On August 2, The Nation’s online portal for student opinions, Student Nation, ran a blog post by Columbia University undergraduate George Joseph, who has consistently attacked and made false statements about Students for Education Reform, an organization I co-founded as a sophomore at Princeton in 2009.
Almost immediately, there was an overwhelming response from SFER members on Twitter and social media calling on Joseph to tell their side of the story. Two of our members in our Los Angeles student coalition, both products of public schools, have submitted blog posts to StudentNation, and I am eager to see those run.
As co-founder of the organization, I admit that at first I was angry. Defamatory blog posts have appeared about our organization in the past—or even about me personally—and I have ignored them. But this time, seeing the righteous indignation and anger of our members, I felt that our members had been personally attacked. And yet… this debate is a hard one. I have found time and again that when students’ lives are at stake, the debate can turn bombastic. I understand that when students demand a system different than the status quo, it can seem radical. The debate can become heated.
Across the country, I have seen hundreds of SFER members enter the classroom as teachers, volunteer as tutors, partner with parents and community leaders to run events to engage local communities in our schools, and testify in state legislatures to tell their personal stories. I’d hope that soon, The Nation might write a post covering some of these events.
But right now, I’d like to respond to Joseph’s article. I’d rather talk about our members and their stories—but Joseph has asked me to respond to the inaccuracies. As a rising senior in college, as a founder of a nonprofit whose principles I believe in, as an aspiring teacher, as a leader of a movement whose students inspire me every day, I refuse to listen quietly to these defamatory statements. I have taken the time to go through Joseph’s blog post line by line.
In the post, Joseph calls us a “corporate group.” He implies our members support a “privatization agenda.” He implies our members cannot possibly be informed enough to choose to be part of our movement.
At Students for Education Reform, we believe that the ability for students to choose an excellent public school is a fundamental civil right. By generically conflating school choice with a “privatization agenda,” Joseph reveals his bias against student choice in the first line of his post. In addition, I wonder if The Nation, by running Joseph’s piece, has revealed its own bias.