David vs. Goliath, Inc.

Can a scrappy little army bring down #edreform inc.?

Reader: I have a confession to make. My path has not been a righteous one. In fact the last time I attended a church service was in the 5th grade, when, as a *plus one* with my best friend’s family, I would pass a confused, incense-choked hour thinking longingly of the donuts that waited downstairs. But that all changed recently when I accompanied wonder blogger Mercedes Schneider to her southern Louisiana church. Her pastor gave a sermon about David and Goliath, so powerful, so perfect for our *2 big 2 fail* times that I have been thinking about it ever since. 

Meet Goliath, Inc, Inc, Inc
In Malcolm Gladwell’s provocative study of David and Goliath (note: all references to the Gladwellian oeuvre must be preceded by *provocative*), he alleges that it was double vision that ultimately felled the giant Philistine. Our #edreform equivalent of Goliath—let’s call him *G*—suffers from a different disorder: double hearing. You see, our G lives in an echo chamber such that everything he utters is repeated back to him. He and his G-unit think in the same tanks and watch their Roth’s gently swell in the same banks. In fact, rare is the day in which they encounter a single other individual who does not share their belief that it is a matter of common sense, not to mention fierce urgency, that [INSERT BELOVED REFORMY POLICY HERE] should be implemented posthaste. In fact, in fact, only yesterday G read a brand new study affirming exactly that—well, maybe not a study exactly, more like a collection of handsomely bound talking points. But still…

David? I don’t know anyone named David
G’s first response when he catches word of resistance to [INSERT BELOVED REFORMY POLICY HERE] is denial. Why everyone he knows is committed to [INSERT BELOVED REFORMY POLICY HERE], and just yesterday someone else he knows shared with him a poll demonstrating widespread public support for [INSERT BELOVED REFORMY POLICY HERE]—well, maybe not a poll exactly, more like a choice between a limited number of exquisitely chosen choices. But still…

Who is paying this David character?
After denial and disbelief comes the inevitable denunciation. Someone must be paying this David character and G is pretty sure he knows who it is: the teachers union. Because as G well knows and knows all too well, the teachers unions run the show and call the shots even in places where they no longer exist or never existed in the first place—because that’s how powerful they are. And with Davids now popping up seemingly everywhere, from our reformiest burgs to our choiciest counties, G’s initial suspicions are only confirmed. A card-carrying member of tribe homo economicus, G knows that no one who is anyone does anything without getting paid. In fact, G just got paid again yesterday, and rather handsomely at that. 

David had to share a room with David
Enough with G already—let’s drop in on David. S/he’s easy enough to find. Some 400 D’s gathered last weekend in Austin, TX for the first—but almost certainly not the last—convening of the Network for Public Education, the grassroots group co-founded by Diane Ravitch last year. It’s an almost entirely volunteer-run effort and of the people I met (and I think I met roughly 4K), not a single person was there with any kind of institutional backing. There were a handful of union staffers in attendance, notable mostly for their confused expressions. You see, this movement, of teachers, parents, students and Davids has taken on a life, liveliness and uncontrollability of the sort that makes unions frankly nervous. 

The David caucus
The keynote speaker wasn’t AFT president Randi Weingarten—her role was to try to defend AFT’s pro-Common Core position vs. the four righteous and brighteous teachers with whom she stared the stage. Top honors went to Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union and inspiration to #edreform rebels everywhere. While Lewis is viewed as a heroine for going toe-to-toe with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, there’s another reason why she’s beloved. Lewis led a rebel caucus that successfully challenged the status quo of her own union, over the objection of the national organization. Lewis and her CORE Caucus were Davids too.

David just met a whole lot of other Davids
So what happens now? Things are about to get very interesting and also a little scary. Goliath, Inc. is increasingly on edge (see America, Teach For) and an edgy G with a glass jaw does not a fun party guest make. As for David, s/he’s feeling something s/he hasn’t felt for a while: just a little bit hopeful. Take the example of my own sister, a teacher in rural southern Illinois to whom I fondly refer as *EduSis.* My EduSis has watched in dismay as the collapse of state funding has resulted in the closing of schools that were once the anchors of small towns, and administrators and local officials use their enhanced powers under SB7 to try to pick off teachers they don’t like. She and her colleagues spend most of their time these days aligning themselves to the Common Core and are encouraged to use the EngageNY website as a resource so that they might finally see for themselves what good teaching looks like. But worst of all, she says, has been the sense of isolation that comes of knowing that something terrible is happening yet feeling utterly powerless to do anything about it. She doesn’t feel that way anymore…

What I loved most about being in Austin was that my virtual world came to life. Bloggers, parents, students, educators, administrators, union leaders, grassroots organizers, retired teachers, researchers and education historians were all in one room instead of separated. This was real. I added more knowledge to my education war chest: a collection of reasons why I know that a well-rounded public education is good for children and for society. I plan on meeting face to face with legislators. I plan on writing Randi Weingarten and giving her my ideas on ways to build real collaboration with parents and community. I hope to write some letters to the editor, and I’ll keep writing members of the media hoping that truth will somehow seep in and take root. Most importantly I made so many new friends—real friends. I think that if they stopped by my house, they would open my refrigerator and help themselves. And they would let me do the same.

You go sis…

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2 Comments

  1. I enjoyed this piece very much.

    I would like to share a quote taken from the last paragraph of an article written by Anthony Esolen and posted by Crisis Magazine on February 26, 2014. Mr. Esolen writes from a different perspective from edushyster but I think you will like this passage from his essay.

    “Be bold, be bold! Remember Hans Christian Anderson! The superintendent has no clothes. The commissars of the Common Core have no clothes. The developers of curricula have no clothes. They are a great big herd of balding and belly-sagging naked people, swaggering and blustering and ordering everybody around. Let some little boy cry out to any one of them, ‘Hey mister, diagram this sentence!’

  2. A word of advice about writing Randi Weingarten: don’t bother.

    While you will get a response – after all, Randi is a lawyer and enjoys a good argument – you will not get her to voluntarily leave Goliath’s echo chamber, where she is quite comfortable

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