Wealthy Widow Is Pouring Millions into Teach for America, Promoting a Pro-Israel Agenda to Needy and Impressionable Children
Photo Credit: AFP
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Teach For America (TFA) is best known for dispatching hundreds of idealistic college graduates to work in inner cities across the United States each year, but it also sends selected members on free, religious-themed tours of Israel.
Called The Reality Israel Experience, the TFA-sponsored trips bring idealistic young American teachers into contact with Israeli politicians and military personnel while “introducing [TFA] corps members to Israel’s education and social justice systems.”
According to testimonies featured on Reality Israel’s official website, participants are at times led by a “ military tour guide,” visit with Israeli military educators at an army base “near Jerusalem” (in the occupied West Bank?), and enjoy “ ATV off-roading all over the Golan Heights,” an Israeli-occupied region of Syria.
The Reality Israel Experience is largely a project of Lynn Schusterman, the wealthy widow of the oil and gas tycoon Charles Schusterman. Since taking control of her husband’s fortune, she has established a reputation as one of America’s most aggressive backers of pro-Israel campus advocacy, funding campus-oriented ventures like Birthright Israel and The David Project.
As publicly-funded, privately-operated charter schools expand their reach and their wealthy advocates gain increasing influence over public education, boundaries between religion and state have blurred. This has opened avenues for ideologues like Schusterman to advance their political and religious agenda among a population of needy and impressionable children.
With an eye on promoting Israel advocacy in public schools, Schusterman has begun injecting millions into TFA, the advance guard of the education privatization movement.
Backed by billionaires
Since its birth in 1990, TFA has become a Wall Street-backed behemoth at the forefront of a movement that is rapidly placing large sectors of America’s public education into private hands.
With at least $350 million in assets, including substantial support from billionaires like Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the heirs to the Walmart fortune, TFA has taken advantage of education reforms introduced under President George W. Bush and accelerated under the administration of Barack Obama. Thousands of its corps members are being moved into cities where certified, union-affiliated teachers are being laid off by the thousands.
Unlike certified teachers, TFA members must only complete a five-week summer training program before they enter the classroom. They work for lower salaries than certified teachers and must accept weaker health and pension benefits, a prime arrangement for libertarian-minded governors and mayors seeking to hollow out the public sector.
Since TFA requires only a two-year commitment from its teachers, more than half of TFA members leave their positions after a brief stint in the classroom. Some take advantage of a TFA partnership with Goldman Sachs to seek jobs at the investment firm, which recently paid much of a $247 million settlement with homeowners victimized by foreclosure abuse.
As a revolving cast of inexperienced, culturally uninitiated teachers drift in and out of inner city classrooms, many schools have been thrown into chaos.
Dissent is building within the ranks of TFA, with some veterans openly conceding that they were used as foot soldiers in a concerted assault on unions and public schooling.
But the organization’s recruitment efforts remain strong; over 10,000 members hold TFA jobs across the country, taking advantage of opportunities for personal advancement not available to their certified colleagues.
Among the most coveted perks available to TFA members is Reality Israel, an all-expenses-paid, ten-day tour of the Holy Land. Unfortunately, not every teacher has what it takes to qualify.