Yes, the state of economy is frightening. Yes, recent college grads are pulling out hairs trying to figure out how to pay back student loans and launch careers. And yes, this year 35, 000 grads applied for Teach for America—that national corps of America's most promising leaders who go into the 'Hood and provide educational equality to marginalized students. Well, a record number of college grads will join Teach for America next fall and that's a good thing. I guess. Besides, Teach for America requires a two-year commitment from its members, which means two years of steady income, which means less worry about personal survival in an inconsistent economy.
Yeah, you guessed it. I have mixed feelings about Teach for America. While I was dropping knowledge to my fourth graders in Oakland California I was often mistaken for a Teach for America missionary, I mean teacher. I was not. I was just a brother who always loved kids and learning, and thought I'd give teaching a try. However, the school where I taught was populated by several Teach for America folks. Most of them were white and most of them had amazing plans for their futures. Teaching poor children in the ghetto was not one of them. In truth, I found that the Teach for America folks were often given first-class treatment by the principal [and students]. Some of them treated the job like a bout in the Peace Corps. For an example, I walked by a third grade classroom once and saw a Teach for America member with an eight year old in her lap, rocking her back and forth, like she was a uncivilized native from the tropics of Oakland, California. I was haunted by that image for a long time.
Obviously not all Teach for America corps members exhibited suspect behavior. One of my good friends was a Teach for America member. He was a Hampton grad and went on to work for the district before leaving education and joining the IT industry. I guess it just saddens me that too many Teach for America members roll into these marginalized environments, drop a little bit of their "America's best" on the kids, and then move on to their real calling which does not include teaching the poor and polarized. I'm not sure what the present-day corps members are like, but not so long ago, the two-year commitment translated into an impressive entry on the resume for many of them. I hope this new crop sees more to these kids than a means to earn their badge of ghetto survival, or a means to make it easier to land a gig with the Obamas.
Keith Josef Adkins is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and social commentator.