TFA Simultaneously Denounces And Embraces False Dichotomies

There has been a shift in recent years in the sorts of arguments that many reformers use to advance their agenda.  Though some are proudly fanatical, people like Joel Klein, Steve Perry, and Eva Moskowitz and organizations like StudentsFirst and 50CAN and also websites like The 74 and EduPost, most reformers at least pretend that they are more moderate, itself a strategy.

Most reform zealots are very pro-TFA, though TFA itself has often tried to straddle the fence claiming that they value diversity of opinion and that they are their own worst critics and things like that.  Sometimes, though, they let down their guard and show that they can be as simple minded as the most extreme reformers.  An example is a speech that the CEO of TFA Elisa Villanueva-Beard made a few years back where she continually chants the title of the anti-union bomb ‘Won’t Back Down.’

Villanueva-Beard recently wrote a piece on entitled “Accelerating Progress in Education: Calling for a Coalition That Rejects False Choices”

The history of successful change efforts shows us that a broad, diverse coalition is essential if we’re going to blaze a path to educational equity and excellence in America. No quick fixes, but the courageous commitment to exchange ideas and to respectfully disagree in dogged pursuit of solutions.

But this is not what’s happening.

Instead, we’re allowing the education conversation to be defined without enough nuance, appreciation for, or proximity to the realities students face every day. We’re relying on false dichotomies to frame our work, and this set of either-or choices fails our children.

This is an introduction that I agree with, but I’ve heard reformers say things like this before so I don’t get too excited, knowing that the other shoe will eventually drop.  In this case it happens in the next paragraph.

False dichotomies can be found in the tired idea that we have to choose whether to end poverty or improve education first. That we have to choose between a classroom that is academically rigorous and excellent and a classroom that affirms a child’s culture and community. That we have to choose between public charter schools and traditional district schools. That preparing the country’s future workforce to succeed in our global economy requires a choice between academic results and broader student outcomes.

While our children are watching and waiting, these false choices tear at the fabric of our society and drive a wedge among the many of us who have dedicated our lives to expanding educational opportunity.

I don’t know of anybody on the reform-skeptic side who thinks that we have to wait to fix poverty before trying to improve schools, so this is a false dichotomy in the sense that it doesn’t even exist.  And the other false dichotomies she proposes we stop arguing about are very real dilemmas.  But most importantly, I think, is the dichotomies that she doesn’t list, the one that that pits the ‘status quo’ against the ‘reformers’ and the one that puts ‘students first’ against ‘adult interests.’  These are the false dichotomies that the TFA allies like to use all the time.  Apparently, those are still OK.  Even Villanueva-Beard can’t resist a few ‘status quo’s in her piece.

Since Teach For America’s first corps entered classrooms in 1990, people have tried to apply these false choices to our organization and define us on ideological grounds. Our model challenges the status quo, and therefore has always been controversial.


False dichotomies are good at one thing: preserving a status quo. They’re a terrible framework for solving complex problems. They make ideology the stubborn foundation for dialogue. They keep a coalition from becoming more than the sum of its parts. They repel new ideas.

To see how TFA and Elisa Villanueva-Beard really feel about false dichotomies, all you have to do is look at their Twitter feed.

Here is an example of the classic false dichotomy of ‘students first’ vs ‘adult interests’ from a few hours after this latest plea from Villanueva-Beard.

Because the false dichotomies that she wants people to stop using are just ones that reform critics often use, this piece is getting a lot of retweets from various reformers.

Since I find it pretty hypocritical that some of the biggest abusers of the false dichotomy are celebrating an article that, at least on the surface, seems  to be saying that false dichotomies are bad, I tried to reach out to a few of them to see what they thought of my observation.  As expected, they either didn’t respond at all or they responded very rudely.

Chris ‘Citizen’ Stewart is a blogger, podcaster, and contributor to Edu Post and The 74.  He is also a friend of Elisa Villanueva-Beard who sometimes retweets his articles, like this one against the NAACP’s charter school stance.

Recently Stewart wrote a blog post bashing me and several other bloggers with the working title ‘Hello I’m White Which Means I Know What’s Best For You’ (still seen in the url of the post) though he changed it to the even worse ‘Angry White Teachers On The Internet (And Their Colored Friends)’.  (You can read it for yourself, I’m not going to summarize here except to say that he omitted in his bio of me that I was a TFA corps member, a TFA staffer, and a TNTP staffer over the years.)  It is difficult for me to understand how that can be consistent with the Edu Post motto to have a ‘better conversation.’


