Thursday, August 7, 2014

Shameful blog from Teach for America

As I came out of my summer social media hibernation, I came across a Teach for America blog post titled Changing Conversations For Unhoused Students. Actually, it wasn't the title that got my attention. It was this excerpt from a tweet:
What if our schools could see the trying time of homelessness as an asset of experience and knowledge that a child brings to school?
Here are 3 thoughts:

1. This attitude can only come from a position of privilege. If being homeless is such an asset, then Teach For America will waste no time making homelessness a part of their 5 week training program. Of course this is almost as absurd as spinning homelessness as an asset.

People who like to say "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" need to remember that lemonade requires a lot of sugar and sugar is expensive. They also need to remember that it's easier to pull up your socks when you own socks.

Homeless people don't sit around talking about how being homeless is an asset. The only people who can afford to to talk like this are those who have a home with a twisted view of the world.

2. Words reveal agendas. Used cars are also pre-owned but they are only called pre-owned by those who have an agenda -- people who have a car that they don't want anymore have a used car -- those who want to sell you that car, call it pre-owned. Only those with an agenda re-label used to pre-owned, homeless to unhoused and hungry to food insecure.

3. When bad things happen to children, they are not assets to be romanticized -- they are problems to be solved. I'm all for rethinking problems and changing the conversation when that means we solve old problems with new solutions, but we should all object when rethinking problems and changing the conversation become code for seeing problems as assets that we don't need to fix.

Here's what I mean:

I taught four years in a children's inpatient psychiatric assessment unit where students were admitted by a psychiatrist for many unfortunate reasons.Too many of these children had very bad things happen to them -- some had no parents, some were sexually abused and some were psychotic (these are just three examples).

Can you imagine changing the conversation and asking how being sexually abused or psychotic could be seen as an asset for a child?

Neither can I.

Being sexually abused, psychotic or homeless are problems to be solved. Spinning these awful things as assets is an abdication of our responsibility to make things more equitable for children. These children don't need spin (and they don't need grit) -- they need their basic needs met.

New York principal Carol Burris gets the last word on all this:
Shameful. Work to fight homelessness, not celebrate it.


  1. Joe, thank you for sharing the TFA post as well as your own thoughts. I read through the comments on the blog as well, and I have just a couple of things to share. First, my position is neutral about TFA. I know little about the political agendas of the organization, nor do I know anyone who is part of the organization. I agree with you that words reveal agendas, and it was bothersome that she used unhoused instead of homeless. However, I can't help but think about teachers that I know who stereotype with labels. If they know that someone is homeless, they don't hold expectations for learning as high as they do for others. I hate typing that about a teacher... but it's honest and reality. Perhaps she chose those words to help people "see" homeless students differently. I definitely don't see homelessness as an asset, and I think we need to value the homeless students as much as we do those who aren't homeless. I also agree with Carol Burris - we must work to fight homelessness, not celebrate it.
    Thank you for sharing!

  2. I loved the absurdity of the comment that said, "However, it is supposed to teach children so they are educated enough to avoid homelessness in the future." Who knew? I guess there are no educated people that are homeless. All I have to do is be educated enough to avoid it in the future. So simple.

  3. You are exactly correct. Thank you for your reply.


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