Don't Hate the Playa, Hate the Game: Why Lebron James is like TFA…and I hate one of them

I’ve spent the path two months trying to avoid following or thinking about Lebron James leaving the Cavs.  In the most literal sense possible, I have been a die hard Cleveland sports fan my entire life – it’s fairly hard not to be one growing up in Northeast Ohio.  I can tell you exactly where I was sitting and who was in the room for all our heartbreakers: The Drive (TV outside of Public Hall downtown), The Fumble (friends kitchen), The Shot (on couch in basement with my dad holding my 4 year old sister), and Jose Mesa (couch in living room listening to Herb Score’s Radio Call).  The mid 80’s Browns, late 80’s and early 90’s Cavs, and Mid 90’s Indians were all great Cleveland teams: none of them had a single superstar, but through teamwork and grit they over-achieved and made it within a punch to the gut of glory.  In a lot of ways, those losses defined what it meant to be from the post-industrial steel belt: you could always hope, but in the end, powers out of your control would just crush you.

Lebron was supposed to change things.  Not only was he a superstar, but he was our superstar from just down the road in Akron.  Even before he was on the cover of SI as a junior in HS, everyone in NE Ohio knew who he was.  I saw him play HS ball while I was home from college on breaks.  Heck – I even had a friend whose little sister dated him.  When the Cavs won the lottery to be able to draft him, it felt like Cleveland’s luck was changing.   It gave the city a spark I had never seen before.  For the first time since Jim Brown ran for the Browns in the 60’s, Cleveland was home to someone who was the best at something positive.  Lebron didn’t just have the power to bring Cleveland its first championship since 1964, he had the power to erase memories of the Cuyahoga River catching on fire and the “Mistake-by-the-Lake” moniker forever. We should’ve known better.

It’s been ten years since I’ve lived in Cleveland and I’ve lived the last five of those in NYC, so I’m surely not going to blame Lebron if he wants to leave for a bigger spotlight and more cultural opportunities; I made that same decision.  And while his decision to leave will have an exponentially larger impact than anyone else in my generation who left the city behind, it’s still hard to blame him just because of the sick way that sports matter in our society.  If Lebron announces tonight, as everyone seems to expect, that he is going to Miami, nothing that really matters will be changed tomorrow.  Sure, the way he has played the decision up has been cruel if he is in fact leaving (Bill Simmons captured this better than I could in his column today, scroll down to 20). And yes, an entire city will be depressed tonight, tomorrow, and for the next few weeks.  But I really can’t blame Lebron.  He is only following the inherent logic of Capitalism: the logic of more, bigger, and better.

Which brings me to Teach for America.  I hate TFA.  Nearly all the critiques that can be made have been by others a thousand times (here’s a good study critiquing it, and here is my favorite rant against it by my teaching mentor).  But what I hate most about it is that it instills and reifies in its members the idea that more and bigger are better.  It makes it so “just” being a teacher cannot possibly be enough.

One of the many reasons I became I teacher is because I loved the idea that I could do the job I wanted to do on Day 1. The other side of that coin is that as a teacher, you’re doing the same thing on Day 1 of Year 1 as you are on Day 180 of Year 30.  The people who can do this same agonizingly frustrating, challenging, and difficult work everyday for thirty years deserve a special place in heaven.  Doing the same thing every day for 30 years is hard.  Moving on to bigger and better after two years in the classroom is easy.

My school doesn’t typically hire TFA candidates, but the logic of TFA is threatening to slaughter my school.  We’re losing 30% of our staff this year, after loosing 25% in each of our previous five years.  The top four people in our school have all left over the past two years.  We have not lost a single great teacher, counselor, or administrator to another school – every single one has moved on to something “bigger and better” where they can “effect more kids.”  I used to resent them for this, but I don’t any more.  They’re only following the cultural logic embodied by Teach for America, the same logic that Lebron James will follow tonight if he announces he’s leaving Cleveland.  Ice T had it right: Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.

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4 thoughts on “Don't Hate the Playa, Hate the Game: Why Lebron James is like TFA…and I hate one of them

  1. I just came across your blog but I’ve been reading it thoroughly for the last several hours (although now it’s time for me to leave home and go to my classroom to sharpen all the pencils and prepare post-test activities… Friday!).

    I am a second-year TFA corps member, I can’t wait to get out of this program and have them leave me alone, but I wanted to say that I am grateful for you and other educators’ critiques that help me articulate and verbalize exactly what I hate about this mentality that I am surrounded by once a month and get blasted to me in emails.

    I am very happy to work in a traditional public school, but I get very discouraged by my friends and those around me who blast on the work, ethics, and values of veteran teachers, while praising the charter schools (I live in New Orleans so the vast majority of my TFA acquaintances work for charters) that are staffed with those who “really care”. Yet even the administrators of these schools seem to only be waiting for a greater opportunity elsewhere.

    Anyhow, thank you very much for your blog. I feel a strengthened resolve to keep trekking on, searching for and absorbing from my various teaching mentors, and that staying where I am now, and resisting Advanced Capitalist ideology, will eventually get me where I want to be.

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