Jul 10 2012

(Fake) response from TFA over Dr. Royal’s remarks

Today I received (actually I am making this up) an email from one of the directors of communication at the TFA national office about the controversy I’ve sparked by writing about a YouTube video (now deleted) where TFA staffer and alum Dr. Camika Royal made comments that I called ‘anti-reform.’  (Again, this is a parody so please don’t take this out of context and pretend it is real unless you really feel you need to.)

Re: Dr. Royal’s remarks

Tuesday, July 10, 2012 11:46 AM

From: “Rick Watson” <[email protected]>

To:  “Gary Rubinstein” <[email protected]>

Dear Gary,

Thank you for your support of Teach For America over the years.  You are a valued alumni and your point of view is something that we value here at national.  I am writing to clear up any confusion about the remarks of Dr. Camika Royal, also an esteemed alumnus, who gave a very inspirational speech at the opening ceremony at the Philadelphia institute a few weeks ago.

In your blog, you characterized the speech as ‘anti-reform.’  I’d like to take this opportunity to set the record straight and you should feel free to publish this for those who have been following this story on your blog.

You implied that the Teach For America staff members were likely disturbed by the ‘surprise’ content of the speech.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  As we do at all Teach For America events, any speakers are required to submit, 48 hours in advance, anything that they plan to say.  After the staff gets a chance to improve the speech, it is returned and the speakers are instructed not to deviate from the improved version of the speech.  Dr. Royal’s speech had gone through this protocol so there was no problem that anyone had with the content of that speech.

We feel that some of the quotes you attributed to Dr. Royal were taken somewhat out of context.  Though you did link to the video so people could see the actual context for themselves, you know, as well as we do, that most people will probably not watch the entire video and will simply assume that you were not trying to take things out of context or you wouldn’t have offered the video in the first place.  While this was a clever strategy on your part, we felt that the best way to avoid this deception would be to remove the video altogether so readers will, by default, assume that the quotes were taken out of context, which they actually were.

An example of such a quote is “By and large, educators here are not bad.  Educators here are tired.  Educators here are reform weary.”  In your post, you suggest that this contradicts what some of our most prominent alumni like Michelle Rhee, Kaya Henderson, John White, Cami Anderson, Mark Sternberg, and Kevin Huffman have said in their diagnosis of the cause of the achievement gap.  What you neglected to mention in your post is that before Dr. Royal said this, she made it very clear that when she said ‘educators here,’ the ‘here’ referred to the teachers in Philadelphia and made no claims about the quality, or lack thereof, of teachers in Washington D.C., Louisiana, Newark, New York City, and Tennessee.  We can assure you that Dr. Royal fully believes that the teachers in those other places are quite bad, and have no right to be ‘reform weary’ and may not use the fact that they are ‘tired’ as an excuse for anything.

Another quote that we would like your readers to know requires more context is when you quoted her as saying “Our schools are more than the lie of successful charters and failing districts.”  As you merely heard the speech and did not get to read the printed version, you could not have known that what she actually said was that “Our schools are more than the LYE of successful charters and failing districts.”  As most people know, lye is a chemical that is used in making soap.  So her comment, in this light, actually shows that she sees the successful charters as a way of cleansing the school system of the failing districts.  There is no way you could have realized that, but if you were there, in person, at the speech, it would have been clear to you.

I hope that this clears up this misunderstanding.  Just like all alumni, including yourself, Dr. Royal is a member of StudentsFirst (we gave them our alumni database).  She knows that the only way to bring up our schools is to elevate the teaching profession by offering freedom and accountability.  She knows that closing down schools and converting them into charters will give parents the choice they deserve.  Studying and developing this style of education reform was, in fact, the central theme of her thesis, which she recently defended.

Please share this with your readers, and, as always, feel free to contact me if you have any further questions.

Best regards,


22 Responses

  1. Pessimistic TFA corps member

    Wow. I’m going to pretend this is “real.” Because it makes me laugh and I need a good laugh today. Thanks Gary. :)

  2. Former TFA staffer


  3. Michael Fiorillo

    Free Camika Royal, held prisoner in a TFA re-education camp, and forced to listen to an endless loop of speeches by Wendy Kopp saying that poor children can learn (if only we replace the teaching force with 22 year-old missionary temps).

  4. efavorite

    Gary – sounds like you know the TFA mindset.

    And where is Dr. Royal? In re-education camp?

    Dear Corps member – please consider encouraging other corp members to demand to get Dr. Royal’s speech back on the web. Lots of people saw it live. It’s the 21st century – everything is on YouTube. Why is this being repressed? Why are CMs standing for it?

    Young people like a cause, right? You joined TFA to do good, right? not just for your resumes, but for kids, too.

    What’s good about taking down an inspirational speech from YouTube?

    Are you afraid of what would happen to you if you asked as a group to have it put back on line?

  5. efavorite

    To Michael — interesting that we independently thought about re-education camp.

  6. Michael Fiorillo


    That’s either because great minds think alike, or because it’s to be expected that an authoritarian cult- like group, whose ideology and practice is an almost 200 proof distillation of Neoliberal orthodoxy, would respond that way.

  7. andy

    you’re a nutcase with too much time on his hands.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      I know it shouldn’t, but this kind of hurts my feelings.

