercutting public education. The mass charterization of public neighborhood schools has led to the outsourcing of public school management to private operators. Just weeks ago Philadelphia Public Schools announced yet another wave of school closures and conversions of public schools into charter schools affecting upwards of five thousand students. This is in addition to the twenty-three public schools that were closed in Philadelphia in 2013.

The decision to turn a district school into a charter is often made by the highest levels of administration without consulting with the school community, including parents, teachers, students, and leaders. Your support of Teach For America represents a support of these same kinds of outsourced and contracted paradigms for educating our children.

Rather than hiring experienced professionals that will stay in the profession for a long period of time, Teach For America hires individuals with little or no experience in classroom settings via external channels such as private universities and corporately sponsored recruitment. Teach For America and charter schools both represent a failure of public leadership to lead and create change in our public schools, and prioritize outsourcing teaching and school governance over public responsibility to realize every student’s right to a fully funded, culturally relevant education in their neighborhood.

Instead, TFA contributes to the dangerous and misleading discourse that claims poverty and structural inequality have little to no impact on educational outcomes. This irresponsible explanation provides Democrats and Republicans alike with a pretext to continue vicious budget cuts to public services and institutions under the guise that “personal responsibility” and “grit” are the main factors in determining a child’s success or failure.

We live and work in a state that has the largest funding disparity between wealthy and poor districts and in a city whose externally appointed school governance commission is proposing to continue to close down schools that primarily serve low-income African-American families. In Philadelphia, where 79 percent of the city’s students are black and Latino, $9,299 is spent per pupil compared to the $17, 261 spent just across the city line in Lower Merion, where 91 percent of the students are white. This is the civil rights crisis of our generation.

In this context, we believe that it is essential that those who are committed to racial justice take a critical stance against organizations that aim to further privatize education and/or replace fully prepared unionized teachers with underprepared novices who are likely to leave teaching in two to three years.

The Black Lives Matter movement has served as an inspiration and instruction on how to confront racism and inequality throughout our country. Part of that inspiration is the way that the movement has looked at the connections between police violence and racism and other inequalities faced by African Americans.

We consider the attacks on public education to be a part of the “state-sanctioned violence” that the movement has done so much to highlight over the last year. We do not believe that the white billionaires that bankroll Teach For America and the corporate education reform movement are any more interested in the education of poor and working-class black and Latino children than we believe they are interested in ending police violence in black and brown communities. If they were, these crises would no longer exist.

We are glad that you are visiting Philadelphia, and we hope that you will use your platform to engage in a critical dialogue about whether TFA supports — or as we believe undercuts — the goals of a fully funded education for every student in Philadelphia with teachers who know their community and are committed to staying for the long haul.


Members of the Caucus of Working Educators Racial Justice Committee


  1. The Black Agenda Report has more on TFA St. Louis director and Black Lives Matter activist Brittney Packnett.
    "TFA/BlackLivesMatter/Campaign Zero Activist Brittney Packnett (Almost) Tries to Defend the Indefensible"

    Recently Brittany Packnett and DeRay Mckesson were honored by Teach for America with their annual Peter Jennings Award for Civic Leadership
    "Brittany Packnett and DeRay Mckesson Win Peter Jennings Award for Civic Leadership"

    On October, 15 - 17, Brittany Packnett and DeRay Mckesson participated in The Teach For All Global Conference in Auckland, New Zealand. http://goo.gl/l7ebh1

    Recently, Schools Matter posted information and links about TFA in New Zealand. http://goo.gl/EZNMIY

    Radical new teaching system comes to NZ
    NZ Herald - October 17, 2015

  2. Anonymous2:00 PM

    Re: Walter Lippman. And how interesting that at the 1938 Walter Lippmann Colloque the term neoliberal seems to have been born!