Jul 20 2012

Revenge of the Seth

One goal TFA’s new ‘Pass The Chalk’ blog is intended to demonstrate that they are not afraid to show the world that the 40+ thousand people who make up the alumni and current corps are not in agreement on all issues.  Though this is common knowledge based on much of what you read on my blog and many others, TFA has made a good decision, if they are genuine, to get the ‘sides’ discussing in a friendlier neutral space.

According to Wendy’s first post:

There’s a robust discussion about education that’s increasingly taken place online and on social media, and too often it focuses on the negative, oversimplifies issues, and creates false dichotomies, thus failing to advance our collective learning and understanding.

We’ve created this blog with the goal of helping to shape a more positive and productive discussion about how to achieve the goal we all agree on—the goal of a country where every child has the opportunity to receive an excellent education. We need to hear more from the legions of people who are working for progress every day in classrooms and statehouses and advocacy organizations. We want to share our observations about the biggest challenges facing our kids, what works, and what doesn’t.

I don’t know if Wendy thinks of me as one who “too often it focuses on the negative, oversimplifies issues, and creates false dichotomies, thus failing to advance our collective learning and understanding.”  I’d say that someone like Michelle Rhee is way more guilty of that than me.  Perhaps Wendy is talking about Michelle Rhee too.

Unlike here at teachforus.org, it is not that easy to get something published on ‘Pass The Chalk.’  It seems that they have invited an initial group of about five people to model the sort of discourse we should expect on the blog.

Heather Harding wrote an interesting post yesterday in which she said that she does not want to send her own kids to racially segregated schools.  This is somewhat controversial as most KIPP schools, for example, are very segregated.  I like Heather and she has been helpful in the past, though I feel that my recent ‘debate’ with her on NPR has soured our lines of communication.  Still, I respect her knowledge and commitment to educational inequity.

But looking at the latest TFA blogger, Seth Saavedra, definitely surprised me.  If Wendy was looking to avoid any person “who focuses on the negative, oversimplifies issues, and creates false dichotomies, thus failing to advance our collective learning and understanding,” then Seth would be one of the last people she should invite to be one of the core group of bloggers.

For those of you who have been reading my blog since last year, you might remember that Seth emerged as a commenter after I wrote a post called What happened to my TFA?  Up until that point, I had been mostly criticizing ‘reformers’ but had not made the connection between TFA and the reformers.  This was my first real ‘TFA rant,’ followed later by ‘Why I did TFA, and why you shouldn’t’ and ‘Why some people like TFA somewhat less than others do‘ and ‘Fly My Pretties‘ among others.

In the post, I wrote how bad I felt that TFA had ‘sold their soul’ and mentioned, cryptically, that someone had somehow publicly ‘based’ my hero Diane Ravitch.

Seth left this comment:

Gary,

Noble efforts on the piece and I appreciate the faux nostalgia. I think you would really benefit from hanging around a TFA office, or with current CMs and their PDs to learn more about the ever increasing effectiveness of CMs since 1991. You focus purely on your incorrect perceptions of what has negatively changed in the last two decades and on none of the dramatic wins we’ve seen occur in the time.

Chief among my concerns regarding your extreme logical leaps of faith and fallacies is your claim that TFA should not place in regions w/o teacher shortages. Excuse you? A district being fully staffed has exactly nothing to do with the quality of those teachers or the distribution of them among underserved schools. I assume you know how feeble of an argument this is given the relative little ink given to it. I went to a lot of crappy schools, none of which had or have a shortage of teachers willing to come in and occupy a desk for 185 days. So, is your underlying belief that if there is no teacher shortage in a given district then there is no quality shortage either? Coming for an underserved community that’s just frankly offensive and ignorant.

Lastly, I’m pretty sure I’m the one you’re referring to as “publicly bashing” Diane Ravitch? First of all, Twitter is considered public bashing? Second, my reply was a response to yet another union puff piece she was promoting. Three, many of these “detrimental reforms” are ones she was once the promoter for. Four, your claim she is “the person who knows more about the U.S. education system than any other person alive” shows exactly how in the pocket you are for her. Idolatry much? Five, you must follow her Twitter feed and also read the slew of misinformation and divisive (not to mention delusional too often) vitriol which spews forth. So if asking her via Twitter if she’s paid by unions is “bashing her in public” then I’m guilty as charged. If you play in the mud, you get dirty Gary.

