How I Became a Feminist

by Paul C. Gorski (gorski@edchange.org/@pgorski)

Grandma sat in the dark of her house,
fingers caressing the worn armrests
of her recliner.

Feigning sleep
on the fold-out sofa
I studied her face.

She smoothed the front of her pink pressed nurse’s uniform
staring into the silence.

Eight years old, a timid boy,
I watched Grandma
becoming herself
before me.
The wrinkles in her face:
sweet signs of overcoming.
The distance in her eyes:
a celebration of persevering.
Her stillness:
a calm confidence,
a meditation before
bursting out.

I watched wondering why
my mother’s mother,
a few years into her first career,
chose the midnight shift.
I imagined her saying, if she spoke
just then, This is the me
I always intended to be.

This is the me.
And my spirit rumbled.

Grandma pressed herself out of her chair.
“Time to go,” she whispered to herself.
“Time to go,” my conscience echoed.

And as Grandma stepped out
of the dark of her house
my pulse assumed
the rhythm of her footsteps.

Grandma chose the midnight shift.
Grandma chose the midnight shift.

And who shouldn’t choose?
And who shouldn’t choose?
And who shouldn’t—?

Time to go.


Becoming a Threat to Inequity: 12 Principles on Poverty and Educational Equity

I have spent the better part of 15 years working with schools and school districts in the U.S. and Canada, supporting them in their efforts to create and sustain more equitable learning environments for students in poverty. My goal is to help every educator with whom I work to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to become a threat to the existence of educational inequity.

After 15 years I have learned that, despite popular belief, the most formidable barrier to educational justice is not a lack of practical strategies or even a lack of people who want to see all students perform to their fullest capabilities. Instead the biggest barrier is ideological. It is reflected by a lack of understanding or, in some cases, a lack of will on the parts of educational leaders to understand with sufficient depth why educational disparities exist so that they can develop policy and practice that threaten the persistence of those disparities.

As a result, the most challenging aspect of my commitment to cultivating educators who are threats to educational inequities is in helping them, first, to understand the problems they are trying to solve with enough complexity that they start to become that threat. When it comes to matters of poverty, that means letting go of deficit views of families in poverty, the mythical "culture of poverty" idea, the paternalistic "grit" obsession, and other mindlessly simplistic (and, of course, inaccurate) notions and presumptions about poverty and educational outcome disparities.

Even harder for some well-intended educators to bear, it means acknowledging an opportunity gap that calls into question our and our institutions' culpability in perpetuating the achievement gap we say we want to destroy. What is it about my institution's policy and practice that deepens inequities, sometimes even in the name of creating more equity? It also means acknowledging that without significant societal changes such as greater levels of income and wealth equality, more equitable access to high-quality healthcare, and wider access to affordable housing and affordable childcare, we ultimately cannot eliminate the opportunity gap that perpetuates the achievement gap.

As educators, at the very least, even if those societal issues are outside our spheres of influence, we must understand them well enough to develop school- and even classroom-level policy and practice that are responsive to them. The willingness to do this is largely a matter of understanding and a matter of will. If I have a deficit view, believing that people in poverty are in poverty because of they are lazy and don't care about education (despite the fact that neither of these claims holds up to scrutiny), then it will not occur to me to consider these bigger societal conditions.

Another way of thinking of this is that, when it comes to educational equity, the most formidable barrier is conceptual, about understanding and being willing to understand, and not practical, in nature. And that makes it an infinitely more difficult nut to crack.

The cracking begins with a commitment to embrace some basic principles related to the nature of socioeconomic educational disparities. If we are going to become threats to the existence of inequity, then we need, first of all, to work on the necessary ideological shifts. After all, ideology drives how we interpret what we see, from student behaviors to testing data. Our interpretations inform the kinds of solutions for creating more equitable schools we are capable of imagining. What we are capable of imagining determines what we do in practice and how we frame policy.

