Partisanship as a Strategy of the Weak

If you listen to anti-education-reform activists like Diane Ravitch, you’ll notice an odd-pattern

First, a long list of enemies, ranging from liberals such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Barack Obama, and Andrew Cuomo; independents such a Mort Zuckerman and Michael Bloomberg; and conservatives such as George Bush, Jeb Bush, and Mitt Romney.

Second, rhetoric associated with the political left, including “Governor 1%,” “I won’t turn my back on unions,” “rightwingers,” and “Tea-Party teacher-basher.”

Why do anti-reform activists use the rhetoric of the left, when the leadership of the  left and right are united against them?

Some people will say that this is evidence of the lobotomized nature of the teaching activists. Those people will say that if you treat a political group as badly as teachers have been treated — if you pay them very little for generations until you finally run the professionals out of teaching — you should expect foolish and self-defeating rhetoric and policies from that group. After all, the teaching profession was foolish enough to lose its leadership position in the education arena, and to allow its once dominant political network to be encircled by hostile stakeholders. If teachers were so smart, so the argument would go, why would academics and bureaucrats be setting the terms of the education reform debate?

I’ve harshly criticized teachers for being politically deaf, and even opponents of education reform (such as my friend Mark Safranski) readily agree the teacher leadership is not up to the job

You are particularly right on in saying the union leadership was incapable of dealing with this challenge and in denial (minus one guy in the 90′s, Bob Chase, who saw all of this coming and tried to reform the NEA to no avail. His current successor is a fool and a potential sell-out to find a comfortable place for himself)

There is, however, another possibility. It is possible that anti-reform activists are trying to start a political battle over education reform. If a rational actor finds himself in a position with no friends, and without the capacity to express empathy to other actors, the next best thing is to gain friends through the tactic of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Activists like Diane Ravitch may be trying to incite a Republican-Democratic divide over education policy, and hope that their membership in one party’s coalition provides them protection.

There is evidence that this tactic has shown some success. For instance, the 2011 Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill Protests led to a flurry of anti-Reform anti-Republican sentiment on partisan Democratic sites, including articles like these:

Whether or not partisanship is the intention of Diane Ravitch and others, it certainly an outcome of their rhetoric. And, if partisanship is the strategy of the weak in this case, it is hardly the first time. The early Christians threw their lot into the pro-Roman faction of Imperial politics, even though the Romans were actively hostile to the Christians. If Paul could endorse Caesar, is it that surprising that Ravitch would use leftist rhetoric?

Americans who support education reform should thus be careful to avoid falling into traps set by anti-reform activists. In particular, elite-level consensus is probably a smarter strategy than political mass movements, as mass movements can more easily be hijacked by partisan rhetoric.