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Katie Osgood: The Dangers of TFA Indoctrination

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Katie Osgood teaches in Chicago. She has a wonderful blog, where she regularly posts common sense based on her experience and wisdom.


In this post, she says that Teach for America is not only a poor substitute for genuine teacher professional preparation, but is a dangerous indoctrination machine.


Case in point: A recent article by a kindergarten teacher who was very pleased that she had taught her students to love testing. As Ms. Katie read the article, she immediately guessed that the writer  must be TFA, and of course, she was right. (Be sure to read the comments!)


Let’s take an example. A few weeks back, there was a truly shocking commentary in our Chicago education magazine Catalyst Chicago that was titled How Bailey Reimer’s kindergartners came to love testing. Most educators who saw this piece were appalled. Look at the comments.


I know when I saw this piece, the very first thought I had was…she’s TFA. And lo and behold, she just completed her TFA stint. TFA’s influence on this young woman’s ideas were stark, obvious, undeniable. Now that indoctrination process is reinforced by other neoliberal organizations such as being placed in a charter school and then also being recruited into Teach Plus-a Gates funded faux teacher voice group. But that’s the thing with TFA, it’s often a one-two punch. TFA-in many areas-operates inside a nexus of neoliberal edreform ideology. TFAers are completely isolated from alternative view points even as they are beaten up by a ridiculously arduous summer training filled with unnecessary sleep deprivation and mental health harming stress. Then they are thrown-unprepared-into some of the most challenging workplaces in our country. There is quite literally no time to stop and think about the bigger picture and that is intentional.


When all you have ever heard is “testing data is necessary to teach”, then this statement makes sense:
“To get to a point where my students appreciate and understand testing, I had to first appreciate it myself. I love tests that give me relevant, timely information about how my students are doing, from how many letter names they know to how many words per minute they read.”
Suddenly, what “good teaching” is gets warped into the image of neoliberal ideology based on a bunch of “data-driven” drivel. Most teachers, especially veteran educators could never, ever say this line: “Of course, 5-year-olds don’t come to school automatically loving testing. As educators, it’s our job to build that appreciation and understanding.” No! No, it’s not. But we can see how it was TFA, combined with the charter school environment, that made this statement real for this teacher. This mindset is dangerous.


I believe there are number of reasons why this indoctrination process is so effective. 1) They use the time-tested method of breaking you down to build you up in the Bootcamp summer training. 2) The recruitment process onward is a series of indoctrination sessions. And perhaps most importantly 3) TFA’s claim of being the “best and brightest” means any other opposing viewpoint is immediately dismissed on the basis of not being TFA magic.


Right now stop and do a google search for “how to indoctrinate”. No seriously, do it. What pops up? Article after article describing how to lure folks into a group with promises and lies about the actual purpose of the organization, slowly strip down any autonomy or sense of self through boot camp like conditions, then carefully isolate and fill with desired ideas. This is exactly what TFA does. Exactly, like they copied the “indoctrination” playbook. Colleges of education don’t do this, unions don’t do this, but TFA uses the most blatantly cult-like process they can to get the desired effect.



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