Below is a quote someone sent me once in response to an earlier blog post where I discussed my work to reform schools in South Los Angeles:
I believe the Rudyard Kipling poem [“White Man’s Burden”] is an analogy to [your] goal to colonize South LA from Pico to Slauson… [Your] model of school reform is only a slightly hipper and slicker packaging for corporate reform- the same corporate reform that is at work trying- NOT to make schools better- but to make them more profitable
It was in response to a recent blog post that I felt compelled to say enough is enough with this tired motif. In a blog called The Invading Army that has Occupied America’s Public Schools, a Fordham professor writes that “Corporate reformers” are invading and colonizing our schools; we must repel them at all costs! (Non-violent resistance of course.) I wish this blog were at least a fresh take; but it’s not. Solution-less, with the only proposed action being “non-violent resistance.”
It sounds to me like a clever, emotional argument for maintaining current workplace rules, current systems, current controls, and the status quo.
I’ve deconstructed the “imperialist motif” before. (Click here and here.) But the strength of this motif isn’t in logical sense; rather hysteria. It tries to evoke strong even violent emotion that - though speaking about revolution - is ironically maintaining a failed status quo. The best example of the nonsense of this motif is from when I first heard the metaphor being used a few years ago. I led a team of ed reformers and we were asked by then Supt Romer to support reform at a particular South LA High School. A group of African American community members and a white union leader were upset by my team coming in to assist. In an open forum to address their concerns, members of the group said to my team: ”I feel like I’m in Africa, and you are the Dutch colonizer, coming in to oppress me.”
I wasn’t at this meeting, and being the only white person on my team at that time, this loaded comment was said to a Latina and African American man (who, previous to working with me, had been teaching a few blocks away at another public high school).
“What do you suggest, Mr. McGalliard,” someone recently asked me on Twitter when I argued for a fresher take, new language, a different motif for talking about ed reform. So here’s one of many possible change-ups.
Struggling schools are like failed restaurants. The kitchen staff are the educators. Maybe the chef is the chapter union leader. The restaurant owner/manger is the school administration. Customers are the kids. And Eli Broad or one of the education agencies he funds is Gordon Ramsey. He comes in with honest, straightforward observations, and tells you what’s going wrong. Sometimes it’s the chef that’s the problem and the management is too disengaged to fix it. Sometimes it’s the management, inhibiting the talent of a bunch of great cooks. In most cases, the restaurant is neglected - dirty and infested. Disgusting actually, especially if you look in the secret places, behind and underneath things, as LA Unified knows all too well.
The end goal isn’t complicated: it’s great food, cooked well, that patrons enjoy. And getting there isn’t all that complicated either. Clean up your restaurant; treat it and the patrons with respect. Simplify your menu. Cook a few things well; not a lot of things poorly. Ramsey replaces incompetent people on occasion (not often), trains the team on the new menu, and then puts in systems whereby everyone is managed to a higher quality.
Oh, plus, the restaurant gets a 24-hour makeover.