The Dea(r)th of Opinions [TFA and Writing As A Whole]

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose, Writing

Back in 2009, ChalkbeatNY fka Gotham Schools had its first fundraiser featuring then-NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and NYU researcher and former education reform cheerleader Diane Ravitch. He was there to give one of many speeches about the disruptive education reform he and former mayor Michael Bloomberg embarked on since the early aughts. Ravitch, on the other hand, read an excerpt on said legacy from her best-selling book The Death and Life of the Great American School Ssytem. By then, my blog was already blocked from all NYC public school computers (except those in central and with administrative privileges), so getting an invite to an event with most of the movers and shakers from NYC’s education sphere felt special for a guy who only had a PC and an Internet connection.

The handful of us who were typing about education policy didn’t see a dime off it, and because it was so new, people didn’t think I had ulterior motives.

Fast forward to today and it felt like everyone finally has attempted blogging, and telling folks you use social media for writing doesn’t shoot giggles up people’s throats. In many cases, folks assure you are getting paid if you’re writing on a regular basis. It’s hard to tell whether someone truly believes the things they’ve written, if the person in the avatar is the author of the piece, or who e-mailed the author on key information in the article. Organizations have teams of folks who write pieces, ostensibly because people think it’s more authentic when it comes from a blog instead of an article. Journalism has changed in palpable ways, at times blurring the lines between investigation and hypothesis.

No more is this true than the latest venture from Teach for America sympathizers, Corps Knowledge. Lyndsey Layton’s piece on the aforementioned group pokes several holes through this faux-poration. The following quote made my eye twitch:

The Corps Knowledge campaign is run independently of TFA, although many of those involved in NYCAN and TFA know each other. Matt Kramer, a former co-chief executive of TFA, sits on the board of NYCAN’s parent organization, 50CAN. Kevin Huffman, a TFA alumnus and former Tennessee education commissioner, sits on the board of Corps Knowledge.

“We certainly talk, but this is separate from TFA,” Bradford said. “TFA is letting us take her sister out, and we said we would bring her back on time.”

The word choice is, at best, befuddling from Bradford, creepy and insulting at worst, but so is this operation. There’s a person who literally (in the literal sense) just raised $500,000 to start an operation that refutes bloggers and dissidents who do most of the opposition for free, in their spare time. In some ways, I understand this from an operations perspective. Every corporation has a PR department, and I don’t see TFA as an animal that needs to work any differently.

Yet, I think how I’ve spent close to a decade at a fraction of what this Bradford guy was able to get and I’m floored that someone would pay that much money for one guy to say “no.” Either that, or maybe I wish I had gotten on that gravy train sooner.

Authenticity eludes these folks. Feel free to have a nuanced discussion about TFA because I’ve certainly done so on numerous occasions. Say you don’t like the eyeroll-inducing, acerbic ways that TFA critics come for current and former corp members. Say what you will about the share of blame any and all sides of those working in education deserve for the disservice done for children of color.

But please don’t tell me TFA needs $500K to do what a few folks they already have on staff can do. They have $330M in revenue, and, even if they had half of that, they’d still run laps around the type of critics they say they’re refuting. This is one of the many instances that the money would do better in the type of school TFA says it wants to save.

I suppose in this environment, where folks have a hard time determining what’s real or not, you should put your money on making sure that specific opinion doesn’t stray into authenticity. Please, spare us.

photo c/o