"Teach For America" Trojan Horse Among Ferguson Activists?

"Teach For America" Trojan Horse Among Ferguson Activists?

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

Some minor revisions and additional links have been inserted in this article since its Dece. 10 publication.

It's hard to imagine more ruthless, murderous and insanely wealthy corporate criminals than the Koch Bros. What if one of their executive vice presidents was black? What if she came from Florissant MO, only a few minutes from the spot where Michael Brown was murdered? What if the Koch VP had kicked it with some of the demonstrators and activists early on, maybe even taken an arrest or three, run around some corners and huffed some tear gas with them?

Now suppose that black Koch VP from Florissant got picked as one of the “young black leaders” who met with President Obama at the White House last week. The black Koch VP does not offer to resign her position or denounce her employer, and the Koch Bros empire certainly won't stop doing any of the reprehensible things it does in Richmond CA, in Louisiana, and everywhere else in the world.

  1. Is this OK? Should the activists in motion over police murder of black people be good with this? Should they just look away and say well, the other stuff she's involved in, that her employer's involved in IS a concern but this here is about the police. Should they say that concern ain't THIS concern, that concern ain't OUR concern???? Is this the way a broad new social movement against injustice and oppression is supposed to act?
  2. Can they really doubt that the Koch PR team will NOT use the black VP's participation in their movement to confuse and disadvantage oppressed people somewhere else?
  3. And would it be right for those with misgivings and questions about whether the Koch VP really belongs at the table, numbered among movement activists, to keep their reservations private, restricted to personal and closely held conference phone calls, private emails and the like? Or is this everybody's movement and therefore everybody's business, not just the affair of the designated "leaders"?

Something much like this is actually occurring around Ferguson. One of the “young black activists” who met with President Obama last week was Brittney Packnett, a Florissant native who happens to be executive director for the St. Louis office of Teach For America.

TFA is a nonprofit organization backed to the tune of hundreds of millions per year by Wal-Mart, the Broad Foundation, Monsanto and a long list of corporate villains and hedge fund predators intent upon dismantling, destroying and privatizing public education in black and brown neighborhoods, turning public education into a private profit center. Privatizing public education is also the bipartisan aim of top Republicans and Democrats across the country, so the Obama Department of Education has also provided tens of millions per year in federal funding for Teach For America.

Teach For America recruits young, mostly white grads from elite colleges to undergo a 5 week training program which supposedly enables them to replace experienced, mostly black teachers in inner city schools. Although TFA used to claim it sends its recruits to “underserved” schools where experienced teachers don't want to go, the facts are that underprepared TFA temps have replaced tens of thousands of experienced teachers in Newark, Chicago, St. Louis, and dozens of other cities around the country. Teach For America contends that inner-city public schools are NOT underfunded, that chronic poverty, joblessness, homelessness and short staffing are merely “excuses” used to protect the "bad teachers" which its mostly white temps are replacing. This is precisely the opposite of what knowledgeable young activists like the Dream Defenders Phillip Agnew will tell you.

For those not up on the criminal role Teach For America plays in black communities around the country, here are a few links....

In this context, the Teach For America rep sitting among the “young black activists” is a Trojan Horse.

No, it won't do any good to take Ms. Packnett aside and “talk to her” about this. That's naïve. She has a longstanding career she's spent her entire professional life building, and will not be turned aside any more than our imaginary Koch Bros VP. Likewise, Teach For America isn't about to stop doing what it gets more than $400 million a year to do, and its sizeable PR department will certainly use Ms. Pucknett's presence among Ferguson activists to confuse the unwary elsewhere. Packnett isn't even the only prominent TFA person in the Ferguson mix -- Richard McClure, a TFA national board member has been appointed to the "Ferguson Commission" by Missouri governor Jay Nixon.

Chicago just shut down 50 public schools, and Philly 40 public schools, nearly all in black neighborhoods. Many thousands of black people are in the streets in these and other cities fighting for the right to a quality public education, and the very survival of the communities around them. Often they are the same people in motion over police murders like that of Michael Brown. This is a terrible contradiction, but one with an easy solution. Ferguson activists ought to make it clear that Brittney Packnett is NOT one of them, that Ms. Packnett represents the people who fund her, not any definition of “young black activists.”

Young activists are quite right to reject the old civil rights zombies like Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. But a key element of their old style “leadership” is keeping every real decision behind closed doors. That's one more reason why they are not leaders of real movements, and it's a style young activists would do well not to replicate. This isn't anything that can be handled behind closed doors.

Black woman or no, Florissant resident or not, Packnett does not belong at the table, except as a representative of the forces that fund her career and Teach For America. She is a Trojan Horse, and should be shunned.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report. He lives and works in Marietta GA where he serves on the state committee of the GA Green Party. Reach him via this site's contact page, or via email at [email protected].