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Another Reason Why We Need More Organizing, Not More Dialogue, In Education Policy Fights


'Fight decision for Sony Sahota' photo (c) 2010, - license:

There are regular articles and blog posts calling for more dialogue and less confrontation in the debates surrounding education policy issues.

Unless it’s done as a tactical move in a larger strategy, I don’t think we have to go out of our way to be rude, but I generally believe that these calls are pretty naive and demonstrate a pipe-dream attitude about how change happens in public life (see The Best Posts & Articles On Building Influence & Creating Change). I’ve previously written more extensively about these views here on my blog and in The Washington Post:

Why we can’t all get along over school reform

It’s Not About Who’s “Evil” — It’s About Who’s Willing To Make A Deal

Why school reform (and other) debates get nasty (scroll down to see my response)

I’m not going to repeat what I’ve already said in those columns.

However, I do want to mention one additional reason why organizing — not dialogue — is what we need more of in education policy debates.

There has been extensive research showing that many, if not most, people with strongly-held beliefs are not persuaded by facts that clearly show them to be in error. In fact, showing them facts tends to even strengthen their beliefs. These findings have been most recently found to hold true in the debate about vaccines for children.

Given this extensive research, which organizers (I was a community organizer for nineteen years prior to becoming a high school teacher) have known to be true “since forever,” we shouldn’t spend much – if any — of our time trying to convince opponents with the facts.

Instead, we need to be spending most of our time organizing and talking with potential allies to develop both “organized people” and “organized money.” In this way, and only in this way, will we be able to build enough power to defeat “school reformers.”

What do you think?

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Where/how do I start to organize? I’ve been teaching for eleven years and participated in the discourse so long. I’d like to move to the next step but I don’t know where to begin.
    Thanks for any suggestions,

  2. I think your arguments are interesting and the psychological research is certainly valid, but there’s one flawed premise: namely, that most people on the “reform” side of the debate are there because of a strict ideology. Many of the more prominent reformer names are, but most people who support typical reform ideas have just fallen victim to a very successful (and misleading) advertising campaign about those reforms. They’re extremely passionate about helping low-income kids and have been told that VAM, charters, and the end of unions will bring those kids out of poverty. It is my experience that many of them begin to change their minds when they hear the real facts.

    That said, I’m a huge proponent of organizing and am glad you’re pushing it. I just wouldn’t write off the potential power of having the conversation.

    • Ben,

      I agree that there are some people who don’t really understand the “meat” of plans made by reformers and, instead, have been convinced by some of their seductive “lines.” And, yes, we should definitely be talking with them. The main focus of my post were the committed ed reform leaders, and I should have made that more clear. Thanks for pointing that out.


      • Of course. Thanks for the response!

        How do you feel about the type of conversation Jack Schneider and Michelle Rhee have been having recently? While that discussion won’t change Rhee’s mind, it seems like it could present a good opportunity for others to see the flaws in the reform agenda.

      • Ben,

        I find that blog interesting, but not particularly useful in organizing. I view it less as an attempt at a conversation/dialogue and more as a debate for public consumption– I don’t think either one of them think they’ll change the others mind and I doubt if anyone is really reading it apart from people who have already made up their mind either way. Generally, I only view a public debate as useful in the context of a well thought-out organizing strategy. For example, Randi Weingarten will often participate in debates, but it’s a tactic — a piece of a very sophisticate organizing operation.


  3. I liked a comment that you made on a previous post that you “tend to be cautious of calls for civility when they are not part of a negotiating strategy.” I understand this position: Silencing techniques often masquerade as “dialogue”. However, I’m not certain that authentic dialogue has been attempted on either side if we’re using words like “opponents” and “defeat.” Also, I’m bothered by the fact that discourse about ed reform continues to be dominated by a few big names (in the reform movement and in education) — there are lots of other voices from teachers in support of reform and in opposition to it are lost in the mix, and that will continue to be unheard and further alienated if both sides give up on dialogue.

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