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
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.