If I embrace the ideological stance, however erroneous it might be, that on average youth in poverty don't do as well in school as their wealthier peers because their families don't value education, I set myself up to misinterpret all sorts of things. I might misinterpret disparate levels of in-school family involvement as "those families don't care" because it doesn't even occur to me to consider the barriers that families in poverty face. If I'm unable or unwilling to consider those barriers I might not realize that the greatest roadblocks for low-income students are the symptoms poverty, itself, and misguided educational policy and practice developed through a misunderstanding of poverty. Whether it's due to an inability or lack of will to understand these conditions, I render more or less useless when it comes to equity if that is where I'm stuck.

So we need to start asking ourselves new questions. What if every working age adult had access to a living wage job? What if every student had access to high-quality healthcare? What if school policy was constructed in ways that take the unequal distribution of these basic rights into account and not in ways that punish families in poverty for the ramifications of the unequal distribution of basic rights?

Again, understanding drives practice and policy. This is why the first step toward equity is to bolster our equity literacy. When we understand the nature of the problems we are trying to solve more deeply we prepare ourselves to become more serious threats to the existence of educational inequities.

With this in mind I propose 12 equity literacy principles for educators of students whose families are experiencing poverty. These principles are drawn from my experience observing in and working with schools as well as more formal research on poverty and education. They are the types of base-level understandings necessary to become a threat to educational inequities.

I have witnessed the greatest amounts of progress toward equity when I have worked with schools where educators have embraced these principles while also collaborating authentically with low-income students and families. Educators in the schools that make the most progress, in my experience, think of their relationships with economically disadvantaged families, not in terms of allyship, advocacy, or partnership, but rather in terms of solidarity in a struggle for equity.

I call these the 12 Principles of Equity Literacy. Although here I describe them in relation to students in poverty, they can be applied as well to race, gender, (dis)ability, sexual orientation, or any other sort of identity around which students and families are marginalized.

1. People in poverty are the experts of their own experiences. Initiatives for addressing educational inequities experienced by people in poverty must be developed in equal collaboration with people in poverty, informed by their expertise.

2. The right to equitable educational opportunity is universal. An individual’s socioeconomic status should not determine the amount or nature of educational opportunity allocated to her.

3. Poverty is intersectional in nature, interacting in inextricable ways with racism, sexism, linguicism, xenophobia, environmental injustice, and a wide variety of other forms of inequity and injustice. Conversations about poverty in which racial or other inequities are intentionally or unintentionally masked are, by definition, incomplete, inaccurate, inadequate, and inequitable.

4. People in poverty are diverse. There is no culture of poverty. There is no set of strategies that will work for all people in poverty.

5. What we believe about people in poverty determines how we teach, interact with, and advocate (or fail to advocate) for people in poverty. If we are unwilling to shift our understandings of poverty, we are incapable of eliminating class-based inequities.

6. We cannot understand the relationship between poverty and education without first understanding the structural barriers experienced both in and out of schools by economically marginalized students and families. Even if, given the constraints of our own spheres of influence, we cannot completely eliminate all of those barriers, a failure to understand them ensures our inabilities to craft policy and practice that are, at the very least, responsive to them.

7. Test scores are inadequate measures of equity. By basing our conversations about equity on test scores we hide from view the conditions that underlie test score disparities and comply with the interests of a neoliberal school reform movement bent on hiding those conditions from view.

8. Educational outcome disparities across socioeconomic status are the result of the unequal distribution of access and opportunity, not the result of deficiencies in the “cultures” of economically disadvantaged families. Equity, then, requires a redistribution of access and opportunity both in and out of schools. If there is no redistribution, there is no progress toward equity.

9. Equitable educators adopt a structural rather than a deficit view of educational outcome disparities. By doing so we equip ourselves with the necessary knowledge to understand how access and opportunity should be redistributed equitably.

