Reflection on Visiting the UChicago SSA

Inspirational banners hand in the lobby of the SSA.

Inspirational banners hang in the lobby of the SSA.

Today I went on a “trek” (think field trip, but the version designed for college students who are being taught to practice their networking skills) with the Careers in Education Professions program to the School of Social Service Administration. While there is probably no more than a 1-2% chance (at most) of me deciding to either go into social work or attend the SSA, it was still a nice chance to meet new people with a fresh perspective on education.

In my opinion, the visit was probably a bit too much like one of the many college information sessions that I have no desire to repeat (though it seems like I’ll have to for graduate programs), but it was still an interesting experience. I enjoyed hearing about the mix of clinical and administrative focuses of the SSA student population. The most appealing aspect of the school is its fundamental (in some ways, even institutionalized) dedication to interdisciplinary study and discourse between individuals working in all types of social justice issues. While it is certainly overwhelming to think about all of the different actors, institutions, and bureaucracies that one must keep in mind when analyzing educational policy, it is nonetheless necessary, and incredibly stimulating intellectually. 

One thought that the trek to the SSA made me think about is the danger that arises from stereotypes of social workers.  Our host at the SSA spoke about the infamous, media-popularized stereotype of social workers, namely, an emotionless female bureaucrat holding a clipboard who comes into homes with the sole purpose of detaching children from their parents and destroying people’s lives. While I don’t think I would make a very good clinical social worker (and don’t plan to try), a few members of my family have backgrounds in social work and I have always had the utmost respect for them and their work. But this makes me somewhat of an exception. Social work as a profession faces a lot of distrust from society as a result of misguided media portrayals. Of course, there are always some members of any category who actually do fit the stereotype, but I want to believe that this is the minority of individuals in the case of social workers.

This leads me to wonder two things. First off, where do these stereotypes come from, and how are they perpetuated? I’m sure there’s a long history behind this particular stereotype, as is the case with most, along with a couple of not-so-great social workers who only made it worse. I’m inclined to believe that governmental bureaucracy also plays a huge role in perpetuating this infamy, even just by its severe lack of financial support encouraging social work as a profession valuable to society.

My second question: how much harm has the social worker stereotype caused? This is certainly a depressing train of thought to ride out, because I think it’s probable that many individuals and families who could have benefitted greatly from the help of social workers have not reached out for such help due to the societally supported assumption that social workers are vultures who aim to further hurt people who are already down on their luck. After visiting the SSA, at least I take some comfort in knowing that the future social workers being trained at the SSA will have the interdisciplinary abilities and knowledge of policy to fight the bureaucracy that aims to tarnish their reputation as important contributors to society.

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Brief Takeaways from Visiting the Academy for Global Citizenship

Today I visited the Academy for Global Citizenship in Chicago with a student organization I’m involved with at school, Block 58. Honestly I had no idea what I was in for beforehand–no clue what kind of school it was, or even where it was–but it was a surprisingly interesting visit to a very unique school setting, and I’m really glad I went. 

While at the ACG, we had the opportunity to meet briefly with the woman who founded the school. She is an extraordinarily energetic and enthusiastic person (I mean, really energetic) who had the idea to start a school focused on global, holistic education after visiting about 85 countries, going to schools in many of these countries, and essentially becoming an autodidact in international educational systems. When speaking of her initial encounters with the CPS in her attempts to start a charter school, she readily acknowledged her initial naiveté, which is something I always respect, particularly when it comes accompanied by retrospection and visible growth. Though now a successful school founder who has “figured out” how to give the CPS what they want to hear, she still seems fairly idealistic in her future plans for the school’s growth, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Particularly in education, it can be really difficult to determine where the line falls between naive and productive types of idealism. It speaks a lot to what we’ve been discussing about “charismatic leadership” in one of my sociology of education courses, which is a really fascinating theoretical concept when applied to the practical implementation of charter schools, particularly in inner-city neighborhood bureaucracies….but I digress. 

