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.
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.