Resisting Teach for America – The Internet & Democracy

Students United for Public Education has a “Students Resisting Teach For America” campaign going, arguing that

as numerous TFA alums and professionals have made it increasingly clear, rather than fighting inequality, TFA actually promotes it. Despite its image as a social justice organization, TFA not only does a disservice to the students and schools it purports to serve, but also acts as a political force in its own right to push a vision of public schooling that further damages an already broken education system.

Some of the campaign involves soliciting first-person accounts of experiences with TFA, there’s also a twitter has tag – #ResistTFA .  The campaign in turn gets written up in blogs that provide links to reports on particular instances — such as this one in Newark that draws on Broad Foundation emails to argue the linkages between charterization & TFA (the state-appointed school superintendent there is a TFA Alumus).

I draw attention to this not only because of TFAs uses here in Ohio (there is an Ohio State “Chapter” of SUPE listed) — and my agreement with critics that it’s a bad approach to reform, basically a method to facilitate the introduction of charter schools and the destruction of teachers’ unions — but because it raises questions about  the role of the internet in educational activism and protest.

In a general way this has been an issue since 2011 and the Egyptian revolution.  The specific relevance in this case is the problem of right-wing movements that have found ways to mobilize privatization agendas across state (and national) boundaries (through Foundations, the Common Core, federal policy, ALEC, and so on — when in many respects schooling and teacher organization remains “localized” to particular school districts, and anchored in states.  There are some exemplary experiments to re-scale opposition — for example, the Teacher Solidarity web portal — but the questions remain.  One skeptic Evgeny Morozov’s RSA Animate on “The internet in society:  Empowering or censoring citizens?” —  You can also find a longer audio podcast of a London School of Economics lecture  .  The point he’s making is that for many people internet participation in movements is substituting for the necessary embodied work on the ground.  In a contrasting view, another podcast, this by Francesca Polletta — the article she’s referring to, “Is the Internet Creating New Reasons to Protest” (can be found and downloaded from the OSU library if you have access) — argues that the internet’s key use is in generating a ‘demand’ for activism — making people aware of what’s going on and rousing them to engagement.   There’s  also Jodi Dean’s work  on ‘communicative capitalism‘ which suggests that the internet provides a kind of pseudo-voice– a means of shouting out in a medium in which no one has to pay attention (get the power first, Alinskians would say, then expect people to listen to you).

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