What really impressed me about ACG was the (seemingly) successful implementation of a focus on holistic education (I say seemingly successful because we didn’t actually have too much time to observe classroom practice, but from the few classroomswe saw, the children seemed really engaged with the curriculum). There is a focus on wellness and health that certainly is not common in public schools, though it should be. The school provides students with breakfast, lunch, and snack, all from a fully sustainable and organic kitchen. They also learn from young age how to separate recycling, composting, and landfill garbage, which is not only healthy for the earth, but also plays a large role in helping children understand the consequences of their actions and gain a sense of responsibility for the world around them from a young age, which is always an important skill to acquire. Furthermore, they learn how to read nutrition labels from a young age as well, and last year provided a workshop where the students got to show off their skills by teaching their parents about nutrition labels. This anecdote highlighted the community-building spirit of the school, which is a really impressive ideal, though I’m always hesitant in believing that any school or small-scale institution can really engage the parents who could benefit the most (ie, those who have the least time/opportunity to get involved in such outreach efforts).ImageA mural on the wall at the ACG shows the importance of learning about environmental and personal wellness for students. 

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Announcing the Reimagination of My Blog!

This blog began as a summertime endeavor, a way of keeping myself actively aware of and engaged with the current events of the education realm. Since the summer ended and school has restarted, I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to continue this blog, and frankly, I’ve missed it. Blogging provides a great opportunity to hash out my feelings about current events and, in doing so, figure out where I actually stand on the issues. There are still so many issues in education policy that I have yet to discover, and even more that I have yet to discover my stance on. The more I learn, both in school and in the outside world, the more I realize that with many of the major issues, I may never come to a fully formed opinion.

While I wish I had infinite amounts of time to spend on this blog reading, writing, and reflecting on the world around me, I have to admit that much of my time is taken up by schoolwork. This isn’t to say that I don’t adore schoolwork (because I do), but it does mean that the nature of my blog must change to better fit the life that I live at the moment. I’ve spent some time thinking about how blogging might fit into my life during the school year and have decided to reengage in blogging, though in a less involved way. Instead of trying to write about current events in education daily (or nearly daily), I am going to use this blog from time to time as a way to reflect on my experiences with education. There are so many amazing opportunities I’m getting to partake in while at school, and blogging about these experiences will allow me to get even more out of these opportunities. 

So, from now on, whenever I have an interesting education-related experience–whether it be an internship, attending a cool workshop, participating in a tutoring program, visiting a local school, meeting guest speakers at events, or even just a really interesting class–I’ll make sure to dedicate a bit of time afterward to jot down some notes on the experience and reflect on what it taught me. My posts won’t be as long, but I think they will be really helpful by allowing me to keep a sort of diary of my education-related life events and continue the journey of discovering how I want to fit into the world of education policy.

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Who Should be Advocating for Students?

ImageToday’s post won’t be too long (as you can tell, I’ve been much busier lately, and also pretty exhausted). But I saw this picture/meme/what-have-you online yesterday and loved it so much that I have spent some time pondering the subtext of this very real and traumatic truth that Ravitch is pointing to.

One thing that pops out to me from this meme is that teachers need–and not only need, but deserve–protection. I’ve been doing some interesting reading on the history of teachers’ unions and the political controversies on the matter, but the truth is, teachers’ unions must exist for all of us, not just for the teachers. Teachers’ unions were established to help protect teachers from unfair treatment and arbitrary dismissal. While it may be true that the presence of unions makes it more difficult to fire ineffective teachers, I do not believe that getting rid of unions is the answer. You see, with unions, it is harder to fire teachers; without unions, teachers may be fired arbitrarily, dismissed on grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, or other personal characteristics, and are unable to defend themselves against harassment from employers.

But this brings us to another part of the issue–are unions doing enough to protect teachers? Under the reign of all-powerful high-stakes testing, teachers are evaluated partially based on their students’ test scores. These evaluations then play a role in the decision in which teachers should be laid off. Frankly, I see very little difference between pre-unionized teachers being fired arbitrarily (ultimately, based on race, religion, gender, etc.) and teachers being fired based on arbitrary test scores.

