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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The David V Goliath battle for public schools

From the Huffington Post

by Rita M. Solnet

It wasn't just the type of slingshot or the shape of rock David used when he defeated Goliath. David's determination was steadfast, his belief system so strong, that it shaped his do or die mindset. David courageously pressed forward and defeated Goliath. But why did he win when others just as determined and just as brave do not?

This question seized my thoughts this weekend as I watched events unfold in Wisconsin and elsewhere. What helps you win when all the power and the money and legislative rule is stacked against you?

My search began. I discovered that despite the odds "Davids" win nearly one third of the time!

Two years ago, political scientist Ivan Arreguin-Toft studied every war fought in the past 200 years between strong and weak combatants. He analyzed cases where one side was as at least 10 times more powerful than the other and determined that Goliaths win 71 percent of the time. Under the circumstances, this was encouraging, but I still wondered what mystical quality the "Davids" possessed which enabled them to win against the odds?

When the underdogs acknowledged their weakness and employed unanticipated strategies, they won, according to Professor Arreguin-Toft. It wasn't just David's determination and fearlessness alone. David did the unexpected. Goliath laughed at the absurdity of David approaching him without armor. David unpredictably broke the rhythm of battle. He acted quickly with one rock and fortuitously lunged forward. He interrupted Goliath's pace. That's how David won.

Teachers were not expected to organize parents and students as allies and close down schools in Wisconsin; but, they did. Senators were not expected to leave the state to avoid a quorum; but, they did. The "Davids" are breaking the rhythm of this combat and atypically they're doing the unexpected. They are, in my opinion, on their way to winning this war!

I read articles last week detailing nearly a half dozen states who plan to launch legislative actions which will severely impact public education. With a spotlight beaming on the Wisconsin turmoil, I wondered if it would be days or weeks before Ohio, Tennessee, Florida, Illinois, Indiana would erupt similarly.

Seeking common ground and compromise is always my preference. But common sense does not appear to prevail in some states where egregious proposals are introduced to strip workers of bargaining rights and to drastically impact the stability of the teaching profession as well as reduce teachers' salaries. This is not a highly paid profession to begin with. I hasten to add, I am not a teacher.

Initiatives now disguised as "education reforms" are malignant attempts to gain increased power over unions. As I wrote two weeks ago on Huffington Post, "Who's Kidding Who With These Reforms," this fight does not belong in the classroom. Parents Across America are fed up watching this disaster unfold as children are sentenced to yet another year of reduced education funds, overcrowded classrooms, and a narrowed, unenriched curriculum due to riveting focus on a senseless standardized bubble test.

Methods concocted by lawmakers and policymakers today (non educators and non parents of public school children for the most part) are the opposite of what academically high performing countries employ. Finland, for example, is nearly 100 percent unionized. Finland strengthened their social welfare programs for children and families and invested in teachers decades ago. (Dr. Diane Ravitch's article, in December's Bridging Differences). That investment paid off. Teaching is a highly respected profession in Finland where only the best and the brightest with the highest credentials are chosen. I have yet to read where Finland chose to run weeks of anti-teacher promotions on film and tv networks and demoralize an entire profession incessantly. Nor does Finland set up competitive, non collegial environments by attaching teacher's salaries to student performance. But, I digress.

Parents will not allow their children to be the casualties in this war on unions. It is time for involved parents to react atypically as well. Children's futures are at stake. Visit, write, and phone your legislators, your school boards, your chancellors, your mayors, your governors to take this fight once and for all outside the classroom. Plead with them to stop using the education of our nation's children as leverage in their war with unions.

Parents have been disenfranchised in the effort to improve the quality of public education. As "Davids" ourselves, that is no longer acceptable. Parents are joining forces to break the rhythm of this war.

Our schools. Our children. Our voices.

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