Letters From the August 29-September 5, 2016, Issue

Letters From the August 29-September 5, 2016, Issue

Letters From the August 29-September 5, 2016, Issue

Each one teach one…


Each One Teach One

George Joseph’s article “Teach for America Goes Global” [July 18/25] takes Teach for India to task. In the past eight years, TFI has taken small steps for children in India, and there is a long way to go. In a country where 76 percent of our children don’t graduate from school; where 52 percent of the children in fifth grade can’t read a second-grade text; where our government says “it will not be an exaggeration to say that our education system is in disarray,” those of us doing this work often feel overwhelmed. While we try our best, each day we wake up knowing that there is both more to do and that we can do it better.

We are grateful to The Nation for giving us an opportunity to share what we are doing to further our vision of providing an excellent education to all children in India.

TFI is an independent, locally run and managed organization. We run a highly selective fellowship where candidates from diverse geographic, economic, and educational backgrounds teach full-time for two years in a government or low-income private school. Our fellows are placed in classrooms where there are existing teacher vacancies, and are given intensive training and support throughout the two years. We strive to give children a holistic education—one that integrates academics, values, self-awareness, and exposure to the world. According to the results of a recent four-year independent longitudinal study in partnership with Educational Initiatives and Columbia University, our students have improved four times as much in language and twice as much in math as a control group of students in the same schools not taught by TFI teachers.

After the fellowship, our growing corps of 1,500 alumni work across sectors—from education and the social sector to policy and the corporate sector—and across the country for children. Each year, over 60 percent of our alumni stay full-time in education, working as teachers, teacher trainers, school leaders, and other roles. Most of our alumni continue to work for education from wherever they are. They are taking steps to work together with many others across the country, within and beyond the government, to improve the state of education.

Shaheen Mistri
CEO, Teach for India


I was so disappointed to see my favorite news outlet’s distorted report on efforts under way around the world to transform educational inequities. All Joseph’s article does is fuel unnecessary division in the ranks of those fighting to create greater access to quality education. To correct just a few of the article’s inaccuracies:

§ None of the folks I know at educational nonprofits, including Teach for America, have even the remotest desire to privatize education. They know we can’t give up on public education, even while they experiment with ways to improve it. While you can find some funders who have lost faith in government’s ability to educate our children, all the nonprofits I know are exerting constant pressure on government to do more and to do better.

§ To say that these nonprofits focus only on individual leadership and transformational teaching rather than systemic change fits the narrative of a right-wing effort, but it does not fit the facts. All of these nonprofits are pushing aggressively for policy changes and greater investment in education at the local, state, and federal levels.

§ Teach for India is not a cousin of Teach for America. It is a totally independent organization, designed to meet the political and economic challenges particular to India. Nor is Teach for All the global arm of Teach for America: It is a global network of 40 independent member organizations, each one arising from and adapted to local circumstances.

Instead of undercutting good-faith efforts to transform educational inequities, why not focus on the political forces combating such efforts: the 1 percent’s refusal to pay their fair share of taxes, the politicians who fight against greater investment in education, even the unions that have been alienated by these efforts? It’s not in our enlightened self- interest to fight among ourselves.

Diana M. Smith

George Joseph Replies

Shaheen Mistri rightly criticizes the deplorable state of Indian educational development—and then praises her own organization, mentioning a study carried out by a for-profit consultancy and unnamed figures affiliated with Columbia University on Teach for India’s behalf. It is difficult for me to comment on the study’s findings or methodological quality, as the scant information about it online lacks details about the classroom-selection process. It is also unclear how well a classroom comparison could have been made, given that multiple TFI fellows often share the same teaching load as one government-school teacher (and often do not bear the same clerical, janitorial, and municipal-election responsibilities). Mistri’s final point—that “over 60 percent of our alumni stay full-time in education”—is also difficult to assess, as it evades the frequent charge that Teach for India lumps its potential long-term teachers in with its many alumni in education technology, consulting, nonprofit management, etc. Overall, Mistri’s vague point that TFI is working “for education” does not address criticisms that the program fails to challenge the inequality built into Indian schools and society, and thus will always come up short. After the article’s publication, many TFI alumni contacted me to voice this criticism.

Diana M. Smith’s argument is more convoluted. On the one hand, she claims Teach for America and Teach for India are, contrary to years of institutional collaboration and programmatic overlap, “totally independent.” On the other hand, her first two points seem to address my article on TFI by drawing on her personal experience with Teach for America. Her claim that no one she knows in “educational nonprofits” supports educational privatization belies the fact that a TFI board member was involved in pushing through public-private partnerships in Mumbai, to say nothing of its board members’ connections with explicitly pro-privatization groups. Smith concludes by calling for a focus on “the 1 percent’s refusal to pay their fair share of taxes,” ironically missing the key point of the article: TFI itself fails to call for wealth redistribution and greater state investment in education, in part because of its close ties to and dependence on many of India’s powerful corporate families.

George Joseph
washington, d.c.


Aaron Thier’s “Shelf Life” [Aug. 15/22] stated that Máir-tín Ó Cadhain’s Cré na Cille has a set piece in which two characters argue about who won a soccer match between Galway and Kerry. In fact, it was a Gaelic football match.

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