In fact, the situation we face today may be even worse, since the teachers who are laid off are often the teachers who are most needed. Students with the lowest test scores often come from low-income or poverty-stricken neighborhoods and frequently live in households with little to no sense of consistency or stability. For these students, having teachers laid off and replaced frequently by young, temporary Teach for America idealists takes away one of the few sources of stability that exists in their lives. And needless to say, stability and consistency dramatically increase a child’s sense of safety, and ultimately increases the child’s ability to achieve, both academically and in all other aspects of life.

Teachers are constantly being laid off where they are needed most, and it seems that teachers’ unions are doing relatively little to stop it. Whether it’s because they can’t or they won’t, I’m not entirely sure. To be fair, this doesn’t go for everyone–particularly in Chicago, the CTU has done an outstanding job of standing up for its teachers amid the chaos of school closure announcements and massive layoffs.

Even in Chicago, the students have begun to lose faith in the abilities of their teachers. They are establishing a union for themselves, a union of students. This is an amazing example of students joining together and taking civic education into their own hands. I am impressed by the efforts up until now, hope they continue, and hope that students from around the country will pay attention and join the movement to give students a voice in their own education.

Having said that, I believe that the fact that a students’ union is forming–and the fact that it is clearly needed–is in some ways unfortunate. It means that the teachers’ unions are not paying attention to the underlying issue at hand. Maybe in all the fighting for higher teacher salaries, the teachers’ unions have forgotten that they must stand strong and advocate for their students as well. However, I can’t fairly say that this is the fault of the unions. Maybe there needs to be another union to advocate specifically for students, because god knows the teachers have enough to fight for concerning their own livelihood.

Students need someone to advocate for their education. When the only students who receive a good education are the ones who fight for it, then we end up missing out on the opportunity to inspire millions of students who don’t know how to fight or don’t know anything better to fight for. I believe the government should be advocating for students’ rights to a proper education. The government often forgets that it shares the goals of the students: to learn more, achieve more, and participate more in today’s globalized economy. But the government continues to take opportunities away from students, in the form of teacher layoffs, budget cuts, and replacing opportunities for creativity with forced constant test prep. Out of frustration and desperation, politicians continue to hurt students, and by doing so, they continue to hurt our nation.

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Who are the Players in the Fight to Save Chicago Public Schools, and Why Do They Matter?

This post was inspired by Asean Johnson.

This week, we’ve seen some interesting developments in the fight to save the 49 schools that the CPS announced it will close for the upcoming school year. There has been tremendous outrage over the past few months, and I’m glad to see that the fight to save the schools does not stop just because the school year ended. In fact, the fight seems stronger than ever, with new players becoming involved every day. I’d like to take a minute to look at all of the different players in the CPS closure protest and how their involvement has affected the fight. 

Teachers: The teachers of Chicago schools–including those that are not being affected by the planned closures–have had the loudest voice in the protest since the very beginning. Particularly those active within the Chicago Teachers’ Unions have been out on the streets rallying, tweeting non-stop about their engagement with the fight, and posting articles on the CTU website frequently to keep up with the heap of events and developments concerning the fight to save the schools. CTU President Karen Lewis has been in the public eye since the CPS announced the school closures back in March, making sure to voice her support for the union’s teachers in rallies, city hall meetings, interviews, and social media.

The CPS announced this week that they were laying off an additional 2,000+ school staff, including 1,036 teachers. News of particularly outrageous layoffs have been circulating the internet; most noticeably, stories about Xian Barrett. Firstly, Barrett found out that he was being laid off only because the CPS called his mother to give her the news. Talk about adding insult to injury! Secondly, Xian Barrett is an outstanding case because he was chosen as a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow by the U.S. Department of Education in 2009. Barrett is an outstanding teacher who has actively worked with students outside the classroom to help them learn about issues of social justice while serving the community. Laying off Barrett comes to many a sign that the CPS is taking teachers’ jobs and destroying their lives without so much as a glance at who it is that they’re laying off. After all, they need only look on the U.S. Department of Education website to see a profile of Xian Barrett, a talented teacher that the country claims to be proud of having.

