Sunday, June 27, 2010

The education system suffers from McChrystal syndrome: the powerful don't discuss the situation as a team, but merely exploit their own power

I liked San Diego Unified Superintendent Alan Bersin in many ways. He really wanted to fix schools. He didn't suffer fools gladly (and there are a lot of fools to deal with in the education field, as in every other field, I imagine). But like recently-fired General Stanley McChrystal, Bersin didn't understand the situation on the ground. Specifically, he didn't understand the power of the teachers union.

Bersin and McChrystal sabotaged their own war plans. Schools today are not unlike Afghanistan:

1. No one has genuine control;
2. Political corruption is rampant in school boards, administrations and the teachers union;
3. Winning the hearts and minds of the population is necessary--including teachers, students and parents.

What should Bersin have done instead of wielding raw power? The same thing McChrystal should have done: sit down and work with the team. One thing that happens very little in schools is serious, respectful discussions within and among different parts of the team. Gossip doesn't count; if it did, schools would be flourishing. A really radical change would be to create a corps of master teachers who aren't merely trained, but truly educated. Hopefully, administrators would come from the ranks of the best teachers. Today, many teachers move to administration because they aren't successful in the classroom.

On the Media: What McChrystal failed to understand
Michael Hastings, writing for Rolling Stone, was unlike other journalists who'd had access to Gen. Stanley McChrystal. For one, the skeptical, hardheaded Hastings was a kindred spirit.
June 26, 2010
James Rainey
Los Angeles Times

What would Gen. Stanley McChrystal and the hardened commanders on his staff have to fear from a bearded, pointy-headed reporter from a rock 'n' roll magazine?

The general and his aides had faced down terrorists and the enemies of America. They had welcomed into their midst journalists from top news outlets. The result had been stories that mostly made the men running the war in Afghanistan look like a bunch of can-do warriors.

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But Team McChrystal and its leader met their downfall this week because they failed to recognize, as soldiers like to say, that the opponent, and the situation on the ground, had changed.

Since the last time McChrystal and his men popped off to gain political advantage, the president of the United Stated had made it abundantly clear he wanted more team play. Sensitivity about the war had increased, as the U.S. deployment and casualties climbed.

Most important, the Rolling Stone reporter they invited in to write a profile, Michael Hastings, didn't have to tussle with the competing priorities of the mainstream beat reporters who had come before him. If McChrystal and his men had thought it through, they might have realized that Hastings was in for just one hit. Hastings didn't need to play nice in hopes of getting access to McChrystal down the road. The piece, as a result, was no-holds-barred.

Merely by reading his online bio they would have learned that this journalist they invited into their inner sanctum was something more than the "dirty Rolling Stone hippie" who Jon Stewart suggested had such an easy path to outdoing the dunderheaded mainstream media.

Hastings, 30, had already covered America's wars for five years. He had made plain his skepticism about the chances of victory in Afghanistan. He had boldly written about the death of his fiancée in an ambush in Iraq, turning aside critiques from some journalists that he was too ready to dissect a personal tragedy.

In one Web posting, the Vermont native and NYU grad wrote of his admiration for "writers who live their lives with integrity and without compromise." By phone from Kabul Thursday, Hastings said that in some ways he admired the renegade McChrystal. Recalling the darkly evocative fiction that McChrystal wrote as a West Point cadet (including one story in which the protagonist assassinates the president), Hastings commented: "His attitude was, like, [stick it to] 'The Man.' And those sorts of attitudes exist in me, on a certain level."...

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