Home / General / The Rheeist Scam Goes Global

The Rheeist Scam Goes Global



Charter schools don’t educate students any better than public schools and are a giant grift. Besides, as Pierce says, “education is not a damn marketplace.” But any good grift has global implications, right? So Teach for America is now spreading its great message that funding schools is irrelevant if you exploit idealistic 23 year olds and spread a message that “grit” can overcome structural inequalities.

 Currimjee is a Teach for India fellow from Mauritius, an island closer to Madagascar than India. She doesn’t speak Marathi, her students’ native language. This forces her to bellow in her clearest, most basic English, in the hope that her volume will help words like “represent” and “interpret” make more sense. She tells us that she received five weeks of training from Teach for India, a sister organization of the troubled Teach for America, which places the graduates of elite colleges into low-income classrooms as teachers.

TFI, according to its official account, sprang to life after Shaheen Mistri, a prominent nonprofit leader in Mumbai, walked into the Manhattan office of Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp in 2007 and declared, “We have to start Teach for India, and I need your help!” Teach for America has become famous for tackling inequality in education by training young graduates from elite schools to teach in public schools for two years and then become advocates for “education reform”—a contested agenda that includes increasing the number of privately operated charter schools and limiting the power of teachers’ unions. TFA’s critics say that inexperienced teachers make educational inequality worse, and that the organization has become a Trojan horse for the private takeover of public-sector resources. And TFA’s recruiting numbers have dropped in recent years, as skepticism of the once-lauded organization grows.

Five weeks of training for a teacher who doesn’t speak the same language as her students! Brilliant! And I love the telling of how Teach for India started. I love Big Ideas, you love Big Ideas, let’s do a Big Idea! And this is just classic:

 Like TFA founder Kopp, a Princeton graduate who realized that a career in finance was not for her, Mistri began her forays into educational reform from the outside looking in. Every bit the “global citizen,” Mistri describes her privileged upbringing, including traveling first class from “sandy coves on Greek islands” to “the Austrian countryside,” in her book on TFI’s founding. After a year at Tufts University, she experienced her epiphany while sitting in a taxicab on a family vacation in Mumbai. “Three children ran up to my window, smiling and begging, and in that moment I had a flash of introspection,” Mistri writes. “I suddenly knew that my life would have more meaning if I stayed in India. I saw potential in that fleeting moment—in the children at my open window and in myself.”

This is like a Tom Friedman column except an even purer exercise in narcissism.

Of course, the school system in India is a disaster thanks to chronic underfunding. The government just basically refuses to spend on education. So instead, Teach for India, like its parent organization in the U.S., believes that speaking in the language of the Aspen Institute will fix the problem.

After about five minutes, Rakshit strides over from the other side of the grand atrium, a confident figure in Western fusion clothing. We shake hands, and she fires back answers to my questions in polished English—a PowerPoint presentation in the flesh.

“Oftentimes, you blame the system,” Rakshit says, when I ask her about the inadequate state of India’s education system. “But our core belief is that it’s the people who are putting the system together—that’s the problem. Underlying all these issues is a lack of leadership. It’s not a systemic problem; it’s a problem of people.”

 In Rakshit’s view, problems like poverty and underfunded schools reinforce an invidious belief that poor children can’t match the educational achievements of their wealthier peers. Teach for All organizations challenge this notion by deploying “transformational” teaching fellows, who will gain “valuable understanding of the challenges facing the underserved populations” and go on to “provide political leadership aimed at devoting more resources to solving the problem of educational inequity.”

“If you say it requires a group of smart, dedicated, committed people, it becomes easy,” Rakshit beams at me in conclusion. “Or, well, not easy—but possible!”

That doesn’t even make the first bit of sense. The teachers of course try to do the best they can. It’s not their fault they are working for a scam. But rather than try and do something about the problem, like push for greater funding, in the TFA model, the point is turning education into profit.

 Teach for India’s board members are involved in efforts to increase the privatization of India’s schools instead of securing more funding and resources for teachers like Ms. D. Take Ashish Dhawan, a TFI board member and one of the most successful private-equity players in the country today. Dhawan’s name isn’t as famous as those of TFI’s other board members, several of whom come from India’s dynastic industrial families. But over the last five years, Dhawan has become one of the country’s youngest big-time philanthropists, funding numerous education-reform groups that draw on the language of the so-called liberalization era of the 1990s, when the government privatized former state industries, welcomed foreign investment, and began to abandon its historically progressive role in economic development.

