How many times were we subjected to Howard Dean’s Yee Haw speech on the news? And how much will the media debate Dean’s words about Teach for America (TFA)? I am guessing, probably not at all, but his words are out there now, with his Salon interview, and he is mistaken when it comes to TFA.
Many years ago I heard Howard Dean as Governor of Vermont speak about public schools in a good way. It was on NPR, I believe, as I was driving to work as a teacher. I remembered those words and I liked him when he later ran for president. He seemed a refreshing candidate, and it was painful to watch his decline in that race.
But I couldn’t disagree with Dean more now on his stance for Teach for America. And while you may not pay much attention to Dean, he is, of course, a voice for Democrats, and I think quite revealing of what they are about when it comes to school reform.
Like Dean, I know others too, who have adult children, who have joined TFA. I will never say that young people who enter TFA are not good and decent, filled with the desire to help children, but Teach for America, as an organization, is out to destroy professional teaching, and Dean either doesn’t know that, or he too close to it because of his son’s involvement. Perhaps he is a privatizer like many Republicans and Democrats. Wherever he gets his ideas, mixing up the neoliberal message here is mistaken.
Dean, like many in both parties, blurs the line between real teacher education and Teach for America, and that is dangerous. It confuses people, leading them to think TFA is the answer to the problems involving teaching and poverty. But TFA, in reality, is much of the problem with what is happening to teacher education today.
He does not seem to understand that it is probably no coincidence that TFA was started in the early 90s. So were many other so-called school reforms, put into place to privatize public schools. Budget cuts meant the deterioration of school programs that parents loved. Poor schools were hit hardest. Parents, who could, ran with their children to the nearest private school.
If leaders really cared about schools and children, they would have enhanced the real teacher education programs, making a teaching degree more valuable…examining teacher education programs that already worked well in this country. Instead, corporations and politicians went after teachers and their unions. TFA was their answer to destroying real teacher education.
Under the new corporate reforms, teachers are too expensive—especially older teachers with more experience. Those are the teachers most under attack. Younger teachers don’t get as much pay.
TFA is a revolving door teaching program. Few, if any, will ever become real teachers with experience who are paid higher salaries. Teaching will never again be a true profession where future teachers spend time in school studying pedagogy and child and adolescent development.
So it defies logic that Americans, especially politicians like Dean, could believe that less is more. As a physician, has he not heard the comparison to the medical profession? Would he ever entertain a Doctor for America fast-track training group?
When Dean praises those who were taught by TFA, who have now joined TFA, I want to ask, why don’t they become real career teachers? Why not stick around and truly commit to children instead of leaving after three years?
Make no mistake, teachers are being blamed for poverty and most of us know it. Dean says nothing to dissuade the general public from that misguided assumption. This is what he says after visiting a charter school in New Orleans.
There could be no more excuses – not poverty, not money, not union rights, not political deals on school boards. Everything with real, reasonable potential had to be tried, and everything had to change.
This sounds like a page out of the corporate playbook. Like real teachers haven’t known about poverty and what it does to children. Please. It’s the teachers who have struggled for years, in difficult careers, in poor rundown schools with little support.
If Teach for America was Teacher Aid for America, maybe then there could be some discussion, but that is not what the group is about, and Dean must know that.
Does he also not know about all the money Teach for America gets? They are definitely the favored group among those with power. That Dean is blaming those who push back against this group and their ideology is quite telling.
Dean’s mentioning of the AFT is, unfortunately, also what we can expect from the unions. Dean reminds us of the blurred friendship AFT President Randi Weingarten enjoys with the privatization movement.
This fall, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten paid a visit to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where superintendent and TFA alum Jeff Riley is working closely with union leadership to chart a new path of collaboration and innovation. Their efforts and those of countless others stand as a reminder: Issues don’t come to us polarized, we make them so. That is the mindless and easy way out. Just as we can choose to dig in our heels, we can opt to open our arms.
And I would beg to disagree with Dean also about polarization. Real teachers are the ones who are polarized.
How many real teachers, for example, worked on Common Core State Standards? Has he heard of David “doesn’t give an expletive” Coleman, a non-educator, who believes it is right to strip English language arts of narrative writing? What will become of young people who are not permitted to express their thoughts and feelings? Those are the questions that keep real teachers up at night.
Even though Dean says he is against Common Core State Standards, he ends his rant by supporting national standards. Once again he is giving us a confusing message. Teach for America, after all, believes in Common Core.
And to wind up, Dean says what’s needed is “a more flexible approach to testing.”
Oh. Now he tells us.
I must say, I am a little worried about his idea of a flexible approach to testing. Does he mean flexible in regard to charter schools? I mean, there is certainly nothing flexible about always closing public schools in the bottom 5% of the testing range, meaning there will always be schools to close.
So, will there be anyone in either party who will read the history of teaching and public schools and realize the seriousness of the loss of a true profession? Don’t count on it. Both parties rely on the 1% to pay for their campaigns. They are conveniently the same people who are now in charge of today’s public schools.
And they will, if not applaud people like Dean, at the very least give him a few Yee Haws for good measure, mixing up messages and degrading those who want teaching as a real career.
I wonder if Dean’s son is still a teacher.
A friend of mine said the other day that her child wanted to be a teacher, but she didn’t know if teaching would be a real career in the future. I wonder too. If Dean or any other Democrat or Republican has anything to say about it, it won’t be.