Teaching Profession

The Onion Takes on TFA

By Liana Loewus — July 17, 2012 1 min read
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The satirical newspaper The Onion went after Teach for America today, with predictably comical and stinging results.

The paper’s website features a “Point/Counterpoint” piece with an end-of-year reflection from “Megan Richmond, volunteer teacher” and a response from 4th grader “Brandon Mendez.” Twenty-three-year-old Megan, pictured in fair-faced innocence, writes glowingly of her self-sacrificing (and short-term) work with urban students:

Working as a volunteer teacher helped me reach out to a new generation of underprivileged children in dire need of real guidance and care. Most of these kids had been abandoned by the system and, in some cases, even by their families, making me the only person who could really lead them through the turmoil. ... I was a real mentor who was able to connect with them and fully understand their backgrounds and help them become the leaders of tomorrow.

The impish-looking Hispanic student, in turn, offers a precocious and ultimately searing response:

I realize that as a fourth-grader I probably don't have the best handle on the financial situation of my school district, but dealing with a new fresh-faced college graduate who doesn't know what he or she is doing year after year is growing just a little bit tiresome. Seriously, can we get an actual teacher in here sometime in the next decade, please? ... For crying out loud, we're not adopted puppies you can show off to your friends.

(As Ashton Kutcher’s character Michael Kelso on That 70’s Show would say, “Burn!”)

Toward the end, though, Brandon’s complaint seems to veer from satire into a more serious—and some would argue legitimate—critique:

Graduating high school is the only way for me to get out of the malignant cycle of poverty endemic to my neighborhood and to many other impoverished neighborhoods throughout the United States. I can't afford to spend these vital few years of my cognitive development becoming a small thread in someone's inspirational narrative.

It’s true that the piece did not specifically call out Teach for America and is arguably targeting any of a number of short-route alternative-certification programs. But Onion readers may remember that the paper has gone after TFA in the past, though with less scathing satire, here and here.

I noticed that TFA recently got its new blog, Pass the Chalk, up and running. (Full disclosure: I’m a TFA alum.) I wonder if they’ll offer a response of their own—perhaps first clearing up the fallacy that TFA teachers are “volunteers.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.