Sunday, January 16, 2005

Teach for America?
A bit of background - back in the heady days of the summer between 9th and 10th grade, I met a girl at camp. I liked her a lot - one of my first crushes. Of course, I was too chicken to do anything about it, so I didn't find out that she had a crush on me as well until after camp was over. Filled with regret (and testosterone) I kept in touch with her for a bit, but as she lived in the Chicago suburbs while I lived on the fringes of the greater cleveland area, this seemed an impossible distance to a high schooler who couldn't drive. I've always been curious about the "what-ifs" though - in the sense that we always are about the first few people we like before our first loves.

In trying to find out what this girl was up to, I learned she worked for teach for america a few years back. And that she is quite political. Both good things. But what was noteworthy was this quote from her posted on the web:

My experiences at U-M (and particularly in Women’s Studies) helped mold my philosophy that our society has gone far too deep into its racism, sexism, and classism to change its ways, and that we should be actively breaking that down to form a new, more egalitarian society. Now I am a part of pursuing that by empowering my students for social change. It is not by coincidence that one of my girls who prior to 8th grade only cared about revenge for her brother in jail through her gang has now taken on a letter-writing pursuit to help bring more medical resources to her area and the school. It is not by sheer luck that a girl who told me right away that her goal in life is to find a boyfriend and have his first child by age 16 is now reading up about college scholarships for Latinas for her older sister and herself too. It is not completely random that in a field littered with ongoing gang fights, roughly 50 students (who contacted the local news in advance) held an anti-war rally during recess, saying if Bush wants war, he should recruit a more diverse military so that not just working class kids become soldiers and die in war.

Now, one may agree or disagree with this girl who was one of my first crushes on some of her points. But that is not why I am writing - my question is whether the political views that this girl taught to her students is what is typically taught by volunteers for teach for america. For if it is, I would have suddenly conflicted views about the organization - as opposed to it being a do-good organization that is trying to make a difference in individual lives, it would become a do-good organization that is trying to make a difference but in the process is teaching politicized views to impressionable youngsters. Of course, one could then counter by questioning the harm of that, as impressionable youngsters are already getting views from partisan career teachers. Even if not, the benefit of having a few lives altered dramatically for the better is worth (in my opinion) the cost of youngsters being led to one side of the political aisle, but that is a seperate discussion. The point is that Teach for America may not necessarily be the completely good organization that I have pictured it in the past - it could in some sense be akin to religious groups that show up after major accidents, help the victims, and then give out information on coming in for free stress testing. If I refrain from criticizing Teach for America here, wouldn't that require me, out of consistency, to refrain from criticizing those religous groups? Why not?

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