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4 Responses to TFA Simultaneously Denounces And Embraces False Dichotomies

  1. Michael Fiorillo says:

    The arrogance of these know-nothings, who cannot speak on the issue without excreting an endless tape loop of banal and empty talking points, is just breathtaking. And foul.

    For these colonizers to be talking about “privilege,” when their entire organization is predicated on helicoptering in and out of poor communities, in order to polish their “Best and Brightest” resumes and help privatize the public schools, would be hilarious if it didn’t have such negative consequences.

    It just goes to show that the human capacity for deception – of others and of oneself – is endless, especially when groups like TFA provide such lucrative incentives.

  2. Jack Covey says:

    When it comes to hypocrisies, check out this latest.

    First, some background …

    In the last few years, Campbell Brown has made countless joint appearances with David Boies, the Chairman of her union-busting Parents for Educational Justice (PEJ) organization, and also as the lead attorney in the original Vergara lawsuit, and the copycat Vergara lawsuits that PEJ exported to other states, including the one in New York City.

    Here’s one of those joint appearance:

    ( 1:58 – )

    ( 1:58 – )
    CAMPBELL BROWN: “You read this story in the newspaper about a teacher who engaged in sexual misconduct, and they still aren’t able to remove that teacher (because of evil teacher unions, JACK) … ”

    Every chance she gets., Campbell calls out teachers unions for “going to bat for” and protecting sexual predator teachers. For example, here she is in the Wall Street Journal once again positioning herself, Boies, and PEJ as the protectors / avengers of children sexual abused by teachers.

    The claims and statistics she used to make this predator-teachers-are-running-rampant argument were, at the time, immediately debunked, but that’s another story.

    Truth, however, was not the point. She and her allies were and are trying to get people to react emotionally — who doesn’t despise child molestors? — and consequently turn against teacher unions. Appealing the emotions and to fear is is a classic propaganda technique. Trumped used it to get elected. The Nazis did this with Jews with movies like Veit Harlan’s JEW SUSS, which portrays them as slobbering rapists out to defile innocent German women.

    The title and top note of Campbell’s WSJ article are :
    “Campbell Brown: Teachers Unions Go to Bat for Sexual Predators
    “The system to review misconduct is rigged so even abusive teachers can stay on the job.”
    Keep all this in mind when you ponder this latest. You’re not gonna believe this.

    According to Ronan Farrow’s NEW YORKER article released a couple days ago …

    .. David Boies, again the SAME lead attorney in California’s Vergara’s farce, and the Chariman of Brown’s Partner’s for Educational Justice, which is exporting Vergara copy-cat lawsuits
    to other states. and whose mug was everywhere during all phases of that failed let-‘s-bust-unions-by-destroying-their-tenure Vergara lawsuit, and also during all those joint appearances with Campbell when new such lawsuits were being filed in other states …

    … this is just too incredible …

    … for years, Boes engineered a massive and insidious covert network of spooks and private investigators — including ex-agents from Israel’s Mossad secret police (???!!!) — to spy on, then attack Harvey Weinstein’s victims who, in spite of Boies’ pressure, were FINALLY starting to speak out during the last year leading up to the media firestorm in September. It was an obviously failed effort, as we all know now, to intimidate those victims into silence.

    For years, Boies’ group was doing the same thing to any journalists that were thinking of reporting on Weinstein’s predation.

    Hmmm …

    Who’s “going to bat for sexual predators?”

    Who’s being paid “to keep abusive” people “on the job?”
    —————————— ————–
    NEW YORKER’s Ronan Farrow:

    “In some cases, the investigative effort was run through Weinstein’s lawyers, including David Boies, a celebrated attorney who represented Al Gore in the 2000 Presidential-election dispute and argued for marriage equality before the U.S. Supreme Court. Boies personally signed the contract directing Black Cube to attempt to uncover information that would stop the publication of a Times story about Weinstein’s abuses, while his firm was also representing the Times, including in a libel case.

