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Today, I was offered $1,000. By Teach for America.

ImageAnd I’m turning it down. Here’s why:

As you all may know, I’ve been very busy recently putting together a student-led education conference for youth in LA called EmpowerED: Los Angeles Student Power 2014. I’m incredibly excited for this event, but have been struggling to raise money to fly in student organizers from all over the country. So I’ve been running a crowd-funding campaign to get the funds to make this personal dream of mine come true. Right now, I am a little less than $1000 short of my goal.

Let’s backtrack to a few months ago, when the ideas were still brewing in my mind. I knew that I wanted to provide a space for students to elevate their student voices and organize together for educational justice, but I wasn’t quite sure how at the time. Also during this time, my organization, Students United for Public Education, an entirely student-led, grassroots organization that defends public ed and believes in elevating student/community voice in the struggle for #edujustice (not #edreform), had just launched its first campaign: Students Resisting Teach for America.

After I started participating in the #resistTFA campaign a few months back, TFA folks started to reach out to me to speak with me about the campaign. They were all very respectful, very amicable, and very open to my ideas. We formed friendships, despite our differences in opinions about TFA, based on our mutual passion for education.

Like I always say, I don’t automatically hate everyone in TFA. I know there are genuinely passionate and caring individuals in the organization; I’m even friends with a few of them. With them, I shared my story, my reasons for doing the work that I do, and what I fight for in education, which included my vision for elevating student voice through the EmpowerED conference, a vision that is now coming true by the end of March!

And just a few weeks ago, one of the people I spoke to from TFA a few months back reached out to me, told me they (for privacy reasons) heard about my conference, and were very excited that my vision I had shared with them months ago was actually coming true! They offered their support in any way possible, and I was grateful…

…but careful. I trusted them, but I couldn’t trust the organization they was a part of. I told them that right now, my biggest problem was funding, but I could not (for paperwork reasons) and would not accept funds from any organization (in my mind: especially not TFA). Support had to come individually, from people who were personally standing by the cause. I shared with them information that I had shared with all of my friends/colleagues who I had reached out to in the past to help me spread the word and raise funds through my crowd-funding campaign. To be honest, I didn’t think much would come of it. Crowd-funding has been very exhausting, and I’ve reached out to so many people, with very little outcomes. Needless to say, I was in a desperate position as an organizer.

Now today, I get a call that I will be getting $1000, enough to meet my goal for the EmpowerED conference. I was ecstatic.

But then I was told that I had to take off the embedded SUPE facebook page on the EmpowerED website, because there were posts about #resistTFA there. And that’s when I realized that this money had strings attached, as it would be, despite my previous requests for individual donations, coming from the organization itself, an organization that I resist for very deeply personal, complex, and unique reasons.

I am ashamed to say that I was tempted. Of course, I was tempted. This money, as dirty as it was, would save me so much time and energy trying to raise the remaining $1000 on my own, or trying to make my event work with $1000 less than I intended. I was in a desperate position, but I ultimately decided, a few minutes after talking to them and thinking it through, that I could not accept the money. 

I refuse to accept money from a corporation that is funded by those who contribute to the destabilization of so many communities. These communities are home to the students who will be featured at EmpowerED, students who have made history by coming together with their peers and fighting back against injustices like school closings, high stakes testing, budget cuts, and charter expansion, all of which TFA has had either a direct or indirect role in causing/perpetuating.

How could I take their money? This money was Walton, Gates, and Broad money. This money was made off of the backs of workers and poor communities. This money was behind the oppression of my people.

So, no. I will not be accepting $1000 from Teach for America.

Because I cannot be bought.

If you are an individual who supports student voice in education, please make a donation to EmpowerED 2014. We have to take care of our own. This money will be going directly to a truly grassroots, student-led event that will revolutionize education through the student power movement. Not the corporate, top-down education reform movement.

Thank you.

Peace, love, and lots of power,

Hannah Nguyen

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Corporate Reform can’t even do business right

I may only be a business minor, but I know the difference between good and bad business. If you’re going to turn education into a business with students as products, at least employ good business practices.

Susan Altman, a teacher and current MBA student at Oxford University, writes a wonderful article on corporate reform’s bad business on my favorite education reform satire blog EduShyster.

Here are some notable quotes:

“First, following standard operations practice, we must establish whether education reformers see education as a service or a product.  (As an educator, every bone in my teacher body screams service to all humanity with a damn it thrown in for good measure).”

