everything is worth learning (and writing)

A Conversation with Wendy Kopp

So I’m a pretty loud critic of Teach for America in my friend circle, and I headed to a Penn sponsored event with guest speaker Wendy Kopp, Founder and Chair of TFA, in order to challenge a lot of her stances. I will admit that I would definitely consider myself open-minded to all sides of arguments, but I thought my stance against TFA was extremely strong and deep-rooted.

She ended up changing my mind. Not that I’m a proponent of TFA now, but that I oppose it less. I respond better to modesty and honesty than formulaic PR or defensive debate, and the former is exactly what Wendy was able to demonstrate tonight. Quite a few of the people who spoke were incoming TFA corps who wanted to know her stance on certain critiques, so that probably made it a safer place for her to discuss how she felt with more subtle rhetoric.

For instance, I admired her vulnerability — she admitted that if she could do it all over again, she would have engaged with local communities from the beginning to better understand their needs, their children’s lives, and their culture. When asked what to do about it, she kept repeating that it was a complex issue and that TFA is trying to “purposefully engage with the local communities,” but what does that even mean?

To be fair, she did still avoid a lot of questions in a very businessperson way — she’s gone on record saying that she deliberately avoids education policy debate because she doesn’t want to alienate potential TFA applicants and corps members (and I’m sure the school districts and local communities that are hiring TFA corps). But her main theme was that TFA isn’t the perfect solution, but that it’s better than doing nothing. Even if only 5, 10, or 15% of incoming corps members would teach without TFA, by the time they leave most of them stay in education (though disproportionately in leadership roles). Even if TFA is only a two-year commitment, at least education is seen as a more prestigious industry because of the PR. I had always believed that she felt more strongly about TFA, but it seems like they’re really responding to criticism, reflecting, and thinking about the future.


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This entry was posted on April 22, 2015 by and tagged , , , , .


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