10. Strategies for creating and sustaining equitable schools must be based on evidence for what works. Sometimes when frameworks or ideas “sound right” they sound right because they reflect our existing misunderstandings. The popularity of the “culture of poverty” framework, for example, reflects how it aligns with the implicit biases of the educators who embrace it. We must be willing to do the necessary work to identify and use strategies that have been proven effective even if they contradict the common sense of our biases.

11. Simplistic instructional strategies that tiptoe around bigger inequities are no threat to those inequities. This is especially true when those strategies involve the denial of access to engaging, enriching, higher-order pedagogies and curricular opportunities in favor of un-engaging rote instruction or lessons on test-taking skills. It also is especially true when the strategies involve the denial of access to a well-rounded educational experience, such as through the elimination of art and music programs, physical education and recess, and other key aspects of a liberal education.

12. Because inequity is characterized by disparities in the distribution of access and opportunity, there is no path to educational equity that does not involve a redistribution of access and opportunity. Because there is no equity without the redistribution of access and opportunity, initiatives that do not involve the redistribution of access and opportunity are not equity initiatives. Understanding this, we must have the will to create policy and practice that aids in this redistribution even in the face of criticism and complaint from people who are accustomed to having an unfair share of access and opportunity. The will to persist toward equity in the face of this criticism and complaint is, in the end, the heart of equity work.

Paul C. Gorski is the Founder of EdChange and an Associate Professor of Integrative Studies at George Mason University where he teaches in the Social Justice and Human Rights programs. For more of his writing visit the EdChange.org. For free resources on educational equity visit EdChange.org/multicultural. To contact Paul directly email him at gorski@edchange.org.


Inviting Eric Jensen into a More Critical Conversation about Poverty and Education

by Paul C. Gorski

A few days ago I posted on Facebook part of an email I had received from the publisher of a new book written by Eric Jensen about poverty and education. I had responded that I'm probably not the right person to write the review because I have been critical of Jensen's work in the past and its lack of a critical orientation or even an acknowledgement of the structural conditions that actually cause educational outcome disparities. 
Me leading a workshop for educators on economic justice, poverty,
and teaching.

To the publisher's credit, the editor responded by sending me an electronic copy of the manuscript and encouraged me to send feedback, anyway, to help her think about Jensen's next book about poverty and education. (I found this odd because he's written at least three books on teaching students in poverty in the past six or seven years and they're already talking about his fourth. I wonder if he's trying to take the sort of flood-the-market approach Ruby Payne has taken with all of her books, most of which say the same inaccurate nonsense.) 

By way of an update, below I share the email I sent to the editor after reading the manuscript. I tried my hardest to share an honest assessment and also to demonstrate an openness for continued conversation. But in the message I also share hints of some of my biggest concerns about a lot of the "diversity" work on the school PD circuit these days. (I discuss similar concerns in this guest blog.)

I often wonder, when I see people delivering fluffy, uncritical gibberish for "diversity" PD, how often they actually have a more critical orientation, but hide it because they know it's more lucrative to hide it. I'm not saying that's what Jensen does, but I do think it's very common, and in my view it's the worst possible kind of exploitation.

As frustrated as I get reading Jensen--not just because of my own work related to poverty and education, but also because of the poverty in my own family's history and my sense of urgency to get at the roots of injustice--the best case scenario, perhaps, is for somebody like Jensen, who is just below Payne in popularity as somebody talking about these issues with school folks in the US, to finally take a stand and be more explicit, to refuse to simplify, to demonstrate high expectations for educators, just as he encourages educators to show high expectations for their students.


Dear XYZ,

Thank you for sending along the manuscript.

