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Posted at 5:00 AM ET, 02/23/2011

David vs. Goliath: The battle over public education

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by Rita M. Solnet, a nonpartisan businesswoman, parent, and Florida education activist.

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 strong, when, with a do or die mindset, he fought Goliath and won. But why did he succeed when others just as determined and just as brave do not?

This question dominated my thoughts this weekend as I watched events unfold in Wisconsin, where teachers are protesting efforts to strip them of collective bargaining rights, 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 at least ten times more powerful than the other, and he determined that Goliaths win 71% 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 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. And parents are fed up watching this disaster unfold as children are sentenced to yet another year of reduced education funds, overcrowded classrooms, and a narrowed, un-enriched 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% unionized. Finland strengthened their social welfare for children and families, as Diane Ravitch explained in this piece on her Bridging Differences blog). They invested in teachers decades ago and that investment paid off.

It is time for involved parents to react atypically as well. Children’s futures are at stake. Parents should visit, write, and phone their legislators, school boards, chancellors, mayors and governors to tell 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. We are joining forces to break the rhythm of this war as well.

Our schools. Our children. Our voices will be heard.


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By Valerie Strauss  | February 23, 2011; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers  | Tags:  collective bargaining, david and goliath, david v. goliath, wisconsin protests, wisconsin teachers  
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I think it is just possible that it is the taxpayers who are the "Davids"--not the teachers.

If the teachers are really honest about their "strike" then they should not call in sick. They should not lie.

Also, with collective bargaining, goes mandatory membership in the union. No one should be forced to join a union.

I am a former teacher and my observation is that the unions made unreasonable demands on the administration that did not advance the education of my students. I taught in a school system that had experienced a strike two years before I started teaching. The only people that really benefited from the strike were the strike leaders. They ended up in supervisory positions.

Posted by: mmkm | February 23, 2011 7:16 AM | Report abuse

@mmkm: Try teaching in a school that has no union membership and the teaching contracts are on an at-will basis (means you can be fired at any time with NO reasons given). I worked at one school like that, where a greedy non-educator took over the school, intimidated the faculty, drove the school nearly into the ground and fired a number of good faculty. It took the board a good 4 years to figure out how much damage he had done and to finally fire him. But not before many of the best staff had left, and the board had to begin rebuilding the school almost from the ground up; needless to say, many, many students - at-risk, learning-disabled, were negatively impacted.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | February 23, 2011 11:44 AM | Report abuse

clever article, but, you're mixing up david & goliath.

Posted by: brainonbrad | February 23, 2011 11:57 AM | Report abuse

This article is about more than the unions. It's time to end top down decisions by people who may have PhD's but no classroom experience or classroom experience from decades ago. There seems to be such a disconnect between "reformers" and policy makers and those who work in the trenches. Parents and teachers need to speak up because these policies/rules are impacting our kids, not the policy makers/reformers themselves.

Posted by: valerie11 | February 23, 2011 1:01 PM | Report abuse

to MMKM: I work in Miami FL, where we have collective bargaining. However, union membership is not mandatory. If our membership is not above 50% by June, our union will be stripped of its status. Considering this is the 3rd time in a dozen years of teaching in the system that we've gone over 2 years without a contract or salary increase, I'd hate to think what will happen to our working conditions should we lose our union.

Posted by: speakthetruth2 | February 23, 2011 1:13 PM | Report abuse

The NEA's narcissism is responsible for this whole mess. Their Representative Assembly thinks they're in charge of the world.

Posted by: paulhoss | February 23, 2011 2:52 PM | Report abuse

"Teachers were not expected to organize parents and students as allies and close down schools in Wisconsin; but they did."

Wisconsin parents didn't seem to get the memo.

From Wisconsin:

"Stacy Billings, a parent of two Madison students, said the district's letter upset her.She said she supports unions and opposes Walker's proposal but is against a teacher protest during school hours."That's not acceptable to me," Billings said. "My tax dollars pay for the teachers to teach and not to protest."It's unclear whether school will be held Thursday or Friday."

Posted by: frankb1 | February 24, 2011 12:29 AM | Report abuse

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