"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Monday, January 28, 2008

mending the work/play dichotomy

moments after i make the earth-shaking decision to commit the next two years of my life to teaching special ed in Los Angeles for Teach for America, i read their list of rules, regulations and procedures and am appalled to see the following:

"The following activities are prohibited while charging time to an
AmeriCorps program, accumulating service hours towards an educa-
tion award, or otherwise engaging in activities supported by the
AmeriCorps program:
• Attempting to influence legislation (uh, how else are we going to make any real change in the educational system?)
• Organizing or engaging in protests, petitions, boycotts, or strikes (how else am i going to stay politically active and excited?)
• Assisting, promoting, or deterring union organizing (how else are we going to make any real change for the working people in our communities?)
• Engaging in partisan political activities or other activities designed to influence the outcome of an election to any public office (i begin to wonder now if TFA just wants mindless apolitical robots who will be easily programmed to do their blanched apolitical biddings, as it would seem to me this definition could be construed to mean ANY form of political activity... even voting...?!)
• Participating in or endorsing events or activities that are likely to include advocacy for or against political parties, political platforms, political candidates, proposed legislation, or elected officials (seriously? Fall 2008 is going to be one hell of an election, and only the second presidential election i will have been eligible to vote in, and they're asking me to sit on my hands?! they might as well ask me to crawl into a hole and die.)
• Voter registration drives held by AmeriCorps members are unacceptable service activities. (okay... so they're serious. APOLITICAL ROBOTS, DO YOUR BIDDING!)

now i can see why my friend Dylan was so upset to hear i was considering Teach for America. when i told him i got accepted, he replied that he "was glad [i] got in, but sad to see teach for america take another radical peer." i can see why he was worried: in all my work as a community organizer and living wage advocate, even in my undergraduate thesis research, my overwhelming credo has consistently been: you've got to practice what you preach. that is, you have to find a way to blend theory and practice, you have to be a political practitioner. as Paulo Freire said, "this is a radical posture - you can't be neutral on a moving train.

so it saddens me, too, to see that another radical is being subsumed into an apolitical, gutless machine, a fate i had fought so tenaciously and conscientiously to avoid. i've always wanted to find a job that would allow me to practice the political convictions that before were only theories, that would allow me to mend the fissure between work and play, that would be challenging, crucial work that would change the world and that i would enjoy for that very reason.

but, sadly, it seems teach for america is not that dream job, not even close. i wish they'd understand that genuine change and conscientization (which, let's face it, are the ultimate goals of education) don't come from following existing academic standards and policies, but from enacting new ones. nor does self-sustaining systemic social change occur by merely injecting a few well-qualified college graduates into low-income communities to do some "community service"-style work. ending socio-economic injustice requires the dedication of whole communities to changing oppressive systems and their structures, of using education to liberate and empower people (rather than recreate and reaffirm injustices and inequities perpetuated by the very system of privilege and power of which we are products and survivors).

furthermore, i am offended by their suggestion that it takes a deliberate political inertness to be an effective corps member/teacher. this is glaringly wrong! i cannot think of anything low-income communities need more than active political leadership, and who better to provide it than their children and youth? they don't need to be taught to pass tests, they need to be taught to use their voices for change! how can an apathetic, groveling and subservient teacher be any sort of positive role model to youth in a time when what we need most is political change and awareness?!

maybe i should drop out. i could work for a presidential campaign instead, or continue union-organizing. i'm going to burn-out either way, might as well accomplish something...

i've made a huge mistake...


Anonymous said...


I know it's a rude awakening, but all government funded programs have similar rules. As do most businesses. Don't do something that will make you unhappy Steph, that's the trap most of us fell into when starting our working lives. Decide now, if teaching children is worth giving up your belief in change.

If you need someone to talk too, send me an email, I'll be glad to listen.

remaerdyaD said...

Hmm. The whole thing about work is not compromise, that is just life and relationship. If you have no principle, you would do anything. If your principle is non-foolish pride, then your limit is the point were you psyche melts. If your principle is providing for guardianship over any minor, you would work at walmart.

I might disagree with the point on education, but I am always thinking more along lines of maybe what education should be in the ideal, not what it becomes when the establishment intervenes (something I received as a Mozartian - which is actually accepted as high school credit, believe it or not!). Which brings up one matter, hypocricy, but I hope it doesnt hinder. Um, how do you have the name of your nationstate in your moniker and remain apolitical?

Hey, would you not rather have a teacher who never stop learning about teaching? I would like to state that without a regional teachers pension fund here, our national telephone service would already be in the hands of foreign private equity.

Sending you positivity...