I found the book to be well-written and engaging. Still, it is full of dangerous over-simplifications and a continued hesitance to acknowledge the biggest reasons educational outcome disparities persist. I find it odd that he cites scholarship so selectively, completely ignoring the more structural or critically-oriented scholarship. Generally when people do that sort of thing they do it because it’s easier to market oneself by avoiding forcing educators into the more uncomfortable conversations that are required in order to make substantial progress on these issues. I believe the author has heard this feedback from a lot of sources, and it’s frustrating to see that he’s still taking the easy and marketable route. It would be wonderful to see somebody with his public profile and his reach to say what needs to be said: there is no way to eliminate socioeconomic-based outcome disparities without addressing bigger-level issues like wealth inequality, the scarcity of living wage jobs, and so on. He doesn’t have to argue that fourth grade teachers need to suddenly stop teaching and take on that work, but it is impossible for schools to really move forward if they don’t understand how those barriers impact students’ educational experiences. In some of his work he gets very close to saying that. He acknowledges, for instance, that low-income students might not have access to the most healthy food or the most consistent healthcare. But he always stops short of saying that those are the reasons the outcome disparities exist and those things can't be erased by simplistic shifts in mindset or pedagogy.

What I also find odd is that with all the talk of student and teacher mindsets there’s nothing that nudges them toward an equity mindset—toward recognizing and responding to the biases and inequities that plague our schools. He might find some of the writing I’ve done on “equity literacy” helpful in that regard. Again, I understand that it’s much safer, and it leads to a lot more invites to do workshops, when those issues are sidestepped and everyone thinks, Oh, this is just about changes in mindset and simple shifts in pedagogy. But that’s why I’m so often brought in after schools have already invested a lot of money in the author or in Ruby Payne when they realize, Oops, we can’t just train teachers who have gross prejudices about low-income students on some simple shifts—we actually have to eliminate their biases and the inequities. Again, like most of his work, the author gets close to doing that in a couple places in this book, but in the end, as with the rest of his work, he seems to simply refuse to name what needs to be named. 

If he ever decides to do that, I’ll become a champion of his work. As long as he refuses to name the economic injustice, the awful biases, the unequal distribution of access and opportunity, then my belief is that he is letting educators and educational institutions off the hook, which is another way of saying he’s demonstrating low expectations for professional educators, assuming they can’t be engaged in more sophisticated ways. 

What he’s doing here is akin to suggesting we can reform the criminal justice system without ever saying the word “racism.” Not possible. 

There’s a way to do what he’s attempting to do while also naming and taking a stand on these bigger issues. I do it in my own work. It would be revolutionary for somebody with his reach to do the same. He appears to be choosing not to do so, which means that virtually anybody in the education world who is doing actual economic justice work will continue to see him as a barrier and not an ally, as most of them see him now. 

Please send him my respects for writing a book that is very accessible and even in places fun to read. Please also let him know that I wish he would use those skills to push a little harder, to not give folks such an easy route, and that if he ever wants to talk about how we might work together on such a vision, I’m here and happy to talk.



Paul C. Gorski is the Founder of EdChange and an Associate Professor of Integrative Studies at George Mason University where he teaches in the Social Justice and Human Rights programs. For more of his writing visit the EdChange.org. For free resources on educational equity visit EdChange.org/multicultural. To contact Paul directly email him at gorski@edchange.org.


