Thompson: Wendy Kopp Vs. Michael Lewis
In his address to 2012 Princeton graduates, Michael Lewis recalls the check for hundreds of thousands of dollars he received from Salomon Brothers after 18 months of Wall Street experience.
The idea of "paying recent Princeton graduates who knew nothing about money to pretend to be experts in money" was proof that Wall street had become "unhinged.'
Around that same time, Teach for America graduates, who knew little about teaching or poverty, started committing to 18 months in the classroom. Only now, in her address to Dartmouth graduates, Wendy Kopp explains why her organization should do the same for schools across the globe.
Kopp dismisses skeptics who question the wisdom of such world class presumption as "haters."
Lewis, on the other hand, reminded graduates that they have been lucky and advised them, "don't be deceived by life's outcomes." He recounted a psychology experiment at Berkeley where people were divided into groups of three and told to select a leader to guide a discussion. Each group was then given four cookies. Each leader felt free to eat the extra one. Lewis concluded, "All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. ... In time you will find it easier to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you do ..."
The young Wendy Kopp, I bet, would have not taken the additional cookie, and neither would she today. The goal of recruiting some of our luckiest and brightest grads to teach for two years was admirable, and I bet that that mission has done much more good than harm. But, the idea that twenty-somethings with two or three years of teaching experience should be fast-tracked into leading education reforms for the diverse nation was hubris at its worst.
In her speech, Kopp praised her team of "builders," and ridiculed her opponents as "naysayers." She urged today's 23-year-olds to follow in her footsteps, because "we have to all believe in our own agency." She then praised the even more grandiose conceit of an international Teach for All because, "solutions are shared across nations."
I hope that I will not be read as criticizing the energy of twenty-somethings. Lewis was only 26 when he chronicled the folly of financial engineers who wrecked our economy. And Kopp is old enough to understand that the hedge funds and some corporate reformers, who help fund data-driven "reforms," are parts of the shared causes of, not the shared solutions for, global poverty.
We want young people to have an inflated sense of their "agency" when they tackle the world, just as we also want them to learn from the defeats that the "naysayers" knew would follow. Each generation's "best and brightest," it seems, has to learn the lessons of history anew. Those hard-earned lessons are a helpful part of maturing into a career. Older, more experienced practitioners, however, should make sure that the costs of those experiments are not born by the poor people who the young crusaders wanted to help.- JT (@drjohnthompson) image via.