Friday, April 13, 2012

Interview of Bob Bowden with David Gergen

A very interesting interview Bob Bowden did with David Gergen (link and transcript below) – I especially like his analogy about the Marines INCREASING the rigor and selectiveness, which led to INCREASED sign-ups (which he notes is similar to how TFA attracts top college graduates into teaching – which raises the question, why isn't EVERY district doing something similar???)  (For more on Bowden, see this 5-min interview with him:

BB: The example of Teach For America, there are a number of teachers for whom union membership is not the motivational force behind their decision to get involved in education.

DG: Right, many of the young people who go into Teach For America are idealists. And, I would say, a great number of them are Democratic in their party leanings. It was said long ago, 'If you're 20 years old and not a liberal there's something wrong with you. If you're 40 years old and not a conservative there's something wrong with you.' So they tend to be more liberal.

BB: You don't have a heart. You don't have a mind.

DG: I run into a number of them who say, "I'm an Obama-type person. I like the president but the Republicans have some better ideas on education." They're more drawn to the notion of choice, of innovation, of reform. And so they're challenging the orthodoxy. They're signing up for Teach For America, I think, for all the right reasons. That is, they want to be change agents in a system that they believe is not fundamentally working. They do very much want to close the equity gap. And Teach For America rejects the mythology that children from broken homes, who may happen to be African American or Hispanic or have some other background and live in tough conditions in a city, can't learn. They just reject that. And there is a lot of evidence that says they're right, that these kids can learn, we're just not teaching them very well. And Teach For America motivates young people to go in and say, "Hey come and give a couple of years after you graduate from college, to teach in the toughest urban or rural schools in the country. You're gonna get beginning wages, this is not gonna be glorious, it's gonna be tough!" It's a little bit like signing up for the Marine Corps. And some kids just respond to that challenge. It's not the union that contracts them. If anything, they struggle with their natural favoritism towards unions in general vs what they conceive of as, or perceive as [2:17] union intransigence, which has slowed-down change. Now when some of them get there, frankly, they become more pro-union. And some of the charter schools are unionized schools. We shouldn't write off teachers' unions. If anything, I think the challenge is, how do we enlist teachers in teacher's unions so that they become change agents too. We show them the respect. They get the professional development, and they can move on. I have seen schools in Harlem that are charter schools that actually don't tap into Teach For America, they tap into people who are in the existing teaching system in the unions. They ask them to come over to these charter schools, and they turn them into a terrific team. They're getting wonderful results.

BB: This has been the union argument tough. To some extent as you know that without lavish benefits you'll never attract good people. In Wisconsin, with Governor Scott Walker's recent reforms. That's what the other side is saying. They were saying you really have to give us these benefits. 

DG: Well, let me give you an example of why that is not always the case. A few years ago, before 9/11, the military services were having a very a hard time attracting top-flight recruits. The economy was doing well, a lot of jobs. All the Services but one said, we're gonna increase your pay, we're gonna increase your benefits, we're not gonna have you away from home as much, we're gonna make it easier to make it more attractive and they're recruitments didn't go up at all. The Marine Corps did it just the opposite way. They said, we're gonna make this tougher. This is gonna be only for the toughest and they added something called a crucible at the end of the Marine Corps training experience. And it is hard as hell. It's 72 hours of sheer hell. At the end of it, you gotta climb this hill and that's when they pin the ensigna on you and say, "OK, you've joined the Marine Corps." And what happened? The people who offered the softer course, didn't do anything. But the MC recruits went up like this [points straight up] and what young people are looking for that they're not looking for a lot of money. Of course they need enough to support a family, they're not looking for security. What they're looking for is adventure and a chance to make a difference.

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