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How So-Called "Education Reformers" Have Learned the Art of War

By David Greene

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] have been in education since 1970.  I have observed a great many reforms, changes in curricula, and reversals in methodologies. I have watched an attack on public education since “A Nation At Risk” was published in 1983 grow in leaps and bounds. That attack started small, almost inconspicuously. Now it has burgeoned with ferocity few saw coming and fewer know how to combat.

One of the major problems in the fight to save public education has to do with understanding strategies. For example, the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss recently posted an article about a fabulous teacher who won a contest to appear on “Live With Kelly and Michael” who had to quit because she could no longer “drill and kill” to prepare for PARCC exams. The issue stressed by Strauss was PARCC.

Here is the really sad thing: By forcing her and thousands out of teaching, the reformers win. Why? Because they get to replace great teachers with drones who know no better.

I have been active on Facebook groups against Common Core, against standardized tests, for teachers, for parents, or against charter schools. Each site has its own myopic view of the issue. I have witnessed fights, harassment, and division between parents and teachers on many of these subjects. Few have a long view. Few see besides their own particular “hurtful” issue.

On the other hand, the “Education Deformers” do a great job at long-term planning. While we squabble among each other about which thrust they use against public education, they know they are on their way to their end game: destroying public education. So while they divide parents and teachers or elementary school people with secondary by having us branch off vs. Charter Schools, CCSS or PARCC, or OPTING OUT.... they march forward forcing good teachers and administrators out, increasing charter schools, so that even when we win our battles vs. these, they will have won the war, unless we see it and resolve not to let them do that to us.

They know and understand this idea from Sun Tzu’s Art of War. “All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what no one can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.”

Do we understand the difference between strategy and tactic? Do we even see it? If we do not, we are doomed. We must unite to fight.

We all adore social media, but it has helped them divide and conquer us. There are so many bloggers, so many FB groups, so many organizations with their own websites, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages. I would like to see us create a unified front with bigger clout. In 2011 we actually had this when Save Our Schools marched on DC in July with 7500 folks in the Ellipse and several hundred at a conference at American University. We have all since splintered and the "deformers" rejoice.

The opinions expressed here are solely those of David Greene.

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  • The Art of War has been studied by corporate CEO's for decades if not longer. For instance, the Japanese are adept at using the Art of War. All anyone has to do is study the history of the auto industry to discover how Toyota, for instance, became the largest auto manufacturer in the world.

    "Many experts believe that Toyota students have studied the ancient Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu. More than 2500 years ago, he said, in his book, The Art of War, you must know the enemy and yourself."

    Success is an art form that few can master. Here, Sun Tzu's ancient principles of war, reinterpreted for the modern businessperson, offer the skills to gain an advantage and achieve success on the corporate battlefield...and the strategies to win at work when conflicts arise.

    Winning the education wars doesn't mean the victor is better than the loser. It just means they were more ruthless and cunning.

    March 19, 2015
  • Well said.

    We need an affirmative program that can recapture the narrative from the refomistas with a compelling message beyond "opt-out" and oppose Common Core. We will never have the resources, financial or organizational, to fight effectively without the sort of cross-sector strategy that unites our efforts with parents motivated to fight high-stakes testing with teachers who will fight to limit charter expansion and unfair performance and evaluation measures.

    What parents want is not necessarily and always aligned with what teachers want and we know that even activist teachers, the ones carrying 90% of the burden in the fight against the reformistas here in New York State, seem only able to make short-term alliances among Change the Stakes, Class Size Matters, NYSAPE, AQE and the UFT/NYSUT. I have no great expectation that joint action that mobilizes teachers with motivated parents will occur since the UFT/NYSUT, which might otherwise speak for teachers in some united fashion, has no clear strategy beyond demanding, appropriately, the full funding of public schools that the courts have required for years now.

    March 19, 2015

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