Barrett believes that the CPS laying him off sends another message as well. He said in an interview:

[The administrators] are certainly not happy about union activity, but when I look at who has been laid off again and again in these types of situations, it seems like they target the allies for students even more aggressively than they target the union […]We live in a time where being cruel to public workers is acceptable in some ways, especially [those who are] people of color. But with students you’re not allowed to be quite as overt about it. So when young people go to board meetings and oppose them again and again, [the administrators] feel like they have to do something, they can’t just ignore it.

This brings us to the next category…

Students: Students have long been involved in the fight to save their own school communities, but only this week does it seem that they are starting to gain some real power in the movement. At a Board of Ed meeting held in Chicago on July 24th, students were allowed 2 minutes to voice their opinions about the school closings. This is, of course, time that the Board of Ed will never actually spend listening to the children, and allowing them to speak is simply an action taken in the name of placation. However, this is something that the students know, and they are not willing to just let it go. “One thing I don’t get about this board is that you only give us two minutes to speak and you give these corporate businesses, what, an hour to speak?” These were words spoken at the BOE meeting by 9 year-old Asean Johnson, a 3rd grader in Chicago who is quickly becoming the face of students in the Chicago school closings struggle. Asean started gaining recognition a few months ago, when he brought the crowd to its feet at a CTU rally. He is passionate, articulate, and–although the CPS doesn’t want to admit it–he knows what he’s talking about. I cannot emphasize enough how much I recommend watching these videos of him speaking his mind.

Some people are saying that the students are being used unfairly as political props. It’s a valid argument, and one that I have mixed feelings about. The truth is that children have always been used as pawns in politics. Rarely do they have any real power except as a symbol of cuteness and vulnerability that people can twist and manipulate to fit their arguments. It is true that some of the words that Johnson spoke at the BOE meeting were clearly not his own; words such as “nepotism” were very likely fed to him by the CTU. Having said all this, I still believe that students should continue to force their voices into the conversation. This is, after all, about their education, and they understand more than the CPS wants to admit. Furthermore, fighting for their schools is a sure way to spark a passion in public service and social justice, and I have no doubt that some of these kids may be inspired to continue the fight as adults.

Even though the CPS can dismiss children such as Asean as ignorant, there have been teenagers joining the fight who are clearly more informed, organized, and harder to ignore. The group Chicago Students Organized to Save Our Schools (CSOSOS) has really grown a lot in the past few months. They organized a protest outside the BOE meeting on July 24th that had a lot of participants. In addition, they organized a protest inside the meeting, ultimately linking arms and chanting before being physically escorted from the meeting by security shouting: “Whose schools?” to the response, “OUR SCHOOLS!”

Parents: There have been some strong parent voices that have become popular and well-known, particularly on Twitter and other social media. Some great charts and tweets were released this week by @foolforcps, including a list of the top 5 and bottom 5 schools receiving money from the CPS, of which the top 5 are charter schools. Chicago Public Fools also released a list of the top 9 expenses that CPS finds worthy, a piece called ‘Top 9 things CPS is spending money on like it’s not broke,’ written by a contributor called South Side CPS Mom. Overall, I’ve been impressed by the speed at which parents are spreading information online.

In addition, parents joined forces with lawyers last week to bring the school closures fight to federal court. Parents filed two lawsuits against the CPS: one claimed that school closures disproportionately affect African-American and minority students, while the second claimed that “welcoming schools” could not have time to properly prepare for incoming students with disabilities, and thus that the district is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. The hearing went on for 4 days, with parents contributing testimony along with teachers and CPS officials. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of parents and supported by the CTU. The judge will announce a decision on the potential injunction in August.