  8. Michael Fiorillo

    Gary, don’t let a TFA troll hurt your feelings. You should take their attacks as a badge of honor.

  9. Terry

    Andy…get back to learning how to be a “teacher”. You will have real kids real soon and you will get a dose of reality. They can smell fear and frauds just so you know.

  10. SkepticalAlum

    Hmm, check Twitter- lots of TFA staff are sharing the same quotes you did. Seems like Dr. Royal uncovered a lot of shared sentiment that folks may have been scared to admit. I think it’s a good thing. Also – I saw your original link and it wasn’t to the official TFA YouTube channel – maybe I’m naïve but it doesn’t seem like Big Brother TFA took anything down! Maybe it was a regional page?

    • SkepticalAlum

      Wow, awesome. She’s brilliant. I have to admit I breathed a sigh of relief to know that she took it down herself.

    • SkepticalAlum

      Also kind of makes me sad to know that Gary basically bullied Camika into taking down her video. That’s disappointing.

      • Terry

        How did he bully her? I am not following your logic.

        Teachers in Philly lost their jobs and TFA comes and takes them. People were supporting their families. Why should veterans lose their careers for an 11 day trained newbie?

  11. SkepticalAlum

    Hmm, did someone delete my comment? I’ll repost – I promise I’m not a troll and I’d be interested in responses.

    Have you checked Twitter lately, Gary? (I’m sure you have!) Lots of TFA staff (including the head honchos) are sharing the same quotes of Dr. Royal as you did. It seems like she uncovered a lot of shared sentiment among TFAers who may have been scared to admit them earlier. I think that’s a good thing, don’t you?

    Also — when you first posted, I saw the video via your link. However, it wasn’t from the official TFA YouTube page, which is the only video site Big Brother TFA manages. Maybe I’m just naive, but it really doesn’t seem like anyone at the top took this thing down. Maybe it was just a regional video site?

    • SkepticalAlum

      Yikes, sorry folks! I guess I didn’t wait long enough to refresh. Sorry for spamming the comment board.

  12. SMH

    What Gary wrote: “Her speech was surprisingly what I’d call ‘anti-reform.’ ”

    What Dr. Royal wrote in her HuffPo article: “My speech was characterized as ‘anti-education reform,’ which is inaccurate and inflammatory.”

    Gary, I wouldn’t characterize you as a bully. In fact, I’ve been a long time reader and fan of yours, but in the interest of honesty, you blew this out of proportion. You tried to shoehorn Dr. Royal in the “reformers” and “anti-reformers” dichotomy, and she rejected that characterization.

    Intelligent, well-informed, and non-inflammatory perspectives are desperately needed out there. We need Dr. Royal, and she realizes that she has something valuable to say. She also realizes that she has to be in control of her message. Whether how she characterizes her speech is “fine” with you or not, it doesn’t matter. It matters that she said what she meant, and that it’s out there under her control.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      I don’t really understand what you are so angry about. Yes, the term ‘anti-reform’ is not accurate since ‘anti-reformers’ are just against a certain type of destructive reform, but in favor of other types, so she is right to explain that, especially as readers of the Huffington Post might not be following these issues.

      I don’t think I tried to ‘shoehorn’ her, just wanted to point out that I agree with what she said (implying that she would agree with a lot that I write).

      I didn’t create the ‘reformer’ vs. ‘anti-reformer’ dichotomy. ‘They’ did. If they are going to describe things in extreme terms, the only way to ‘play’ with them is to do the same.

      As far as blowing things out of proportion, I think that the way I handled it has brought a lot of attention to the issues and generated a lot of productive discussion. If I didn’t write about the speech, it is possible that it would have gone ignored.

      I do think Dr. Royal has a sophisticated view of these issues and is not fully in one ‘camp’ or the other, but she is definitely leaning anti-reform. What concerns me is that people are so upset that I seem to be saying that since I agree with her, and my views are so simplistic, therefore her views are simplistic too. But I don’t think my views are that simplistic, so saying that Dr. Royal and I would agree on a lot, from my perspective, is not the same as saying that she is the overly simplistic view of whats going on.

      All this anger directed at me is very puzzling to me. I may have, by calling attention to this video, caused a huge turning point in TFAs role in the ed reform discussion. Maybe I didn’t do everything perfectly, but I think I deserve a bit of a pat on the back for my efforts.

      • My apologies if my comment came off as anger, but I will say, Gary, it seems at if you have some steam to let off. Not necessarily towards me, though :)

        I won’t back down from my opinion that you shoehorned her speech into the “anti-reform” category. Look back at the title of the post!

        Quite frankly, I agree with you. You didn’t create the “reformer vs. anti-reformers” dichotomy, but you’re perpetuating it. I think one of the things that Dr. Royal was getting at in her article is that the conversation in education is (and should be) much more sophisticated than those stupid, damn labels. YOUR views are more sophisticated those labels, so why do you use them? I don’t buy that it’s the only way to play with them.

        I think that why you are getting a lot of flack. You’re playing ball with “the other side”, and some of your frequent commenters are playing an ugly version of it. Your views are nuanced, you rely on empirical data, and you know better than to take data on it’s face. That’s why I read your blog. It’s why people like Diane Ravitch know who your name. You don’t have to “play”.

        • Excuse the typos…stupid iPhone.

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