By Bruce A. Dixon, BAR Managing Editor
As the pivotal role of Teach For America in the elite bipartisan drive to privatize public education comes more sharply into public view, it's natural that TFA operatives and apologists will try to defend their missions and careers. That's what Brittney Packnett's sad and disingenuous “Let's Get Back To Work” piece in Huffington Post last week was about.
Packnett's problem however, and Teach For America's too is that their mission so clearly indefensible that they can't really talk about what Teach For America actually does, and why it does those things.
TFA, whose St. Louis director is Ms. Packnett, cannot just come out and say they spend hundreds of millions a year in corporate and government funds replacing experienced, qualified, mostly black public school teachers with undertrained and mostly white temps to facilitate the policy goal of their corporate funders, which is the privatization of public education.
Organized public school teachers used to be the backbone of civic life in black communities... they were well-educated and decently paid, had roots in the communities where they worked, and their short commutes gave them plenty of time to take part in local affairs. Now that's history, in good part thanks to the work of Brittney Packnett, Deray McKesson and their mentors and corporate funders. TFA's part in transforming the public school workforce has served three purposes....
- it removed from many school workplaces an entire layer of experienced educators with institutional knowledge and local ties -- teachers and administrators accustomed to working together who know how to run their classrooms and their school without their new “run-the-school-like-a-business” bosses;
- it lowered the quality of engagement and instruction with students in the schools where TFA recruits replaced experienced teachers, making the school less safe and attractive for those parents who could exercise the option to leave;
- it facilitated school management by instability and fear, and with the closing and privatizing of thousands of schools nationwide already a fact, it contributed to a culture of rootless classroom short-timers on their way somewhere else;
These are all indisputable outcomes of Teach For America's practices in African American communities around the country, and Brittney Packnett touches none of them, because she quite simply can't. School privatization, the ultimate goal of TFA's funders, is so indefensible and wildly unpopular that even privatizing politicians dare not utter the word aloud.
Instead Packnett drops a meaningless stat about how many TFA grads stay in education, without telling us that a huge share of these end up not in the classroom but as the six figure a year administrators who do the actual firing of existing teachers, the Department of Education officials who award school funding based on how many teachers are fired and how many schools are privatized, or working for the think tanks the Obama administration allowed to write Race To The Top, its signature education program.
So the only defenses Packnett and those like her can mount are distractions and misdirections, and not even very good ones. Her Huffington Post piece talks about simple minded “conspiracy theories” against her. It reminds us that she lived only a short distance from Michael Brown was shot, and claims she's in it for the kids and the families and all the right reasons. Sure.
Packnett says “It is easy to portray me as the evil Trojan Horse.” She's right. It IS easy to hang that on her and Deray McKesson and the rest of the TFA herd because quite simply it's true. She's one of the black faces whose job it is to sell us just enough of the nonsense to get us all to the polls in 2016 for a pro-privatization Democrat instead of the pro-privatization Republican. This is why leading Democratic contenders bestow the traditional recognition upon the various flavors of BlackLivesMatter.
To be sure, Teach For America is only a part of the privatization juggernaut. Some other parts of the machine include the standardized testing industry, the private firms that certify school districts, and the diploma mills which certify “run-the-school-like-a-business” principals and administrators.
Former Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd Bennett is pleading guilty to a kickback scheme involving one such “academy” and in the current session of Congress eight members of the Congressional Black Caucus “abstained” from voting on a bill that would have directed the Department of Education to investigate crooks and conflicts of interest in the charter school industry... Packnett's colleagues and sponsors among them. Some of these black congressional reps were doubtless among the boosters of her “braintrust” gathering at the Congressional Black Caucus's annual meeting in DC this September.
And lest one imagine there's a great deal of difference between the two branches of BlackLivesMatter, CBC at the same time was also courting the "official" BlackLivesMatter "co-creators" as well.
The one piece of Packnett's Huffington Post piece that seems absolutely sincere was its “Let's Get Back To Work” title. Certainly Packnett and TFA would like a lot less attention paid to what they actually are, and what TFA actually does, so they can get back to work. But they ain't workin' for us.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Ga Green Party. He lives and works near Marietta GA and can be reached via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.