According to this New York Times report, participation in the Teach for America program, which places gifted teachers in some of the nation’s worst schools, apparently leads to diminished rather than enhanced civic involvement. Stanford University sociologists Doug McAdam and Cynthia Brandt have concluded that “[i]n areas like voting, charitable giving and civic engagement, graduates of the program lag behind those who were accepted but declined and those who dropped out before completing their two years.”
What’s surprising is that anyone expected that young teachers passionate about teaching children in desperate need of a good education would end up diffusing that passion among a panoply of other worthy causes. Teach for America teachers have been successful precisely because they focus all their energy and passion on achieving specific, measurable goals in the context to which they’ve devoted themselves, rather than trying to engage in every kind of service possible.
For an example of a man who did a deliciously fresh, innovative take on educating the underprivileged, consider my friend Robert Egger, the founder of the D.C. Central Kitchen, recently named one of Oprah’s Angels. Using entrepreneurial savvy, Robert turned a soup kitchen into from a place to get handouts into an educational center in which unemployed people lacking job skills learned to become excellent, employable cooks. Here’s a shameless plug for Robert’s book, Begging for Change.