So What If Agitation Is Biased? The Status Quo Is, Too

This week has been all about the intersection of education and social justice. I have had conversations with old friends, new friends, folks who I thought might be adversaries but could be allies after all, and some new adversaries. One of those new adversaries is conservative mega-blogger and frequent Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin. Malkin delivered a calculated hit on Teach For America in the New York Post, in light of TFA's deliberate shift towards focusing on social justice as a complement to fighting for the transformation of schools. When I jumped to the defense of the brave activists who have been a part of the TFA organization, Malkin warned her followers about me and other “agitators” for social and racial justice:

Here’s a selection from her original piece:

Teach For America has transformed itself into a recruiting center for militants bent on occupying themselves with anything other than imparting knowledge and academic excellence to children in the classroom.

First of all, I for one welcome the arrival of our militant TFA overlords.* TFA always has occupied a sometimes uneasy space at the intersection of education and social justice, and their unequivocal embrace of the latter will lead to making new friends, who will be necessary when fighting alongside the communities they aim to serve. New friends and allies are important, as the strong embrace of the social justice agenda might spook some of the folks in Malkin’s rolodex.

Also, when a TV personality with a million twitter followers fingers you as a “left-wing agitator,” you end up hearing from some folks. I got trolled, for real, but that's becoming quotidian, given how much I write about race. Focusing on the race-baiting, though, can distract one from interesting arguments, and amidst the vitriol there was an important takeaway about the connection between education and social change. I heard from a lot of folks who genuinely believed that education should do nothing to challenge the conventions of the status quo, and that agitation itself was somehow un-American. This blew my mind. The very concept of America is about agitation. From a group of enlightenment era revolutionaries who rebelled against their own nations of origin, despite their backwards ideas about race, to the abolitionists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who worked across racial lines to end slavery, this country always has challenged the very nature of power and authority.

Perhaps the most revealing exchange was this:

When a system delivers predictably bad results for our most vulnerable children, like our public schools do everyday, it’s not the bias of agitation that’s worth worrying about. It’s the bias of the status quo that should give us pause.

*It’s a Simpsons reference. Know your memes, playa.