Yesterday, we had the chance to sit down with five college students, along with a staff member for United Students Against Sweatshops. Those of you who follow this blog closely know we’ve been engaging with this group for a few months now, and may have read about it here and here. The conversation offered a welcome chance to connect face to face, and to share more about the difficult, inspiring, essential work of our corps members, alumni, their students, and communities.

We first heard from USAS last spring, when they issued a press release to announce their “TFA Truth Tour” – an effort to dissuade students at their colleges from joining our work. This fall, it re-emerged with an administrator-facing twist, making the case to college and university presidents that cutting ties with our organization would do the most good for low-income students in underserved schools. As our 10,000+ corps members and 11,000 alumni teachers went back to school, the campaign stood in strange contrast to their tremendous grit, humility, diversity, and commitment to equity. And so, we were eager to talk.

Last night, we got to spend some time together to try to bridge this gap. Our conversation confirmed that our two organizations have a lot of common beliefs. All of us feel that as long as skin color and family income continue to determine a child’s access to a high quality public education, our nation isn’t living into its promise. We agree that the burdens of poverty make the work of public education much, much more difficult. We share the conviction that standing up for what you believe in matters a great deal.

Today there was a piece in The Nation discussing an internal memo (you can see the full document here) about how we respond to factual inaccuracies in traditional and social media. Like most organizations we have a media response strategy, and in the interest of transparency, I want to share how we’re thinking about addressing the public feedback we get.

One strain of feedback comes from corps members, alumni, partners and critical friends who have ideas for how we can evolve and continue to get better. We know that listening to these voices will only result in a more effective program that better serves students both today and in the long run.  Based on their advice and what we’ve learned over time, we’re partnering more closely with communities and doing more to support corps members as they develop their conviction about all that’s possible for our public education system. These changes are described more fully in a recent letter that our co-CEOs sent to our alumni network, which you can read here.

A few years ago, well into my thirties, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. As we close out ADHD Awareness Month, I’ve been thinking a lot about this experience.

In some ways, this was not news. My memories of my own education primarily revolve around the ways I wasn't learning -- disrupting classes, skipping lectures, doing little homework and reading few books. I couldn't maintain focus on what a teacher was saying for more than a few minutes, and I couldn't read more than a few paragraphs at a time. Even the slightest distraction -- noise from a television a few rooms away -- would render me completely unable to concentrate.

Last week, we received a second letter from the group United Students Against Sweatshops via email. When the group reached out a few weeks ago to share concerns with our approach, we responded, including an invitation to meet for further discussion. Since these letters are being sent publicly, we’ve provided detailed corrections on the misinformation they include here, and wanted to share our latest email below.

Matt’s email response to USAS:

Dear Blake,

Thank you for your response to our letter. I am glad to hear that you’ll sit down with us. I would welcome you and your colleagues to our offices in New York if that would be convenient, but I am equally happy with another location if you’d prefer. While Elisa is out on maternity leave following the birth of her son, I’ll have to represent the both of us, and may bring a few of my colleagues who are directly involved in our work preparing and supporting teachers across the country, so that they can hear from you directly.  Some dates that could work in the next month are: 10/28, 10/29, 10/30, 11/11, 11/12, and 11/13. Given the role that Randi Weingarten and the AFT are playing in supporting your efforts, we’d also welcome her if you’d like to encourage her to join us. 

In my preschool classroom, story time is the most anticipated part of the day. My students sit on the rug and I sit in my chair to read stories and be transported to other places and worlds. One of my favorite stories to read is Rosemary Wells’ Bunny Cakes.

Congresswoman Dina Titus

Yesterday we received the following letter from the group United Students Against Sweatshops via email. The letter raised important issues and concerns and so we felt it was critical to share both their letter and our email back for all of those interested.

Our email response to USAS:

Growing up in Alabama my family dinner table conversations centered on the importance of a strong and well-rounded education. For my parents, this ideal went beyond good grades and what happens inside the classroom – that was important! - they also wanted to make sure my brothers and I were developing academically with a strong focus on how we could lead and serve others. My parents inspired and motivated us through their own example.

Pass The Chalk Editorial Team

Twenty years ago today, on September 12, 1994, the first class of 20,000 AmeriCorps members began serving in more than 1,000 communities nationwide. At the swearing in ceremony, President Clinton described service as “a spark to rekindle the spirit” – asking the newly minted members, “What is right? What is wrong? And what are we going to do about it?”

Last week, we read Dana Goldstein’s piece in Vox about the evolution of Teach For America. We’ve posted some reflections below, and would love to continue the dialogue here on Pass The Chalk. Please share your own thoughts and reactions—your voice helps us get better.

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We believe education is the most pressing issue facing our nation. On Pass the Chalk, we'll share our takes on the issues of the day, join the online conversation about education, and tell stories from classrooms, schools, and communities around the nation.

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