So, Gary, your poorly reasoned arguments disguised by some sense of noble reminiscing has not fooled me, and I hope not many others who encounter your blog looking not for divisive commentary (and someone building a readership base on negative viewpoints as opposed to genuine solutions) but actual solutions. I am a rather vocal voice on the things I want to see change about TFA, but I don’t sit around writing whiny blogs about how so much has changed and all for the worse.

I AM TFA as well and the students we serve were me when I was being cheated out of an adequate education. So, this work is deeply personal for me in a way that demands I not subvert the service of students with ideology or some imagined dogma. The truth is that TFA continues to be one of the most powerful and positive forces in ensuring our poorest students and communities have advocates and quality/caring teachers. These may not serve the best interests of adults, which appear to be your and Diane’s primary foci. I have plenty of critiques about the work TFA does, but I’m also a part of the conversation to help realize what I want to see change—more than simply writing snarky and egregiously flawed blog posts.

Though I didn’t make a big deal of it back then, I think it becomes more relevant as he was chosen to be an ambassador of hope on the new TFA blog, to show how civil we can all discuss these tough issues, that Seth’s Twitter comment about Diane Ravitch was, in fact, what set me off and ultimately got me on a new thread that resulted in the ‘Why I did TFA and why you shouldn’t’ post that got me invited on various radio shows.

The comment was:

Now, some people might not know that even though Dr. Ravitch is the leading opponent of the corporate reform movement, she was, for many years, one of its biggest supporters.  When she realized that these reforms were not just not working, but actually making things worse, she changed her mind.  This is why she is so credible.  She fully understands the potential merits of the other side as she used to believe in them.

To imply that she changed sides because she could make money from doing so and that more money would “flip her again” (note misogynistic undertones), is exactly the sort of negativity and oversimplification that Wendy is saying we won’t see on the new blog.  Of course his statement is not true.  Ravitch could make way more money if she would be on the corporate reform side.  Compare her $10,000 speaking fee to Michelle Rhee’s $50,000.  (By the way, I don’t think that Michelle Rhee is doing what she does for the money.  I think that she sincerely believes that the reforms she champions will, in the long run, will be good for kids.)

If you continue reading the comments on the ‘What happened to my TFA’ post, you will see that Seth and I came to some kind of mutual understanding, eventually.  A few weeks later I joined Twitter, myself, and Seth was one of the first people to write me a Tweet:

It seemed like we were going to be friendly rivals, which I was all for.  I hadn’t noticed him Tweeting for a while, but when I went to check out his page today I learned that he had ‘blocked’ me.  I don’t know when this happened.  Maybe it was after I wrote him something about how turnaround schools often replace their students along with their teachers.  I’m really not sure.  The only people I’ve ever blocked on Twitter were obvious spammers, not people who could easily just email me and who have many mutual acquaintances with.

So many mysteries.  Why did Seth suddenly stop writing comments?  Why did he block me on Twitter?  Why was he chosen to be one of the select few ‘Pass the Chalk’ bloggers to show the world how people can respectfully disagree on issues while advancing a discussion?

4 Responses

  1. Linda

    How is it a true blog if you have to be invited to post and comment?

    It is another ploy and an attempt to pretend they care about anything but their true concerns, the long term viability and income sources for those at the top of the TFA structure. Maybe it takes people not ingrained in their dogma to see the forest through the trees.

    Do they ever ever give any credit ever to the life long educator? Who cares about Seth…block him.

    • James

      I both emailed the blog and tweeted to ask if comments would be allowed — no response. I think it would be great to have real dialogue, even presidential candidates allow comments on their You Tube vidoes. If TFA is worried about vitriol, well, it can moderate. But no comments at all is weak.

  2. Linda

    Please sent this to everyone you know.
    Check out this video on YouTube:

    ALEC is working to ensure that public education dollars get diverted to private profits. Their approach is working — for them. Not so much for the students who pay the price in the form of a subpar education and poor performance.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFTNQ1PAMiY&feature=youtube_gdata_player

  3. Michael Fiorillo

    Gary,

    The greatest fury of the True Believer is reserved for the apostate. You will be attacked in ways both subtle and crude by these folks, who in true TFA fashion will call haters those who accurately point out the behavior and ideology of this organization.

    With austerity budgets showing what TFA is really about, and the education blogs lit up with criticism of the organization, their PR and crisis management teams are no doubt scrambling to regain control of the narrative, which they are in danger of losing.

    How about it, Wendy? Are you going to send in your missionaries to scab if the CTU goes out on strike? Of course we know you’re only doing it for the children, but it might just harm your brand, and show how slavishly you obey the interests of your funders.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

Region
Houston
Grade
High School
Subject
Math

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