Organizing, Mobilizing, Commanding in Education Reform

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Over the past decade, education reformers have spent more time and resources on grassroots work. Outreach to families, community members, and teachers is on the rise.

This type of work can take many forms. It can involve listening, organizing, informing, advocating, mobilizing, and commanding.

This post from an ex-organizer is of interest.

Jorge Cabrera writes:

As I began my work in the “education reform movement” in Bridgeport, I noticed a plethora of ivy league educated “consultants” and “transformational leaders” that littered the often loose coalition of funders, new organizations and executive directors.  From the beginning, it was clear that many of these new “leaders” that were emerging were well credentialed. They had graduated from prestigious universities and, it was presumed (though not by me), that alone qualified them to lead. Many were very young (recent graduates), energetic, unmarried with no children and little life experience.  They often exhibited a cultish commitment to “the movement.” Their zeal for “education reform” and “saving the children” often resulted in a bizarre abdication of critical thinking that made a mockery of their high priced “education.”  For instance, in many meetings I attended, many of these acolytes extolled the virtues of charter schools as the only solution to closing the achievement gap…

I am an unmarried consultant with no children who possesses an ivy league degree and extolls the virtues of charter schools.

I was not involved in the work in Bridgeport (New Orleans is mentioned in the post), and I hope if I had worked there I would not have come off as abdicating critical thinking. But surely some have accused of me doing just this.

More from the post:

I recall in one strategic planning meeting when I advocated for authentic engagement and patience to allow parents the time to become informed on the various issues and was told to, “just use language to convince” the parents and impress upon them a sense of “urgency.”  Another person told me, “It’s all about how you say it.”  It was becoming increasingly clear to me that there was little interest in authentic community engagement and problem solving.  The fact that I was hired to do exactly that was lost on virtually everyone!  They were talking at me not to me.

I think this is a major risk in the education reform movement. If you say you are going to engage people, then you should listen to their opinions. If you say you’re going to organize, then you need to put the voices of others first.

My general way of operating is to be clear that I already have opinions on education reform, and while I’m willing to change these opinions, I’m an advocate, not an organizer – my opinions represent my own thoughts, not those of others.

As per Cabrera’s policy outlook, I disagree with much of it. I also find his reflections on Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine to be unconvincing. I thought her writing on New Orleans was ill informed and analytically weak.

But I think Cabrera is right to criticize reformers who pose as organizers but are really advocates.

I think it is legitimate to organize others around their own desires.

I think it is legitimate to mobilize others around a shared vision.

I think it is legitimate to advocate for your own policy beliefs.

But you should be transparent about what it is that you’re doing.

Lastly, this is a new area of consideration for me, so if I’ve gotten a lot wrong, drop a note in comments. Or pillage me on twitter.

The former would be preferable.

3 thoughts on “Organizing, Mobilizing, Commanding in Education Reform

  1. John

    Yes, you got it wrong. Cabrera nailed the Shock Doctrine approach to “reforming” ed in Philly, NOLA, Bridgeport, and Dr. Perry’s playground in CT. Starve the public system, then put out a shingle and do the same job with a self-selecting cohort. And proclaim thyself Messiah. And, often, have some sweetheart real estate games being played Ala UNO. Cabrera saw through the smoke and mirrors.

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