    “Boies confirmed that his firm contracted with and paid two of the agencies and that investigators from one of them sent him reports, which were then passed on to Weinstein. He said that he did not select the firms or direct the investigators’ work. He also denied that the work regarding the Times story represented a conflict of interest. Boies said that his firm’s involvement with the investigators was a mistake. ‘We should not have been contracting with and paying investigators that we did not select and direct,’ he told me.

    “ ‘At the time, it seemed a reasonable accommodation for a client, but it was not thought through, and that was my mistake. It was a mistake at the time.’

    “Techniques like the ones used by the agencies on Weinstein’s behalf are almost always kept secret, and, because such relationships are often run through law firms, the investigations are theoretically protected by attorney-client privilege, which could prevent them from being disclosed in court. The documents and sources reveal the tools and tactics available to powerful individuals to suppress negative stories and, in some cases, forestall criminal investigations.”
    —————————— ————–
    This is truly stupefying news.

    What an absolutely monumental piece-of-sh– Boies is!

    Another aspect of this is that the New York Times fired Boies and his firm once Farrow’s piece hit the press.

    Think about that for a second:

    … for years, Boies had been hired by — and getting extremely well-paid by (millions) — the NY Times to defend it against various and totally separate libel lawsuits …. while, at the same time, Boies was deliberately hiding the fact that his firm, (including ex-Mossad ageints) — was covertly intimidating reporters — including New York Times staffers and writers — into dropping the story. This is in addition to his campaign to pressure Weinstein victims into not speaking out, not just to the NEW YORKER’s Ronan Farrow, but also to the NY Times reporters who did a story covering the same ground.

    Chew on that for a second: Boies is terrorizing New York Time reporters into not covering and dropping the Weinstein story … while being paid by the NY Times to provide legal services for the Times in separate libel suits being brought against the Times. (sorry about being repetitive)

    Well, the NY Times found out and immediately fired Boies and his firm, and blasting him for his “betrayal” and “reprehensible” work for Weinstein.

    “The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow reported Monday that lawyer David Boies, working on behalf of Weinstein, contracted with a team of private investigators, including former Mossad agents, to try to kill a negative New York Times story about Weinstein. Boies firm, Boies Schiller Flexner, has represented the newspaper three times in the last 10 years. The firm was reportedly defending the Times in a libel suit at the same time it was hiring private investigators to target its journalists.

    “ ‘We never contemplated that the law firm would contract with an intelligence firm to conduct a secret spying operation aimed at our reporting and our reporters,] the Times said in a statement obtained by Politico’s Michael Calderone.

    “]Such an operation is reprehensible … we should have been treated better by a firm that we trusted,] the statement continued.”
    Here’s SLATE’s coverage of this, where they report that the New York Times is going to sue Boies and his firm, and also seek Boies’ disbarment (presumably that’s what “pursuing appropriate remedies” refers to) :

    SLATE: “Luban also noted that Boies’ sanctioning of intelligence work on behalf of Weinstein could be ethically questionable under Rule 5.3, which prohibits lawyers from directing or approving a nonlawyer’s “specific conduct” that they themselves could not undertake without getting disbarred.

    ” … ”

    “Legal ethics expert and Georgetown Law professor David Luban told us in an email that, at minimum, Boies could have run afoul of Rule 1.7 of New York’s rules of professional conduct, which bars lawyers from representing a client ‘if a reasonable lawyer would conclude that … the representation will involve the lawyer in representing different interests.’ There are exceptions, but they require informed consent from both clients, which Boies did not provide to the Times.

    “ ‘We learned today that the law firm of Boies Schiller and Flexner secretly worked to stop our reporting on Harvey Weinstein at the same time as the firm’s lawyers were representing us in other matters,’ the newspaper said in a statement.

    “ ‘We consider this intolerable conduct, a grave betrayal of trust, and a breach of the basic professional standards that all lawyers are required to observe. It is inexcusable and we will be pursuing appropriate remedies.’ ”

    One more thing … tying Boies to TFA.

    My favorite part of Brown & Boies’ Morning Joe segment is when Boies — who’s supposedly all about attracting high quality teachers — sings the praises of schools hiring untrained Teacher for America Corps Members who’ve never set foot in to a classroom (???!!!) :

    Why, Boies says that he even has TFA CM’s over at his house for weekend barbecue picnics!!!

    Hear him tell THAT story.