The Illusion of Justice: Social Entrepreneurship ≠ Social Justice

by Paul C. Gorski

No, Social Entrepreneurship is not Social Justice. 
Social entrepreneurship is to social justice as "cultural competence" is to racial justice. It is an illusion of movement toward justice. In fact, it is the worst kind of illusion of movement toward justice because in most of its forms it more or less exactly replicates injustice. 
For all intents and purposes, this is Social Justice 101. The trouble with social entrepreneurship masquerading as social justice can be broken down easily. Let's take the example of micro-finance (although really any example will do). 
There’s a basic premise in economic and social justice, which is that I cannot use the master’s tools to tear down the master’s house. (I believe this comes initially from Audre Lorde in this essay.) I can’t use capitalism to undo the problems that corporate capitalism has created. Nobody with a social justice framework would argue that white supremacy is a useful tool for the abolition of racism. But this is social entrepreneurship: using the hegemonic tools of corporatocracy capitalism as a strategy for abolishing the global inequality that has resulted in large part from corporatocracy capitalism. 
There’s another basic premise in economic and social justice that calls me to distinguish between mitigating action and transforming action. Suggesting that microfinance is a tool to end poverty is like saying a soup kitchen is a way to end homelessness. It temporarily might help individual people be less poor (focus on mitigating), but it’s no threat at all to the bigger social conditions and inequalities that create and sustain the existence of poverty and, as a result, the existence of homelessness (lack of focus on transforming). Nobody with a social justice view would support the idea that we end racism by giving a few people of color the tools to overcome the racism they face or that we end sexual assault by teaching women self-defense. (Except maybe Ruby Payne.)
This is the trick of capitalism, particularly in an era of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism has been, in part, a ruthless attempt to take every untouched, sacred sphere and open it to profiteers. (See good discussion of this here.) Public schools are becoming privatized all over the world. Prisons are being privatized. Public parks are being privatized. Marx wasn’t right about everything, but he was right about this: the danger of corporate capitalism is that it creates an endless search for more profit, more profit, and more profit. There isn't enough profit to be made in your own community? Then stretch that community through colonization and imperialism. Still not enough? Try to wash away the notion of "the public good" so that you can profit in spheres that once were considered part of that public good, such as public schools. 
Social entrepreneurship is, to me, what happens when we shift the profit motive into the most sacred of all public spheres: human rights and social justice. It's what happens when we replace a commitment to basic human rights and social justice with a commitment to profiting from every single thing. To me, human rights is a sacred sphere and microfinance and social entrepreneurship more generally are about opening that sphere to profit. "I will be engaged in solving the global issue of poverty (or climate change or racism or human trafficking or...) so long as I can profit in the process." 
The problem, of course, is that when we turn social justice and human rights into commodities (something that is happening in a lot of other ways, as well, but I'll save those for another post), the people and corporations creating the profit-driven illusion of wanting change actually have a financial stake in the persistence of inequality. What better way to sustain the inequality than (a) to make the most economically disadvantaged people in the world in debt to your organization, and/or (b) to mitigate, mitigate, mitigate, mitigate, mitigate injustice, and never get around to transforming injustice into justice?
I struggle to think of anything grosser. 
Let me preempt an argument that I'm sure is coming: an argument could be made that there are people who only will be interested in poverty because they see a profit interest and, even if that’s the motivation, it’s better than having no interest at all. 
I disagree. See "a" above.
Let me preempt another response that I'm sure is coming. What are my solutions? First, people who reap the rewards of global inequality must recognize that those rewards are linked directly to the oppression of people--disproportionately people of color, disproportionately indigenous communities--in their own communities and all over the world. I must hold myself and my government accountable. I must stop voting for "liberals" who are contributing to the illusion. Second, in my individual social justice work, I must challenge myself to consider how I'm distributing my time and effort. Yes, the mitigating stuff is important. Providing food to people who are in poverty so that they don't starve as we work on more transformative action is, of course, critical. The problem comes when I put all my energy into these mitigations and am unwilling to put my own privilege at risk by engaging in more transformative social justice work. 
This is my challenge to myself: Does my social justice work mitigate the impact of injustice or is it a threat to the existence of injustice? 
In the end, if I care about ending poverty or other forms of injustice, the only way to engage in ways that have the potential to eliminate the systems and structures that make the existence of injustice profitable for some people and corporations. I do this because it’s the right thing to do, without strings attached, not because I can profit even more off of the suffering of the oppressed majority. The latter, to me, is the social entrepreneurship model. 
In conclusion, I want to remind myself that nothing is absolute. I know there are wonderful social justice minded people who are tinkering with social entrepreneurship, who see it not as profit-making but as the development of successful non-profits and NGOs. And as somebody who tends to work under a structural social justice framework, I know that I often am tripping over myself, stepping toward the mitigative because of its more immediate rewards from time to time. I do my share of damage in the name of social justice. 
Still, what I see, and particularly at institutions of higher education where a lot of people seem to make a living finding any possible way to reframe the teeth out of any kind of social justice work, are attempts to squeeze "social justice" into what, in the end, are the things social justice movements were fomented to unhinge. We ask students, not to do "social justice" work, but to do "service" work (which at times is framed in terms of justice, but not usually) without helping them see the importance of addressing the issues underlying the need for the service (or, just as awfully, without taking our cues from the communities we think we're "servicing"). We encourage people to be social entrepreneurs rather than social justice activists. 
And so, to me, the creep of social entrepreneurship, and how it's being cast in some places, including my university, as the future of social justice work should be a cause for alarm for all of us who care about justice.

