Wendy Kopp Explains Teach For America
Wendy Kopp proposed the creation of Teach For America in her undergraduate senior thesis in 1989 and has spent the last 19 years working to sustain and grow the organization. In the 2008-2009 school year, more than 6,200 corps members are teaching in our country's neediest communities, reaching approximately 400,000 students. They join more than 14,000 Teach For America alumni who—still in their 20s and 30s—are already assuming significant leadership roles in education and social reform. Under Kopp's leadership, Teach For America is in the midst of an effort to grow to scale while maximizing the impact of corps members and alumni as a force for short- and long-term change. Kopp also serves as the chief executive of Teach For All, which is supporting the development of Teach For America's model in other countries. She is the author of One Day, All Children: The Unlikely Triumph of Teach For America and What I Learned Along the Way, and holds a bachelor's degree from Princeton University, where she participated in the undergraduate program of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
Question: How did you develop the concept for Teach For America?
Kopp: You know, really, the fall of my senior year, I found myself, really, for the first time in a complete funk as I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and also as I tried to figure out my thesis topic. But there were a number of things going on in my head. One, I’d been really focused on this issue of educational inequity. Just the fact that where you’re born in our country does so much to determine your educational outcomes, and, of course, in turn, your life prospects, and as a public policy major and really just a concerned college student, I was thinking a lot about that issue, organized a conference about it that brought together college students with kind of leaders from across the country to think about what can we do to improve our education system. And, one day, that concern just came together with my own search for what I really wanted to do after I graduated, and I just thought, you know, why aren’t we being recruited as aggressively to teach in low income communities as we were being recruited at the time to work on Wall Street, and, supposedly, our generation was “the me generation” and all we wanted to do was go work for these two-year corporate training programs, which I thought was great for people who really wanted to do that but, ultimately, I just thought that the label “the me generation” was wrong. It wasn’t that that’s all we wanted to do. It was that those there were the only people recruiting us. So, that was where the idea of “Teach For America” came from and it became the perfect answer to my thesis dilemma.
Question: What advice would you give to a young person looking to start her own organization?
Kopp: You know, I would say that I had a number of things going for me with this particular big idea. One was that, one was the timing. I mean, truly, there really was a mood among college seniors where that was just conducive to this. There was a tremendous need in school districts which were experiencing significant teacher shortages, and, you know, my senior spring, there was a front page article in Fortune Magazine saying that corporate America was going to take on education reform. So, there were so many elements that made the timing for this perfect. The other things is, I say this all the time, my greatest asset was my inexperience, my complete naïveté. I was convinced that this both had to happen and could happen, that it had to start on a significant scale right from the start and really, no one was going to talk me out of this, like people would tell me how crazy this was and I would just not really hear it, and I think that was truly one of my biggest assets. The other thing is that I think this particular idea was one that just very quickly magnetized just thousands of people, really, who really identified with the values on which it was built and just thought it made sense, you know, from college students who did in fact, you know, 2500 recent college graduates, you know, in four months responded to a grassroots recruitment campaign which at the time was flyers under doors, you know? The folks in corporate America who were quoted in that article actually came through with seed grants and ultimately with significant support, so, you know, in the first year alone, corporations and foundations donated $2.5 million to make it possible, and there was tremendous support in the education community as well, in school districts, from central administrators, from school principals, from veteran teachers who were honestly inspired by this outpouring of idealism from this generation and wanted to be a part of it. So I think we had a lot going for us in that initial year.
As a socially concerned senior at Princeton, Wendy Kopp created Teach For America as a response to the "Me Generation."
If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.
In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?
But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.
What's dead may never die, it seems
The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.
BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.
The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.
As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.
The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.
"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.
An ethical gray matter
Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.
The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.
Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.
Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?
"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."
One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.
The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.
"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.
It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.
Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?
The dilemma is unprecedented.
Setting new boundaries
Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."
She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.
A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.
- Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
- If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
- It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
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