Founded in 1990, Teaching for Change (TFC) is an organization that seeks to turn K-12 schools into “centers of justice where students learn to read, write, and change the world.” Moreover, it aims to transform America into a more “equitable, multicultural society” populated with “active global citizens.”
Toward these ends, TFC’s Early Childhood Equity Initiative (ECEI) sponsors professional seminars designed “to develop leaders in early childhood education,” both in metro DC and nationwide. Proceeding from the premise that the United States is a country rife with racism and discrimination against nonwhite minorities, this Initiative “embrace[s] an anti-racism/anti-oppression approach” that promotes “curricul[a], environments, programs, policies and standards that are equitable, culturally-responsive and linguistically consistent with the diverse communities served by our profession.” Rejecting the notion that foreign-born immigrants should subordinate their own cultural practices and mores to those of the U.S., ECEI “promote[s] the principle of pluralism” which “embrac[es] the uniqueness and value of all cultures” and “incorporat[es]” each participant’s “native/home language into [the] curriculum.” The Initiative also places emphasis on environmental concerns, urging “the use of recycled materials” as one of numerous avenues toward the promotion of “social equity.”
Another TFC initiative is its Parent Organizing Program (POP), which features a “Roving Readers” campaign offering “grandparents, parents and friends” an opportunity to read—in both English and Spanish—to local schoolchildren in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. POP also oversees the Cross City Parent Leadership Initiative, which sponsors retreats, workshops, and onsite coaching sessions to help “parent coordinators and parent leaders … gain the tools and support they need to facilitate effective family-school programs at their schools and learn organizing skills.”
TFC’s Parent Organizing Program makes extensive use of the so-called “Tellin’ Stories approach,” which enables the organization’s activists to gain the trust of apolitical parents by appearing, initially, to be concerned solely with improving schools, encouraging greater parental involvement in the education of their children, and elevating student achievement. This approach is patterned on the community-organizing strategy pioneered by Saul Alinsky and the Midwest Academy, where activists seek first to connect with their target populations on non-controversial issues before gradually shifting their focus to more politically charged concerns.
TFC also co-sponsors (with Rethinking Schools) the Zinn Education Project, which incorporates into classroom curricula the writings of the late historian Howard Zinn—especially his best-selling book A People’s History of the United States. This Marxist tract describes America as a predatory and repressive capitalist state that serves only the interests of wealthy white men who exploit workers, American Indians, slaves, women, blacks, and populists.
In addition, TFC operates the “progressive,” DC-based Busboys and Poets bookstore which regularly hosts public readings and presentations by leftist authors and activists. Since October 2009, these events have featured appearances by such luminaries as Tariq Ali, Eric Alterman, Amiri Baraka, Phyllis Bennis, Mark Danner, Barbara Ehrenreich, Eve Ensler, Mike Farrell, Gloria Feldt, Norman Finklestein, Amy Goodman, Naomi Klein, Julianne Malveaux, Ralph Nader, Ted Rall, Bernie Sanders, Alice Walker, Cornel West, and James Zogby.
TFC has published a number of books designed to influence teachers, parents, and students, including:
Since its inception TFC has received funding from numerous large donors such as the Arca Foundation, the Caipirinha Foundation, the Fannie Mae Foundation, the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, the Peace Development Fund, the Target Foundation, the Threshold Foundation, the Tides Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Working Assets. Scores of private donors have also contributed to TFC, including former Weather Underground terrorist William Ayers.
TFC’s executive director is Deborah Menkart, who first became active in the antiwar, women’s, international solidarity, and labor movements in the 1970s. After years of participation in these crusades, she concluded that in order for any social justice movement in the U.S. to succeed, a change in school curricula and teaching practices would be essential. Thus she joined TFC when it was newly formed, and has remained with the organization ever since.