BOOK REVIEW AND ANALYTICAL ESSAY: Teach for America has been a ruling class cult, creating a group of cadre to push corporate 'school reform' into government and governance...

[Editor's Note: The following essay originally was published as a review at Amazon (to date, November 13, 2015, the only review of this book. I am republishing it here, with additions, because people need to look more and more closely about how the ruling class was able to sponsor Wendy Kopp and her attacks on public education as a "progressive" activity. Obviously, despite all the expense, the plan has worked. But even though many of the arrogant cadre developed by TFA are still true believes, the time is now to fully expose the reactionary reality of TFA -- which goes all the way back to its beginnings, and the massive propaganda campaign that followed the "Wonders of Wendy" beginnings of TFA at Princeton. George N. Schmidt, Editor].

Teach for America, Counter Narratives, mainly depicts the cult-like arrogance of those who joined TFA after being flattered that their presence in urban schools would make all the difference. Sadly, most of the essays in the book still retain that arrogance, as true believers often remain part of their original church or temple. A few of the essays are accurate historical descriptions of the reality of TFA, but the majority are the confused -- and still arrogant -- hopings of true believers who have discovered that their church was false but refuse to believe that they devoted so much of their lives -- and emotions -- to those false beliefs. Everyone who has really taught in a real school, especially facing the challenges of segregation, poverty, violence, and austerity in the inner city (as I did during a 28 year career in Chicago's public schools) knows that it takes a novice teacher between three and six years to learn the craft, and additional years to master it. The absurdity of Teach for America, from the beginning, was the notion that a bunch of arrogant, mostly upper middle class elite young people, could save public education thanks to having the perfect lesson plan, would save public education from all the "bad teachers" who were the real reasons why the nation's urban public schools were "failing." Not poverty. Not the viciousness of class society. Certainly not the huge drug gangs that have allied with many political leaders in the nation's cities. No. All that was needed was bright missionaries -- the "best and the brightest" -- with the gospels provided in lesson plans by TFA.

Over and over, in "Teach for America, Counter Narrative," these devout essayist talk about how their own "superiority" got them into TFA, as if teaching (which I did in Chicago's inner city high schools for 28 years after graduating from the University of Chicago, which I attended on a scholarship) were something that automatically unfolded in wonder before a bunch of (usually) privileged young people with "high" SAT or ACT scores. The cult of "high scores" and smiliar ways of measuring merit was growing at the time these devotees were introduced into it.

They entered a sense of themselves inflated beyond their actual merits as teachers of the children myself and my colleagues taught for more than a generation. But they arrived, knowing, based on no evidence from the classrooms they would enter (and in many cases pollute) that they were fit to do more than begin the rough five-year apprenticeship that finally brings young people into our ranks as true "master teachers." They arrived, filled with the arrogance of true believers, to bring to us the "light" we had been missing: the stupid fact that with the right lesson plans any brilliant young missionary could succeed in overcoming all the complex realities of American racial segregation, poverty, and economic ruin that had been brought upon communities across the USA by -- by the kinds of people who emerge into the ranks of the ruling class from places like Wendy Kopp's Princeton.

In a way no different from their intellectual (and class) forebears a century ago under a different form of colonialism, they came to us as heading into a (very very brief) bit of missionary work among those "less peoples outside the law" -- Kipling for those who recognize the TFA roots in a pervious colonial era).

The one thing these essays help with is the cult like devotion TFA tries to instill in the notion that the Perfect Lesson Plan -- a catechism of sorts -- will save the world from those of us "bad teachers" who were solely responsible for all those "bad schools" (as measured by the same testing programs that had declared that the missionaries were superior to the rest of us).

Very few of the essayists deserve our respect, let alone sympathy. They actually "drank the Kool-Aid" being served up by Wendy Kopp and the well financed hordes of marketers who developed the silly TFA "brand" at the expense of those of us who worked, decade after decade. It was from the beginning a dodge to divert America from the evils that class society had produced. These children coming officiously into our ranks were here in our schools to teach us their new gospel about how to to do the hard and sometimes tragic job of teaching in America's most challenging urban schools.

They came, and for the most part, they went after their two or three years of missionary work, reminding us again why so many of the "natives" in those countries facing similar missionaries a century ago came to hate them so. A few remained in our ranks. Most deserted before they had even learned to control on classroom for one semester, let alone for one year. And where are they now (those who didn't utilize their years of slumming among us lesser breed before finishing law school and going into Consulting)?

We meet them over and over, in Congressional offices, where they repeat the mantras they learned to well about how "bad teachers" are the reason why schools "fail." We can find them today in the offices of those who cling to power amid those lies, from Rahm Emanuel's office, where a TFA missionary has emerged, with less teaching experience than any of those of us who became and stayed as "real teachers," as a senior advisor to the Mayor of America's third largest city. Or in the ranks of the U.S. Department of Educations mid-level bureaucrats. Or elsewhere, in every state government where the excused developed to help in the attack against American's crowing jewel, our public schools systems, is continuing as privatization, charterization, and the lies of the "No Excuses" generation are still told.

Well, for those of us who want insight into the minds of these wimps and cowards and liars, this book serves a useful purpose. For those of us who learned early that our high test scores and work at the nation's elite college and universities (I mentioned earlier that I went into inner city teaching in Chicago after graduating in 1969 having attended the University of Chicago on a scholarship, didn't I?) were a small beginning to the five-year apprenticeship it would take us (often tutored by veteran teachers who had been trained in those "lesser" schools like Chicago State University and before that, Chicago Teachers College) befoee we could truly walk into a classroom in September knowing that our students would actually be learning something in the subject were were asked to teach between September of one year and June of the next.


November 13, 2015 at 6:27 PM

By: Bob Busch


I taught for 41 years in South side High Schools. my attitude is a little different than a lot of my peers.By peers I mean real teachers. But I left the TFA's alone to their fate. Some of them had it, most didn't.A lot of them went into teaching after years of being kicked around in the corporate world.

More than a few confessed to me that they needed a job.The vast majority had very brief tenures.Some found the calling and are still teaching.I can say after about a year or two they became just like us .

November 13, 2015 at 9:35 PM

By: Susan Hickey

TFA training

One semester a few years ago, I was an adjunct at a university and I was going to teach Education Psychology. It wasn't until that first night that ili was part of the TFA training while they were actually in the classroom. The arrogance was there that first night before they were actually teaching. It turned into sheer terror for most of them when they were in front of a class.

I radically changed my syllabus to have classroom behavioral management the first topic. Then it became clear they needed at least the first half hour for troubleshooting and giving advice on how to navigate CPS.

I turned down doing it the next year as I felt my teaching TFA students was undermining my Union teacher colleagues.

Add your own comment (all fields are necessary)

Substance readers:

You must give your first name and last name under "Name" when you post a comment at We are not operating a blog and do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Our readers deserve to know who is commenting, just as they deserve to know the source of our news reports and analysis.

Please respect this, and also provide us with an accurate e-mail address.

Thank you,

The Editors of Substance

Your Name

Your Email

What's your comment about?

Your Comment

Please answer this to prove you're not a robot:

1 + 5 =