Paul C. Gorski is the Founder of EdChange and an Associate Professor of Integrative Studies at George Mason University where he teaches in the Social Justice and Human Rights programs. For more of his writing visit the EdChange.org. For free resources on educational equity visit EdChange.org/multicultural. To contact Paul directly email him at gorski@edchange.org.


Response to a TFA Hopeful and Ruby Payne Fan

by Paul C. Gorski

Here's a scary estimation. About 40% of the people who email me in response to my work on poverty and education are trying to convince me or themselves that "the culture of poverty" is real. 

Here's an insight. The culture of poverty is not real. It was introduced as an idea in the early 1960s and debunked by pretty much everyone who studied poverty by the early 1970s. After that it was really only embraced by white politicians looking to justify policy initiatives that were hostile to people in poverty (and especially hostile to low-income African Americans) and by Ruby Payne. 

This morning I received an email from an eager young Teach for America (TFA) applicant. For years TFA required applicants who had made it through the first round of reviews to read my article, The Myth of the Culture of Poverty. They no longer require it, but it remains listed on a resource page that applicants are invited to explore. In that article I peel apart the foundations of Ruby Payne's culture (or "mindsets") of poverty approach and the stereotypes on which it is built. Some of those stereotypes, it turns out, are truer of wealthy people than people in poverty, like a propensity for substance abuse, which pops up a few times in Payne's books. The young man had read Payne's A Framework for Understanding Poverty and my article and had grown somewhat confused by my analysis of the culture of poverty idea. 

"I hope that you might have a few minutes to clear something up for me," he wrote. "I am applying for Teach for America and, for an interview, a resource page led me to your 2008 article 'The Myth of the 'Culture of Poverty.'" 

He continued, "I once read [Ruby] Payne's book A Framework for Understanding Poverty. In that, I found her explanations of Generational Poverty helpful. Is this part of what you aim to combat as you expel the myths of the Culture of Poverty?" 

He came across as quite earnest in his email. "I appreciate the positive implications of your article," he shared, "and would like to look into some of your references to learn more." 


But his next line reflected a sentiment I come across all too often in conversations about how to approach poverty and education: "I am trying to balance both outlooks." Red flag. 

When we're trying to learn about racism, we don't want a balanced perspective between a racial justice and a white supremacy view. The idea is to root out the latter with the former. When we're talking about sexual assault, we don't want to balance a feminist or womanist view with that of sexual assault apologists. So when it comes to poverty, the idea is not to "balance" Ruby Payne's deficit-laden culture of poverty view with other approaches, but instead to eliminate the oppressive view and to replace it with an equitable and just view. Of course the racial justice or womanist or economic justice view encompass a wide variety of approaches and frameworks. But the dialogue in any of these cases should never become one between the oppressive view and the just view; rather, the dialogue should be among different approaches for achieving the just view. It should not be a debate between a climate scientist and a climate change denier. It should be a discussion among climate scientists. The culture of poverty is, in essence, the white supremacy, the patriarchy, the heteronormativity, the climate change denial of poverty views.

