The articles and podcast for this week brought up questions that have been troubling me with other issues in the course: Are those in power perpetuating the system aware of the detrimental effects of their actions on low income, minority communities? Furthermore, do those behind Teach for America actually believe their program is doing good work?
Both authors make it very clear that TFA only harms the children in low-income communities by putting inexperienced and unqualified teachers into the classrooms, hampering the students’ education experiences. The claims of the former TFA members demonstrate this well. Jonathan Scorr claims, “But I was not read…I was not a successful teacher and the loss to the students was real and large” (Darling-Hammond 22). Many former TFA recruits and members of the administration at the schools that take them echo these claims about TFA members, maintaining that not only are they unprepared but most are not really dedicated—that they don’t understand the complicated needs of the children and the surrounding community. (Darling-Hammond 25). This is due to the assumptions embedded in TFA—that a quick summer course without any formal evaluation, and one that fails to address necessary ideas about teaching and the learning process is better than longer teaching certification programs in creating able teachers that can help reduce the achievement gap (Darling- Hammond 29).
It seems that a common theme underlying all these assumptions is that elite, mostly white, graduate students, because of their innate superiority, will naturally know what is good for low socioeconomic students—that white elites naturally know the rights solutions to poverty without any knowledge about the communities they are serving.
This is an especially dangerous supposition and one that results in a loss of proper education for low income and minority students. TFA becomes even more problematic because of the underlying principle that the proper way to deal with low income, minority students is to submit them to Taylor institutionalization, so that TFA recruits are taught to employ punishments when students are not meeting the strict standards imposed on them (Hartman). Therefore, not only does TFA deprive kids of meaningful learning, it also constantly reinforces the notion that they are deviant and need to be controlled, thereby reproducing negative stereotypes about their race/class background and making the classroom experience much less enjoyable.
The abundance of evidence about the problems is shocking. Researchers continuously find that the students of beginner TFA teachers perform significantly less well than those of credentialed beginning teachers, while most administrators have claimed that TFA teachers leave a lot of chaos because they fail to respond to the needs of the children, and/or quit or need to be fired. As a result, the school is left to pick up the pieces (Darling-Hammond 26). Furthermore, many former TFA members speak out against it, arguing that it hurts the children, the recruits, and the qualified teachers who cant get jobs because of all the spots secured for TFA recruits (This American Life). The evidence begs the question of how those supporting TFA cannot see the detrimental effects of their actions. Do they not know or is it simply that they don’t care? Do they really think this is the best way to educate low-income children?
Linda Darling-Hammond asked Kopp about these problems. “If the candidates didn’t succeed, she explained to me, it would not really be a problem, because most of them would not stay in teaching anyway. And they would have had an important experience’…She never mentioned the children’s lives” (23). Kopp’s statement reveals the disgusting and dishonest aims of Teach for America. It is irrelevant whether or not those behind TFA believe in their ability to educate low-income children or whether they know the disastrous effects, because the process is not about the children. The title, “Teach for America” is deceptive and has misled many people, myself included, if they do not know the facts. The only “America” they are serving is white, upper class America, while the other communities must deal with the consequences of the chaos imposed on them…..yet again.