Human Rights Activists: This is a new player in the fight, and one that I am particularly intrigued by. Human rights activists have sent the issue of school closures to the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. The letter of allegation is entitled “Letter of Allegation Regarding the Closing of 49 Public Elementary Schools in Chicago, Illinois, United States of America” and was sent on behalf of the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights. The issues covered in the allegation include the dangers posed to minority and disabled students that have been covered by the lawsuit. In addition, the letter of allegation also claims that the closures violate international human rights law concerning:

  • The right to equality and non-discrimination in education
  • The right to be free from violence and the right to life
  • The right to quality of education
  • The right and opportunity to take part in the conduct of public affairs
  • Justification of lack of financial resources

Whether the claim that CPS closures violate international human rights law has enough merit to make the CPS the center of a UN investigation–or even any merit at all–has yet to be seen. Regardless, I am very excited by the interest that human rights advocates have shown in the fight to save the Chicago public schools. All of the players listed above have made a tremendous effort to show that democratic and active citizenship is a spirit that is still alive in America, but the human rights advocates have made a point to highlight a deeper truth: we must remember that we are accountable to something greater than our own nation, greater than even our own democracy. CPS must be held accountable to the fundamental value that exists in educating and protecting children.

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Paul Vallas in Bridgeport, Democracy Gone Bad

Let’s talk about one Mr. Paul Vallas.

The New York Times published a story on July 21st called ‘Change Agent in Education Collects Critics in Connecticut Town.’ To be honest, I don’t know why this story wasn’t published weeks ago. Additionally, I find fault with the title of the story: firstly, Vallas is not a “change agent,” and secondly, Vallas is not collecting critics in Connecticut. Mr. Vallas now has vehemently upset critics all over the country, because this is not a story of a Connecticut school reformer gone bad. This is the story of American school reform gone bad.

I do believe that Vallas, like many, started off as a ‘good guy.’ I want to believe that he was simply someone who saw problems with the school system and wanted to help change that system. I want to believe that Vallas had good intentions. But it’s hard to believe that when it is quite apparent that Vallas has never once engaged in self-reflective behavior, an attitude that is becoming all too common among so-called school reformers.

The importance of self-reflection is something I find I cannot emphasize enough. Vallas first became CEO of the Chicago Public Schools in 1995. He was made CEO of the CPS by the first Mayor Daley, after Daley convinced Illinois to put the large urban school system under mayoral control. As Diane Ravitch puts it, “Paul Vallas was the first of non-educators to get the top job of reforming public education.” The position of CEO of the CPS is still seen as Vallas’ first major position as an education reformer, and according to him, a successful one. But this could not be further from the truth. If anything, Vallas focused on storytelling during his reign as CEO of the CPS, and conveniently neglected to investigate the data, all of which showed the falsity of his storytelling. He claimed that dropout rates had decreased by a whopping 50%, even though this was only possibly true when the definition of dropout from CPS was changed to leave out all students who left the public schools and eventually received training at night school. Not only is this egotistical and non-reflective self-evaluation, but a clear example of complete dismissal of data and logic.

After Chicago, Vallas went on to “reform” schools all over the country. By “reform,” I am, of course, referring to the self-serving act of traveling around the country posing for photographs with minority students while disregarding their needs in order to achieve political power and fame. From Chicago, Vallas went on to work in school districts in places such as New Orleans, Philadelphia, and even Haiti. Vallas became known for his work in urban school districts that were poverty-stricken and overwhelmingly minority. In reality, the policies he enacted had a largely negative impact on minority and lower-class students. Unfortunately, the truth received much less recognition than the artificial political legacy that Vallas was busy crafting for himself.

