Posts tagged ‘NGO’

Other Views on Teach for America

Since I have posted positively about Teach for America, it is only fair I post this article from the Atlantic of a Teach for America alum who felt she was unprepared for what she faced in the classroom.

Over the years, I have met many TFA teachers and have been in their classrooms, and have never gotten this vibe from them, but perhaps one of our samples (mine or the author's) are flawed**.

I guess my reaction to the article is this:  TFA is the best program I have encountered to try to improve education within the framework of our deeply flawed public education system***.  However, understanding the flaws of public education, and being someone who would much rather see competition introduced into the k-12 education system, I suppose I am not surprised that putting really talented people in a bad system can only do so much.

The education establishment, which is implicitly backed by most of the media, really wants to kill TFA, which just goes to show, perhaps, the impossibility of making change happen within the system.  Think of it this way:  TFA is everything liberals have wanted in teaching reform.  It brings the brightest of the bright from America's colleges and diverts them from Wall Street and Harvard Law to teaching schoolkids.  It is modeled roughly on the Peace Corps.  It is the most establishment-friendly way I can think of to try to make public schools better and still the public school system immune system rejects it.  If TFA cannot work, then we should take that as proof that it is time for a radically new system that eliminates the government monopoly on education.


** I confess it may be my sample.  When we pay to sponsor a teacher, we specify that we will only sponsor one in a charter school.  Consistent with my comments in the rest of the article, I despair of throwing even really good people into typical public schools, and want to send them where they might have a chance.  The school where we have sponsored a teacher the last couple of years is doing great, with a population of kids nearly 100% eligible for the Federal school lunch program and most of whose parents do not speak English as a first language (or at all) significantly outperforming their peers.

*** I also think it is a great program for the young adults in it.  I have seen many of the not-for-profit and NGO jobs smart kids go into out of college, and they are awful.  They teach bad organizational lessons that will make these folks less employable in the future by productive enterprises and they at best do nothing (at worst spend their time lobbying to make my life harder and more expensive).  Against this backdrop, it is a much better experience for folks who want a service type of job out of college - the life skills taught are more relevant and the work has a higher impact.

You Don't Get To Define The Value of Your Work

Kevin Drum writes that the lesson of OWS is that hard work no longer is enough to be succesful.  I wrote in the comments

I think you are leaving an important portion out of the value proposition kids are hearing.  Its not just "work hard and get an education and you will do well."  The actual proposition they think they are buying into is "work hard and get an education and work at whatever pleases you and you will do well."

I am reminded of Michelle Obama's plea to graduating college students to not go work in for-profit businesses, but to work for government or NGO's.  The problem is that workers, particularly young workers, don't get to define what is productive labor and what is not.  You can't go out in the world expecting to work really really hard at puppeteering or for the cause of Mayan feminism and necessarily expect to get paid a lot.  In any job, how much you make is determined by how valuable others see that work.

Particularly when you are 22, the work the world needs done and is valuable may very well not be what you want to do.  As you get older and more skilled, you often gain more possibilities of monetizing your true interests.  I was never really able to work at what I wanted until I was about 40.   That does not mean you can't do whatever the hell floats your boat when you are 22.  It just means don't expect the world to pay you whatever you want or need for doing it.

Definition of an Activist

Activist:  A person who believes so strongly that a problem needs to be remedied that she dedicates substantial time to ... getting other people to fix the problem.   It used to be that activists sought voluntary help for their pet problem, and thus retained some semblance of honor.  However, our self-styled elite became frustrated at some point in the past that despite their Ivy League masters degrees in sociology, other people did not seem to respect their ideas nor were they particularly interested in the activist's pet issues.  So activists sought out the double shortcut of spending their time not solving the problem themselves, and not convincing other people to help, but convincing the government it should compel others to fix the supposed problem.  This fascism of good intentions usually consists of government taking money from the populace to throw at the activist's issue, but can also take the form of government-compelled labor and/or government limitations on choice.

I began this post yesterday, with the introduction above, ready to take on this barf-inducing article in the Washington Post titled " Fulfillment Elusive for Young Altruists In the Crowded Field of Public Interest."  Gee, who would have thought it difficult for a twenty-something with no real job experience to get someone like me to pay you to lobby the government to force me to pay for your personal goals for the world?

Fortunately, since it is a drop-dead gorgeous day outside, TJIC has already done the detail work of ripping this article apart.  Here is one snippet, you should read the whole thing:

So the best they can imagine doing is "advocating".

Here's a hint: maybe the reason that your "sense of adulthood"
is "sapped" is because you haven't been doing anything at all adult.

Adults accomplish things.

They do not bounce around a meaningless series of do-nothing graduate programs, NGOs, and the sophisticated social scene in DC.