“If the reform crowd agrees with me, they should, according to my nifty Pearson textbook, endorse “a high degree of customization, a move away from standardization, and focus on “intangible deeds and processes.”

“Even if we say that students are products and that teaching can be broken down into an assembly line of measurable tasks, old-fashioned Fordism isn’t even how good business operations are done anymore.  That ugly, dehumanizing, and elitist way of thinking about factory work went out of fashion with the poodle skirt.”

Here’s a thought: if education reformers are going to use the language of business to justify their policies, how about they at least use business ideas from this century?

Be sure to check it out for yourself!

Reinventing the Education System… with a business model of technology?

So tomorrow… I am traveling to Thailand and Vietnam! I’m pretty excited but that means I might not be posting as much. I have a LOT of drafts saved though, so I will do my best to find time (and internet connection) to blog.

Since I have to start packing soon, I will just do a brief post (you will soon learn that I love lists and bullet points).

Here are some of my thoughts on this article about reinventing rather than fixing the education system.

Yes, it’s from Forbes, which made me wary at first and it did feature some pretty appealing education rhetoric which, from experience, I know is hard to analyze because it makes you just want to agree with everything being said.

The author’s basic argument is that the education system is “not broken” but simply “obsolete” in that it no longer caters to the needs of the current generation. Thus, to solve the issue of education, we need to reinvent the system, and move away from the monotonous “assembly line” style of education that is currently implemented in our schools in order to move towards making education experiential, exciting, and as “addictive as a video game.” This means promoting creativity, critical reasoning, and collaborative learning.

Sounds pretty much everything I fight for right? Well… let’s see.

Here’s what I agree with, or at least find interesting:

  • First of all, I have to say that I was really happy to see an article about education on Forbes.
  • Very true that our current education system seems to be outdated… I think I’m going to devote some time to looking at the history of education in our country…just to see the path it has taken.
  • Yes yes yes to everything about:
  • fostering creativity and critical reasoning
  • embracing students’ various learning styles
  • promoting experiential education and interdisciplinary approaches to learning
  • making education that works for, not against, its students (“If they can’t learn the way we teach, why don’t we teach the way they learn?” – Ignacio Estrada)
  • moving away from standardization, which limits individuality and what I like to call out-of-the-scantron-bubble thinking
  • implementing well-rounded and exciting curricula for students

Here’s what I’m not so sure about:

  • “I want all entrepreneurs to take notice that this is a multi-hundred billion dollar opportunity that’s ripe for disruption.”
  • NO NO NO
  • Okay, I am a social entrepreneurship minor at USC, which is a minor in the School of Business. So I hear this all the time. And it literally makes me cringe.
  • I am pursuing social entrepreneurship because I have realized that current movements of “education reform” do not fit the model of social activism that I wholeheartedly agree with. On my journeys as an aspiring educator and educational activist, I have come to realize that in order to make the best difference that I can in education, I have to pave my own path.
  • My social entrepreneurship minor equips me with the tools and skill sets to put my educational theories and philosophies into practice.
  • What I don’t appreciate, however, is corporate agendas and motives of profit, because no matter how much you want to make a difference in education, those two things get in the way of truly and genuinely working for and with students. They dilute the focus on students and educational equity, which are the real focus here.
  • Education is not a business to be profited from. Period. If you want to make a real difference, work from the bottom up. Really get to know students, work with them, listen to them, and start with local change. Slowly, students everywhere will have equal access to the quality public education they deserve.
  • Also, I feel like the article was moving in a direction of using technology as the core of education, rather than a tool.
  • “It is time we flipped the model on its head and used technology to focus on our learners.”
  • I believe that while technology is definitely very useful in the classroom, its influence on curriculum should be limited to only a tool.
  • To have technology infiltrate every aspect of education in a classroom for the purposes of creating curricula that works for all types of students is… a little counter-productive in my opinion.
  • Not all students learn with technology, and there are many more methods and styles of learning that don’t need technology (lively discussions/debates, collaborative projects, creative projects, field trips, hands-on learning)
  • Also, technology can be very limiting for students, since it can tend to think for students and doesn’t really leave room for the student to create something him/herself. Well there goes that whole “fostering creativity” bit.
  • All in all, technology should assist learning, not dominate it.

Those are just my thoughts on this article! If you agree/disagree/have an idea of your own, feel free to comment!