In interviews, Dhawan explains that education reform will allow the corporate sector to “unlock the true potential” of India’s human capital. Informed by his success during the country’s IT/outsourcing boom, Dhawan claims that the Indian government needs to shift its focus from “inputs” like infrastructure and classroom size and turn its attention to producing higher “outputs.” To do this, he has advocated the increased use of standardized tests, the introduction of cheaper forms of instruction like MOOCs (massive online open courses), and increased private-sector participation in Indian education, freed from teacher-licensing and class-size regulations.

The people of India will no doubt thank the wealthy capitalists for introducing MOOCs and standardized tests. It’s really a ticket for success, much more so than indoor toilets.

And then:

 I pressed this point, asking if this was perhaps why Teach for India fellows should live in these neighborhoods and stick with the schools for more than a couple years. But all three shook their heads.

“It wouldn’t be marketable if it were longer,” Nikhil said.

Of course it wouldn’t. Because it’s a total scam reliant upon cheap, exploitable non-union labor from young people who will soon learn that they can do better work for better money doing almost anything else.

In conclusion, clearly Teach for Mexico will solve the teacher union problem in Oaxaca and give poor kids who don’t speak Spanish just what they need to become successful entrepreneurs! I’m sure Jon Chait would support it.

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  • Lost Left Coaster

    Five weeks of training for a teacher who doesn’t speak the same language as her students!

    Ahh, sounds like the Peace Corps.

    • TribalistMeathead

      My undergrad faculty adviser isn’t hated for being a flaming liberal at a school full of conservative Christians, he’s hated for being opposed to public service projects abroad.

      • You mean those church groups wearing matching neon shirts at the airport flying to Honduras for a week of charity work and evangelization aren’t changing the world?

        • TribalistMeathead

          Oh I don’t think he ever mentioned mission trips specifically, he would have been run out on a rail.

        • TribalistMeathead

          Also, far be it from me to question the altruism of your average missionary, but it does seem odd that they don’t seem to spend a lot of time in places that don’t have good weather.

          • It depends. One could also argue they don’t spend a lot of time in places without hordes of mosquitoes.

    • mombrava

      The Peace Corps is more like ten weeks, includes extensive language instruction, and generally omits the “privatization will save everyone” narrative. But point taken nonetheless.

    • SamChevre

      It’s my impression (from colleagues) that in much of India, teachers only sometimes speak their student’s native language.

      Basically, if you aren’t a native Hindi speaker, it’s luck of the draw whether your teacher speaks your language–the teaching is all in English or Hindi.

      • Anu

        That’s not entirely the full picture. At government schools instruction is generally in the student’s native language. However there is a large amount of interest in “English-medium” private schools which are often quite the disaster since they assume a level of English competence the student does not have. Unfortunately college education is mostly all in English (though entrance exams are in regional languages). Language instruction in India in general is pretty abysmal (and I’m talking about at even the best private schools) and there is little understanding of learning a language as a second language.

  • LFC

    This link is about education in Pakistan, not India. However, since I’m on a Wilson Center email list, thought might as well pass it on fwiw:

    p.s. something else, next box

  • veleda_k

    Ugh, Teach for America. (I mean, I could say more, but that sums my feelings up.)

  • LFC

    This, from the Nation article quoted in the post:
    …the so-called liberalization era of the 1990s, when the government privatized former state industries, welcomed foreign investment, and began to abandon its historically progressive role in economic development.

    There were a lot of problems w India’s ‘liberalization’ turn in the early 90s, but to blather about the Indian govt’s “historically progressive role in economic development” w/o acknowledging that the Indian economy in many respects in the preceding decades was a disappointing, sclerotic mess, and that the govt’s plans did not, for the most part, lead to anything even close to robust, reasonably equitable growth seems myopic. (Of course, it’s The Nation…)

    • Brett

      Yep, The Nation’s foreign policy coverage can be a bit . . . stale at times.

      The liberalizations started a bit earlier IIRC, in the 1980s – although they picked up speed in the 1990s.

      • LFC

        Key moment for the Indian move toward ‘liberalization’ as a matter of govt policy was c.1991, as I recall, though no doubt there were some earlier stirrings. But no pt quibbling as I’m sure one cd look it up, but it’s too late in the evening here.

        Shd make clear I’m *not* particularly a fan of the turn to liberalization in India (or elsewhere; ‘neoliberalism’ in the freighted word), just that the phrase in the article bothered me.

      • J. Otto Pohl

        Except India’s economic problems were well known and studied by the 1960s. Nehru’s policies did not come anywhere close to achieving the kind of industrialization that either capitalist states such as Japan or socialist states like the USSR achieved in Asia. Its etatism largely consisted of giving government favors to a protected class of indigenous capitalists and shielding them from competition.

