11,000 people celebrating 20 years towards the mission that
one day, all children will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.
This past weekend I attended Teach For America's 20th Anniversary Summit in Washington, DC. These are my thoughts and revelations...
- Education is arguably the "civil rights issue" of our time... but do we treat it like that? Geoffrey Canada (founder of Harlem Children's Zone) said that our nation has gone soft... and I think he raises a great point. Arne Duncan (U.S. Secretary of Education) quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. when he spoke to a crowd and told them that some of them would die for the cause, but that their life's sacrifice was just because it was a sacrifice for a just cause. Canada said "I'm always nervous the Times is going to write a bad review about me... I mean how soft is that?!" Where has our zest gone as a nation when fighting for what we truly believe in? There was an analogy drawn with the revolution in Egypt - could this movement become our "Egypt"? They came together to demand a more right and better solution for their people, their future, and their nation. Will we do the same for this or really any issue? John Deasy (Superintendent Elect, LA Unified School District) said "[Education inequity is] an absolute violation of their rights... it's very simple to me. It is the power of the collective of the young voice." John Legend talked about how artists in the 60s and 70s really lead and pushed the nation forward on so many of our greatest issues and battles... and somewhere along the way of becoming a softer nation, we seem to have lost that in our pop culture artists. John Legend sits on the board for Teach for America and has begun to write songs about the issue... the issue of inequality. We have movies like Waiting for Superman that bring the issue home for so many otherwise ignorant American families. But will join together? The bigger question is what made us so soft? And how long can we stand to be soft? What will we, as a nation, demand to ensure a better future? What are we willing to fight for?
- Powerful stories. There are tons of powerful moments to share when you work in education... but one in particular that touched my heart was from Michael Johnston, the Colorado State Senator who recently passed major laws against all odds to help fix the education system in CO. When he was in TFA, he took his kids on a trip to visit Little Rock Central High. When a student was looking at the plaques, she said "Mr. J... who makes these laws?" He said he almost said "We do." but it just didn't make sense to say that. Years later, after passing the recent laws, he called that student to remind her of that moment. He said "Tiffany, I can finally answer you honestly - who makes these laws? We do."
- Moving beyond a nation - becoming a worldwide movement. I attended a session on Teach For All. 18 different countries (and that number keeps growing) have seen TFA's model and taken it back to their countries to implement it. I heard from the founders/CEOs from China, Bulgaria, Malaysia, Australia, England, India, and Germany. It was incredible to hear about the same program in their countries - to just hear about education issues around the world. Every country had such different problems, but every country had one similarity they all did not expect to find. It sums up like this - everybody told them they would fail because top graduates would not want to waste their time teaching poor kids... but that was the easiest part because as it turns out, top graduates are drawn to situations where they can do good for a better society. Its good to see the good in the world. And its good to see the world value education, but more importantly equality of educational opportunity. It is inspiration to see not just our nation, but the world, recognize that injustice, and demand change.
Some of my favorite quotes:
- "Ignorance is bliss... but we know better. And once we know better, there is a moral imperative to change." - Elisa Villanueava Beard (COO, TFA)
- "Choose to be great so our children can truly be free. This is our legacy." - Jeremy Beard
- "There should be two types of people: teachers, and those who help teachers do their jobs. Everybody else can get out of the way." - Arne Duncan
- "You will never be what you ought to be until they can be what they ought to be." - Arne Duncan, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr.
- "We have got to professionalize teaching." - Joel Klein
- "Think - if you wouldn't sent your kids to these schools... these kids are your kids." - Joel Klein
- "Americans don't worry about the kids who fail because we know why and it makes sense to us." - Geoffrey Canada
- "I went in this thinking we were gonna die still fighting for the cause... and now I'm thinking, boy - we could really win this!" - Geoffrey Canada
- "Let's get this revolution on." - Geoffrey Canada
I am so grateful for this past weekend - for the people I heard speak - for the thought process I was able to go through - for feeling connected to a movement and being brought back to the reason I joined it in the first place - for the wonderful people I get to share this experience with.
What does all this mean for me and my future?