Substance News, a newspaper focused on news concerning public education, published a story called The Paul Vallas I Knew, a piece which outlined the outwardly racist attitude that Vallas encouraged with many of his education policies in Chicago. Substance News republished the piece last week, in a response to the current national outcry against Vallas. The decision to republish this piece should not be seen as a “we told you so” moment. Instead, it should serve as a reminder that it is our duty as members of our political system to read the news when it is available to us and express our outrage as soon as it is deserved, not 11 years later when the problem has gotten so out of control that millions of school communities have already been killed by the policies that have been in the works for over a decade.

The current controversy concerning Vallas, the controversy that has finally had enough traction to gain the attention of the American people, concerns the Bridgeport, CT school system. Vallas was made superintendent of the Bridgeport schools earlier this year, signing a 3-year contract with the Bridgeport school board in March. Carmen Lopez filed a lawsuit against him and the school board, claiming that Vallas never completed a state-mandated leadership program and was therefore not qualified or legally able to have the job. On June 28th, a Superior Court judge in Connecticut ruled that Lopez was correct, and ordered that Vallas be removed from his position as superintendent.

What I find incredible is that the city, the school board, and Vallas still do not comprehend the ruling (which they are, by the way, appealing). Instead of Vallas completing the mandated 13 months of training, Vallas received a waiver that allowed him to complete his certification in fewer than ten days. “There is no doubt,” the judge wrote in her decision, “that Vallas received preferential treatment.” How Vallas could argue otherwise is a mystery to me. Arne Duncan continues to play dumb along with him, saying that the whole situation is “beyond ludicrous.” Arne Duncan is claiming that it is “beyond ludicrous” that people with the fame and prestige of school reform politicians should have to follow the law. To be fair, there are others who continue to defend Vallas who may not be as power-hungry and egomaniacal as Duncan (for instance, see ‘In Defense of Paul Vallas‘).

It is my sincere (albeit dim) hope that the case of Vallas and Bridgeport may come to some good. This is an opportunity to change the way the American public sees “education reformers.” These people are not gods; they are power-mongering businessmen-turned-politicians who, in rare cases, are also convicted of using their power to betray the public and pursue illegal means to achieve power. But this is also an opportunity to rethink the way we see politics, the way we read our news and force our voices into the public sphere. Vallas famously called blogging “electronic graffiti,” but I say let this ruling against him offer encouragement to the bloggers, tweeters, and other 21st century citizens of this nation. Let’s raise our voices and make sure politicians know that we will not allow Vallas or anyone else to say their privilege puts them above the law. As I said at the beginning of this post, this is a story of American school reform gone bad. But even more so, I realize now, this is a story of democracy gone bad. The ruling against Vallas’ special privilege is a step in the right direction, it’s now up to the American public to continue the fight.

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TFA Dissent: The Implications of a Potential Civil War

The Free Minds, Free People education conference took place this past weekend in Chicago. One of the most talked about events of the conference was a summit held Sunday, organized by Teach for America alumni and other activists and community members in order to discuss their active opposition to TFA. The dissent within TFA has been rising for some time now, and since The American Prospect published a story about TFA’s internal feuding last week, people have begun to refer to the matter as a ‘TFA Civil War.’ It’s catchy, sure, and has a nice ring to it that may attract media and bolster people’s energy, but is it really a good idea to refer to internal TFA opposition as a civil war?

If this opposition truly is a civil war, then it is important to look at the platforms of both armies. TFA is a program that sends mostly recent college graduates into inner city schools to teach for two years. The TFA Institute is a 5-week program that is supposed to train these young people to teach and handle the difficulties that they will encounter in underprivileged school communities. The idea is to put fresh, young talent into underprivileged classrooms in order to help students learn and introduce teachers to the realities of the classroom.

Most opposition to TFA is based on the assertion that there is very little emphasis on the ‘to help students learn’ part of that sentence. Challengers of TFA claim that the TFA program is fundamentally flawed in this respect. Firstly, many people guffaw at the claim that a 5-week Institute can prepare inexperienced college graduates for how to teach children, and underprivileged ones at that. Secondly, the program is designed to force members to teach at these underprivileged schools for two years, after which they are exhausted and more than happy to find new jobs teaching in schools with more resources and less poverty. This causes instability in poverty-stricken schools, and more importantly, infuses the lives of children with even more instability than already exists. With teachers coming in and out of schools every two years, it is difficult to create a stable school community that can help stabilize students who have no stable environment outside of the school setting.