To be clear, this is not a knock on the young man. He was reaching out, seeking a conversation, trying to hone his view. There is nothing more beautiful than that. Whereas I once would have seen his message as confirmation of the backward thinking on poverty that pervades conversations about education today, this morning I saw his message as an opportunity falling gently into my proverbial lap. 

"I appreciate you reaching out about this," I replied.

There was a time that my strategy, when responding to this kind of email, was overly-cautious. I would try to step people through an understanding too carefully. It's another way we, in education, often demonstrate low expectations for future teachers. "Meet them where they are," we say, then never quite get to the part where we move them forward from where they are. 

My approach today was more direct. High expectations. You can get this

I wrote: 
Let me be totally honest. If you found Payne’s work helpful and you intend to go into low-income schools through TFA, I would implore you to spend more time learning about poverty. That article actually was written to dispel the myths that Payne has pushed through her work, which is based on a set of assumptions that were rejected in the 1970s by people who study poverty. The underlying myth is that people are in poverty because of some culture or mindset problem in poor communities that is passed from generation to generation. That, in short, is complete nonsense.  
My forebears were coalminers who worked 12 hour shifts in coal mines for generations. Was it supposed laziness or lack of concern about education that kept them poor? Or was it something else? 
You also should know that people who study poverty (Payne doesn’t—she makes her living as a consultant and never has actually studied poverty) have analyzed her work and found that it is full of factual errors. So if what she wrote in that book rang true for you (as it does for a lot of readers), it’s really just evidence that you probably went into the book with misunderstandings and that Payne confirmed your misunderstandings. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. In the US we are socialized to misunderstand poverty—we’re socialized to understand it the way Payne explains it. That protects the interests of the wealthy, who don’t want you wondering whether poverty actually exists because opportunity and access are distributed unequally [to their benefit].
For a quick example of this, think about what you’re about to do. You’ll go through TFA, get 5 weeks of training, then be placed in a high-poverty school. Do you think any parent in a wealthy community, somebody with the economic sway to demand something different, would allow her or his child to be taught by somebody with 5 weeks of teacher training? Would policymakers allow that to happen? In the wealthiest schools and districts in the US a majority of teachers have graduate degrees in education. 
The point, from an educational view, is that the economic achievement gap exists because low-income people have been cheated out of access to some of the most basic things to which other people have access: preventive healthcare, living wage jobs, paid leave, nutritious food, and, in the education world, experienced teachers, well-funded schools, well-resourced schools, higher-order pedagogies… So you should ask yourself why Payne doesn’t even mention these things in her book. And if you really want to challenge yourself then you should ask yourself why you read Payne's book and didn’t wonder why she didn’t mention any of these things… 
I know some of you are wondering why I didn't take TFA on more explicitly in my conversation with this young man. Maybe I should have. But I worry about being too prescriptive in how I respond to young people about these things. Here's a different window to look through, I imagine myself saying. I also worried that being more explicit about my TFA concerns would render the rest of the message less visible to somebody who is already well into the application process. 

I walked away from my computer still feeling some concern, but also feeling grateful that the young man had the courage to ask some questions. And I felt satisfied that I did some effective and not overly-cautious nudging. I shared this sentiment at the end of my message:

"Best of luck to you with whatever you choose to do in the future. The fact that you’re asking these questions makes me excited for you."

I assume others of you are wondering whether I was too direct, whether I failed to meet this young man "where he is." 

He wrote back not 30 minutes later: "I am pleased to have a new (and more hopeful, to be honest) perspective." An invitation, perhaps, to continue nudging on poverty, on TFA, on educational justice.

Not a bad morning.

Paul C. Gorski is the Founder of EdChange and an Associate Professor of Integrative Studies at George Mason University where he teaches in the Social Justice and Human Rights programs. For more of his writing visit the EdChange.org. For free resources on educational equity visit EdChange.org/multicultural. To contact Paul directly email him at gorski@edchange.org.