    ( 5:21 – ) v=TuON3fdKKRY
    ( 5:21 – )
    DAVID BOIES: “Every summer, we have Teach for America for a picnic, and they’re just great! They’re enthusiastic, and yet some people want to keep Teach for America out of New York City Schools. It doesn’t make any sense if what you want volunteers to do- ”

    MORNING JOE: “Why do they want to keep them out?”

    (Oh gee … I don’t know. Maybe it’s because they’ve never taught a day in their lives, are totally untrained, and that 90% quit within two or three years, JACK)

    DAVID BOIES: “Because they (veteran unionized teachers) view them as competition for people who are already teaching there. I think that maybe they’re disruptive in the sense that they have new ideas and enthusiasm, and that’s what teaching is about!”

    Yeah, right, David. Veteran teachers are jealous of and intimidated by TFA’s “new ides and enthusiasm” and the resulting “competition.”

    • Jack Covey says:

      Here’s a better link to the Morning Joe video in the post above.

      Watching that bit about TFA CM’s chilling with Boies at one of his backyard barbecues conjures up an image;

      Boies is wearing an apron, and a chef’s hat while flipping steaks at on one of those weekend barbecues in his backyard — where he’s again entertaining TFA teachers — acting friendly to the visiting TFA CM’s at one turn.

      BOIES: (quiet, genial .. to TFA teachers) “Hey Seth and Caitlin. How’d you like your filet mignons done? … You know I really love your Ivy League enthusiasm and new ideas that you guys bring to educating our urban poor. It’s just too bad those evil teachers union members can’t handle the competition you’re bringing to reforming our schools.”

      … then enraged at another turn, as he’s repeatedly interrupted on his cellphone by ex-Mossad spooks who are giving him the latest Harvey victim intel and/or asking for Boies’ instructions on how to obliterate or intimidate the latest complaining Hollywood actress who has spilt the beans on Harvey, or is about to spill the beans on Harvey:

      BOIES: (screaming into his cell phone) “I need DIRT!!! Ya hear me?! Dirt!! Drug use! Abortions! Nude photos! Sex tapes from vindictive ex-boyfriends! Whatever you can dig up! And then use it to nail that b—h and shut her the-f–k-up! She’s gonna find that getting raped on Harvey’s casting couch is nothing compared to what WE are gonna do to her! And tell those New York Times reporters we’re going to cut of their heads and bury ’em in Central Park if they don’t lay off Harvey!!! YOU GOT IT??!!”

      Okay, that’s just a parody, and a little extreme, but you get my point.

      One more thing:

      Public school teacher Nancy Bailey does a superb job of deconstructing the above Boies and Brown’s MORNING JOE on her blog:

      “Mr. Boies brags about having Teach for America to his place for a picnic! I can’t help but wonder how he would like young recruits with a couple of weeks of training taking over his job at his fancy law firm. How about Lawyers for America? Or would he have liked it if his parents had lost their jobs due to Teach for America?

      “But mostly, having been a special education teacher, I have to wonder how many students with dyslexia (Bailey earlier goes into detail about Boies having dyslexia, which he overcame with the help of Special Ed. public school teachers.) are going to learn how to read with a Teach for America recruit. Boies, of all people, should realize how much preparation it takes to understand the dynamics of teaching reading, especially corrective reading. Real professional teachers need more not less preparation. Does he think enthusiasm is all you need?

      “And instead of picnicking with Teach for America, maybe he should be doing some real research. While some like to dispute this, both he and Brown should at least learn that, for the most part, the states with the highest test scores have always been the states where the teachers’ unions are strongest and the teachers have tenure. Actually, it has always been sort of a given. No offense to my southern friends. I did not make this up. This is what I’ve been told.

      “No. Boies has friends in high places is my guess. And none of them, I repeat none of them, are friends to teachers or the students those teachers try so hard to nurture and protect. While there are some teachers, like there are individuals in any profession who are less than ideal, these people paint all teachers with one broad stroke. They have a larger agenda in mind.

      “For me, a rather creepy part of the MORNING JOE program was at the very end when they were all chuckling in reference to the negative tweets Campbell Brown got before going on THE COLBERT REPORT. She calls all of us ‘haters.’ I guess they think anyone who disagrees with them is a ‘hater’…which, according to the huge number of people who tweeted, is a lot of people.”

    • Michael Fiorillo says:

      Fortunately, Boies is being exposed as the double-dealer and crook he is, via the Weinstein scandal…

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