You may recall that back at the beginning of the summer, a group calling themselves America's Teachers cropped up as a PAC supporting Hillary Clinton. I did a little websurfing to see what I could find and wrote about the results.
The brain behind the PAC is a young man named Naveed Amalfard, who is the PAC's national chairman, a 2014 graduate of Emory University, and a Teach for America guy about to start his second year as a math teacher in DC. My piece about America's Teachers did not makes his day, and the drubbing some folks tried to give him on twitter made his day even less, and so he reached out to me, and this afternoon, we both took a break from beginning-of-year preparations to have a phone chat.
And so I'm prepared to answer the question-- is America's Teachers more nefarious dark money political shenanigans, or something else?
Amalfard seems like a pleasant guy, and I opened by giving him the chance to respond to the piece I wrote. He said that they (he used the word "we" throughout) were surprised to see an attack on their organization, and were particularly unhappy to find themselves linked to DFER and CAP and other Naught Persons and generally marked as negative for reasons they don't feel are merited. This prompted them to want to start a dialogue, and I readily admit that their impulse seems healthier than, say, an impulse to simply assassinate my character in their own space.
Amalfard has fine-tuned his message and mission. From the five points originally listed, AT now stands heavily for universal pre-school, college affordability, and post-secondary schooling for Dreamers. Amalfard circled back around to these three points many times. This is what they want.
I allowed as how since their original appearance, I had had trouble deciding whether they were a skullduggerous front for More Big Money or just one guy with a dream. Amalfard allowed as how they were two guys with a dream-- America's Teacher has a co-founder named Luke Villalobos. And they were animated by a dream for their students. And Amalfard told a story about watching a student get into a great college and then watching that college not provide the financial assistance to make it possible for her to attend.
On AT's blog, Amalfard comes across with the innocent arrogance of youth, the kind that announces that after one whole year of teaching, he Understands It All and will now illuminate the rest of us. On the phone, he was much less so-- not terribly slick and fairly unassuming. He's a good AFT affiliate union member who, he says, was asked to be a building rep but turned it down because he has his hands full with his job. He has enormous respect for his experienced peers and gets advice from them. I know this sounds sarcastic when I type it, but he sounded as if he meant it. Also-- and I mean this in the very best way-- he was often kind of stumbly and inarticulate in the course of our conversation, in the kind of way that suggests he's not some kind of slicker with a smooth line and a greased-up bullshit delivery system.
After the sixty gazillionth time he hammered on the Big Three Concerns of the PAC, I asked if this meant they had shifted support from Hillary to the Big Three Concerns, and the answer is that they most of all love the Big Three, but they believe that Hillary is the only candidate who can get elected and make them happen. "We think she is a champion for education," he said, and I was trying not to be an absolute ass, so I just pointed out some of the reasons that many people did not agree with him. Still. My union endorsed her, he said. Yes, and many of your union members aren't very happy about it, I said.
I asked the money question. Where does your funding come from. He said that they are going to take (those were his words-- "going to take") money from anybody anywhere on the political spectrum who would support the Big Three Concerns, and they "are not budging from them."
I asked what about Bernie Sanders. He said, "I like him. He's a great guy. A fighter. But when we look at who can get the job done..." and we were back to Hillary. Sanders is a serious opponent, not to be taken lightly, but when it comes to experience and credibility and being ready to be President, Amalfard loves Clinton very much.
Then, knowing I was talking to a Teach for America guy, I was a little bit of an asshat. "Where do you see yourself in ten years," I asked. Amalfard hemmed a bit and said that it would be really presumptuous of him to try to predict that.
"Well," I asked. "Do you see yourself in a classroom?"
"I surely am considering it," he said. When he thinks about the students and what they need, he knows it would be hard to leave. And as the product of an immigrant family, he really feels the issues of educational inequality. That, he thinks, is the most important advocacy work.
I noted at points in our conversation that declaring yourself the representative for the nation's teachers based on the insights you've gained in your one year in Teach for America might raise some people's eyebrows, particularly when you do it in support of a candidate who is not universally seen as public education friendly, might just get you some pushback. He did not try to 'splain why I was wrong, but just said, "I hear you."
Does this twenty-three-year-old have any kind of track record? Well, while at Emory he launched Readers Beyond Borders, an initiative that raised some money (Amalfard made some phone calls back to his hometown in Georgia and raised $19K in three weeks) which put six Kenyan students through college. One is now a post-grad fellow and heard President Obama speak on his African tour.
Is America's Teachers actually making a dent? Well, their twitter account has over 4,400 followers (better than certain C-list bloggers) despite having done fewer than 200 tweets. On the other hand, nobody seems to be talking about them on twitter. They apparently not on facebook, and they don't rise very far on a google search. A few weeks ago they issued a press release about Christie's ridiculous interest in punching the teachers' union, and it doesn't appear to have been picked up by anybody at all.
So if I had to make a judgment (and I don't, but as always, I will anyway), I'd say that America's Teachers PAC is more about youthful naive exuberance, one more monument to how anyone with a little ambition and an internet connection can try to grab a turn on the Big Stage, whether they have a complex and nuanced understanding of what's happening on that stage or not. Perhaps these guys will actually create a giant ship of money collected from all sorts of political enemies that will be used to float President H. Clinton into the universal preschool port. Or maybe he's a deeply gifted actor who managed to pull over my eyes and is yucking it up right now with champagne-swilling Masters of the Universe. But I don't think so. For right now, I'm going to call America's Teacher a couple of relatively harmless youngsters with an improbable under-researched dream.