    • J. Otto Pohl

      India is interesting in that while democratic it largely stagnated economically during the initial decades of independence. It in fact was an example of a stagnant society paying the price for having no social revolution in contrast to the capitalist revolutions of the UK, France, US or socialist revolutions of Russia and China in Barrington Moore’s 1966 classic Lord and Peasant. Since the 1990s it has been undergoing a capitalist revolution that has problems but stagnation had serious costs as well.

  • AMK

    India is what, 4x the size of the US and still growing? That means 4x the students, 4x the schools, 4x the market!

    There will undoubtedly be lots of Anerican money invested in this, and very high expectations. All the investors look at those kids and see legions of future outsourced mid-skill, Asian-disciplined labor and none of the problems associated with trying to teach all the dumb blahs in the American ghettos.

  • calling all toasters

    I refuse to believe that this “Shaheen Mistri” exists. Is this an excerpt from an unpublished Evelyn Waugh novel?

    • Bill Murray

      Scoop 2: Electric Teacheroo?

      • Roger Ailes

        Rakshit is totally believable, though.

  • The Temporary Name

    The people of India will no doubt thank the wealthy capitalists for introducing MOOCs and standardized tests. It’s really a ticket for success, much more so than indoor toilets.

    The people of India already have crappy and corrupt distance education and standardized high-stakes tests.

    TFI is more noise in an already sketchy system notorious for teachers having bogus credentials.

    • LosGatosCA

      TFI is more noise in an already sketchy system notorious for teachers having bogus credentials.

      Chaos favors the corrupt and ruthless.

  • Peterr

    The people of India will no doubt thank the wealthy capitalists for introducing MOOCs and standardized tests. It’s really a ticket for success, much more so than indoor toilets.

    You think this is great? Wait until Stephen Diamond takes his wonderfully successful law school business model to India.

    • The Temporary Name

      Here too India has problems that wouldn’t be made too much worse by additional shitty rip-offs:


    • TribalistMeathead

      Where? Oh, the place where law firms are ALREADY outsourcing their doc review, thanks to the courts only requiring doc review to be performed under the supervision of an attorney who is a member of the bar of that jurisdiction, rather than by an attorney who is a member of the bar of that jurisdiction?

      • Just_Dropping_By

        Well, that rather makes sense — doc review has never, to the best of my knowledge, been considered “the practice of law” in any U.S. jurisdiction that I’m familiar with.

        • LeeEsq

          More accurately, a court or bar association never made a ruling on the issue. Most law firms treated doc review as the practice of law because it allowed them to charge more money for it because they had to hire lawyers. The closest we got to a decision one way or another is the Second Circuit saying that there is enough of a question to deny a motion to dismiss from a big law law firm on the matter.

        • TribalistMeathead

          It’s not – I did first-level doc review as a paralegal many times. Having an attorney do it from the start saves a lot of work downstream, though.

  • TribalistMeathead

    I had a housemate 13 years ago who participated in Teach for America. I don’t think even he thought its founders were idealistic enough to take the model and transfer it whole cloth to India.

  • fledermaus

    he has advocated the increased use of standardized tests, the introduction of cheaper forms of instruction like MOOCs

    Even before I got to this part, I knew it was going to be there.

    “Underlying all these issues is a lack of leadership.”

    Ah yes, the failure to lead, with leadership.

    • jpgray

      “Ignore difficult structural issues, throw money at people born and raised to extract it” – why should education be different?

      Man this has been a depressing few weeks.

  • ironic irony

    To quote the TFI jokers:

    “MBA bullshittery, MBA bullshittery, MBA bullshittery…..”


  • CP

    “The Reheeist Scam Goes Global.”

    You know, eight years ago when the recession was first starting out, my (French) uncle said it would be the end of the American economic model.

    Well, if by that he meant Reaganism, then one of the most notable things about this era is that my uncle was very, very wrong. Elites around the entire world have proved to be Reagan-Kool-Aid addicts. Europe’s austerity binge alone was much worse than anything we’ve done on this side of the Atlantic, and privatizers, tax-cutters, deregulators and other government-bathtub-drowners are hard at work spreading the gospel everywhere they can. Michelle Rhee getting Indian and Mexican clones is just another part of that.

  • Brett

    Money’s a big issue, but I’ve read that India’s public education system has the same type of problem that Mexico’s has – namely, that it’s coming off of a long period where it was more important that teachers remain a bastion of public support for the ruling party than that they actually be competent teachers. So the public education ended up under-funded, low quality, and with very high absentee rates among Indian teachers.

  • Elkinmotion

    Whoa, that teacher was my student! Very quiet and hard working. I wish the best for her and her students, as skeptical as I am of these programs.

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