Until now, most of the opposition to TFA has been publicized through the use of sarcasm and bitter humor. The well-known humor newspaper The Onion recently published a point/counterpoint piece that was clearly aimed at programs like TFA; although it did not name anyone or any program in particular, it does reference the insufficiency of a “five-week training program,” a statement obviously directed at TFA. The point piece is entitled ‘My Year Volunteering As A Teacher Helped Educate A New Generation of Underprivileged Kids,’ which comes from the perspective of a fictional volunteer teacher who saccharinely and proudly asserts that after just one year, she was able to “connect with them and fully understand their backgrounds and help them become the leaders of tomorrow.” The counterpoint, entitled ‘Can We Please, Just Once, Have A Real Teacher?’ is written by a fictional fourth-grader who makes several compelling arguments, notably much more sincere and provocative than the teacher. He says:

Just once, it would be nice to walk into a classroom and see a teacher who has a real, honest-to-God degree in education and not a twenty-something English graduate trying to bolster a middling GPA and a sparse law school application. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a qualified educator who has experience standing up in front of a classroom and isn’t desperately trying to prove to herself that she’s a good person.

This piece is now being joined by another phenomenon, @ChadForAmerica, a Twitter personality who publishes satirical tweets based on the inspiration that TFA claims to offer, such as his tweet:

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 12.28.34 PM

This tweet comes from a blog post written by Gary Rubinstein, ‘Hanging Chad,’ in which Rubinstein (who happens to be a TFA alumnus who questions the program’s effectiveness) writes that Chad’s tweets are examples of unacceptable behavior that TFA is encouraging in its trainees. To be fair, it seems questionable whether or not Rubinstein understands the satirical nature of @ChadForAmerica.

The fact that so much of the opposition to TFA up to this point has taken the form of satire is an interesting phenomenon. Sadly, it is frequently humor more than anything that gets people to focus their attention on the ridiculousness and simultaneous realness of current events (Tina Fey’s word-for-word imitation of Sarah Palin’s interview with Katie Couric, anyone?). Satire, however politicized and pointedly challenging, is not a sign of civil war. Satire takes place when people are in disbelief, unready to do the hard work required to establish change but, nevertheless, unwilling to let their voices go unheard. It is my belief that satire marks the approaching end of the calm before the storm.

The summit at the Free Minds, Free People conference is far from satire. This is arguably the first serious and wide-scale action that TFA opponents have organized. For those who believe the TFA is, in fact, having a civil war, then this summit may prove to be preparation for the first battle. If their plan is to make this a civil war within TFA, then alumni will prove to be a separate entity from TFA. They will need to distance themselves from the corps while still managing to use their experiences in TFA to advance their arguments.

But is distancing themselves from TFA the best method of effective action? Civil war requires this distance, but civil war does not allow open and potentially productive communication between the organization and its opposition. As we have seen so much this year, with students around the country deaffiiliating from Students for Education Reform, with grassroots ‘traditionalists’ increasingly differentiating themselves from corporate ‘reformers,’ more and more education activists are disassociating themselves from their large-scale, corporate counterparts, thereby destroying the opportunity to work with these organizations and try to affect change within them. I do recognize n many cases, it has proven impossible to change the organization from within, and the underdog has no option but to break free of its leash (I know this from my experience with the UChicago’s SFER deaffiliation).

So, the question remains: will TFA opponents follow suit and commence a full-fledged civil war? I don’t think they have yet, but they may soon. In doing so, they will either force TFA to change its ways or completely alienate themselves from the people with the power and wealth to change the status quo. At this point, I think it’s a 50-50 chance it would go either way. Before declaring full-on civil war, I would suggest that TFA opponents take a moment to consider a wise adage:

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

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