Jun 14 2012

Teach For Un-America

America is supposed to be ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave.’  And our bravery is really just an offshoot of our freedom — we can feel brave to say and write what we want because we know we have the freedom to do so.  This is something that makes our country great.

So when I hear that TFA is practicing censorship, I get upset.

Before explaining about the latest episode, I’d like to give a brief history of censorship in Teach For America.

Before teachforus.org (which is not run by TFA), there were the tfanet.org professional boards.  Those started in the summer of 2002.  But before those, there was the TFA forum, which was a set of message boards on which people could post what they wanted.  The most popular board was the ‘general’ board, and on that CMs would ask advice, or people would argue about things.  There was even a heated debate about an article a CM published called ‘How I joined TFA — and got sued for $20,000,000.”  Things got pretty rough, especially because anonymous posting was allowed.

And then in July 2002, there was an announcement that the message boards were going to be taken down and replaced with something ‘better.’  The thing they replaced it with, ten years ago, is still up, though rarely used.  Rather than have a general board, they wanted to control the conversation so they made professional forums, or something like that.  For the next six years, until this great teachforus.org came around, TFA had successfully squelched productive critical discussion.

Back in 2002, when I saw the website was going to be updated, I asked if they could migrate the content over.  They said probably not.  So I downloaded three of the discussions, just for posterity.  You, I guess, are now posterity, so here are three ‘lost’ discussions on the old TFA site.  Notice how the slogan was ‘The More You Teach, The More You Learn.’

Click here for an old discussion of ‘What to expect at institute?’

Click here for one about ‘Diversity training at institute.’

Click here for one called ‘I LOVE TFA & bash all non-cult members!’

Now, ten years later, I’ve learned of a new censorship which I’d like to share with all who read this blog.  A new alumni blogger named Emmanuel Parello started his own blog here a few days ago.  In his most recent post he wrote about how a TFA recruitment director sent an email to all TFA alumi that went to that college, and asked them to post tips for the new CMs from that school.

Well, Emmanuel has a unique situation since he quit after his first year.  Quitting was a very tough decision, but he did what he had to do for his own well-being.  He got back into teaching again after reassessing and retraining.  So, even though he quit, he wanted to make sure his TFA alumniship didn’t go completely in vain by offering what he has learned from his experience to advise new CMs.  So he wrote a post, only to learn from the recruitment director that the post was deleted for not giving enough of a positive message and then the he was removed from the group entirely (presumably so he doesn’t try to post any more negative messages.)  I encourage everyone to read the full post.

I was very upset when I read this post, which inspired me to write this one.  I also informed the amazing Diane Ravitch about this.  I don’t like to bother her with things that aren’t important.  As she tweeted this out to her 30,000+ followers, I think it is safe to say that this censorship has already backfired.  It is really hard to keep secrets from the new CMs in this new age of social media, is the moral.

I don’t know who this recruitment director is or even what school he / she is from.  But I’m going to ask that someone pass this on to him / her and deliver this from me:

You may not know me, but think of me as Emmanuel’s big brother.  Censorship is a type of bullying, and I don’t appreciate it.  Censorship is un-American, so I implore you to 1) Put his post back up on that site, 2) Apologize to him.  He gave it his all and suffered through a tough year.  He deserves more respect, and 3) Restore his privileges to post on the board.

If you don’t do this, I may begin referring to Teach For America as ‘Teach For Un-America’ from now on and put a link to his post each time I do.  Eventually your higher-ups will say, even if it is not true, that it was solely your decision to censor the valuable advice he wanted to share — even though it may have helped some of the CMs be more effective when trying to close the achievement gap.  They will throw you under the proverbial bus.

I was proud when I joined TFA 21 years ago.  Now it has become TFU.  And they might as well lose the ‘T’ also.


10 Responses

  1. Meg

    Its extremely disappointing to me that TFA seems unwilling to discuss the realities of the first year (including the part where people quit) with incoming corps members. We had an extremely high drop out rate in my region this year and I honestly feel that part of it was because there was a serious lack of TFA-sponsored discussion about how hard it is. We’re all adults, so I think CMs do need to take some ownership in doing their own research, but TFA pretending things are all flowers and sing a longs doesn’t help anyone.

    As an aside, I think most people who have quit have some insight into what they’d do differently if they did their first year over, so why not include those voices?

    • hill

      Amen. I had to leave the classroom mid-year because of some serious anxiety issues (I received an emergency release). I’ve been tentatively offered the chance to “thought partner” with my region’s MTLDs about addressing these issues, but they’ve already spoken to me about how I should “frame” my ER to ICMs…these are serious issues that TFA has got to start addressing, not covering up with jargon.

  2. I’m all for positive messaging and mindsets (as evinced by my letter to the 2012 corps), but I completely disagree with the recruitment director’s decision in this case—especially considering how balanced and constructive Emmanuel’s post on the Facebook page sounds. And the membership removal was just uncalled for. I really do hope the RD apologizes and acknowledges his misstep.

    By the way, TFU wouldn’t work since those are the initials of Teach For Us as well. Just saying.

    • Tee

      TFWW? Teach For Wendy’s Wallet?

      • KAFA: Kool-Aid For America

  3. Emmanuel Parello

    I’m very honored to have you as a “big brother!” Thanks so much for re-posting. Your blog was actually my inspiration for starting my own, and I just watched your 2003 TFA workshop on classroom management and couldn’t stop nodding and laughing with what you said.

    Just want to add an update: I did receive a personal email of apology from the TFA staff member in question, and I found it to be very sincere.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Was it just an apology, or did the TFA staff member also uncensor your contribution to the Facebook page? Could you give the name of the Facebook page so I can direct readers to it?

      • Emmanuel Parello

        It was a full apology as well as an uncensoring of my contributions to the page. The original post is lost I think, just because a fbook delete can’t be recovered, but I rewrote my original advice and posted it, and he welcomed it. He went on to say that he realized he’d violated his own values in doing what he did and that my voice was worth hearing, and in fact could be very helpful to new corps members.

        I plan to write one more post about it. Is it still a good move at this point to publicize the fbook page? I feel like I got a pretty full victory on this and a genuine apology, so my instinct is to bury the hatchet with him. Nonetheless, I know that TFA as an organization is still very involved with message control, so this is a good issue to keep pushing. I think the recruiting director in question actually summoned his own values here over TFA groupthink (after initially succumbing to that thinking), so I think I’d like to keep the heat off of him personally.

        What do you think?

  4. Colfax

    Thank you for your post defending speech.

  5. James

    Teach For America throws around the word ‘mindset’ like no other. It’s extremely problematic how the organization feels a need to couch any criticism as a ‘mindset problem’ or requiring a ‘mindset chat, talk, whatever.’ If Institute was actually an effective training program, TFA wouldn’t have to worry so much about criticism of the experience.

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