If you want to help the poor in Africa, go over there, find
some product they make that could sell here, and start importing it.
Create a market. Drive up the demand for their output.

Or find a bank that's doing micro-finance.

Or become a travel writer, to increase the demand for photography safaris, which would pump more dollars into the region.

Or design a better propane refrigerator, to make the lives of the African poor better....

One thing that disgusts me about "wannabe world changers" is that
mortaring together a few bricks almost always is beneath them - they're
more interested in writing a document about how to lobby the government
to fund a new appropriate-technology brick factory.

Special mutual admiration bonus-points are herein scored by my quoting TJIC's article that quotes me quoting TJIC.

I will add one thing:  I have to lay a lot of this failure on universities like my own.  Having made students jump through unbelievable hoops just to get admitted, and then having charged them $60,000 a year for tuition, universities feel like they need to make students feel better about this investment.   Universities have convinced their graduates that public pursuits are morally superior to grubby old corporate jobs (that actually require, you know, real work), and then have further convinced them that they are ready to change to world and be leaders at 22.  Each and every one of them graduate convinced they have something important to say and that the world is kneeling at their feet to hear it.  But who the f*ck cares what a 22-year-old with an Ivy League politics degree has to say?  Who in heavens name listened to Lincoln or Churchill in their early twenties?  It's a false expectation.  The Ivy League is training young people for, and in fact encouraging them to pursue, a job (ie 22-year-old to whom we all happily defer to tell us what to do) that simply does not exist.  A few NGO's and similar organizations offer a few positions that pretend to be this job, but these are more in the nature of charitable make-work positions to help Harvard Kennedy School graduates with their self-esteem, kind of like basket-weaving for mental patients.

So what is being done to provide more pretend-you-are-making-an-impact-while-drawing-a-salary-and-not-doing-any-real-work jobs for over-educated twenty-something Ivy League international affairs majors?  Not enough:

Chief executives for NGOs, Wallace said, have told her: "Well, yeah, if
we had the money, we'd be doing more. We can never hire as many as we
want to hire." Wallace said her organization drew more than 100
applicants for a policy associate position. "The industry really needs
to look at how to provide more avenues for young, educated people," she

Excuses, excuses.  We are not doing enough for these young adults.  I think the government should do something about it!

Update:  Oh my God, a fabulous example illustrating exactly what universities are doing to promote this mindset is being provided by the University of Delaware.  See the details here.

Aid to Africa

I'm blogging here at about 300 baud so I will have to, for once, keep it brief.  There appears to be a fair amount of momentum building to do "something" about conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, which have sucked, still suck, and will probably continue to suck without some help. 

Unfortunately, many of the usual suspects are pushing the "US does not send enough aid" line as the main failure mode for Africa.  A full fisking of this will have to wait for a better connection, but suffice it to say that we have already dropped billions in direct aid and billions more in loans and loan forgiveness, without much benefit.

Who do you give the aid to?  The vast majority of sub-Saharan governments are full of corrupt looters, who will always find ways to put most of the aid money in their own pocket and those of their cronies.  Just look at what happened to oil for food money in Iraq, and that money had MUCH better oversight than the money that goes to Africa. 

Even when the aid does not come in easily looted currency, but rather in food or vaccines distributed by NGO's, the aid can help support totalitarianism and even genocide in disturbing ways.  The problem in Africa are the same that financial aid faces anywhere,
ie:  NGO's can only go where the dictator allows.  Dictators only allow
NGO's to go to towns or regions that support him, limiting access and
starving out other areas of the country.  Food aid also hurts local
farmers by depressing local prices.  To some extent, well-meaning NGO's
fulfill the role of Carmella Soprano, helping the brutal criminal she
is married to maintain a facade of stability and normality to the
outside world.

Zimbabwe is a classic example.  People are clearly suffering there, but it is just as clear that any aid given to the people there just give comfort and additional power to Robert Mugabe, who has single-handedly engineered the current disaster.

The first thing we need to do in Africa is drop our trade barriers with them.  More than ephemeral aid, they need the chance to build real businesses and real markets, and the US is the only real candidate (the EU certainly won't do it unilaterally).  Its insane to me that a few Carolina-based Senators are so terrified of competition from these nations, and have to date blocked this obvious move.

The second thing we need to do is to find a country and make an example of it.  Lets find a single country that has a reasonably freedom-oriented government with (for Africa) moderate levels of corruption and lets focus our aid and effort at them -- lowered tariffs, aid, pressure for more liberalization, loans, vaccines, the works.  African countries have had negative reinforcement for bad government for years - lets try positive reinforcement, making it clear that democracy and good government can provide an entre to prosperity and to participation in the world community.