Winning without a battle

When faced with a potential battle like those in Educational reform, I've found it helpful to ask "does this opposition need to be opposed by a new enemy or are they already their own worst enemy?" The Art of War by Sun Tzu suggests that most hostilities can be won without a battle because the enemy is reliably "full of themselves". By practicing "emptiness" instead of concerted opposition, the fullness self destructs. The opposing confidence, vengeance and conceit sabotages its own leverage, advantages and resources. Non-resistance was used successfully by Gandhi to spawn the evacuation of British rule from India. Ben and Jerry's ice cream overtook Hagen Daaz's market dominance with similar "emptiness" and non-aggression.

Opposing the opposition usually forms a vicious cycle. The antagonism escalates into a stalemate that drains the energies of everyone involved. The cycle gets maintained by reacting to the opponent's reactions. "What we resist, persists". Most proactive and pre-emptive strikes merely play into this chronic drama of hostilities. Attempts to win by battling result in no winners. Tactical skirmishes are futile.

Active pursuit of victory succeeds if the tactics are indirect and well timed. When dolphins kill a shark, they swim in circles around the shark avoiding it's jaws. They take turns bludgeoning the cartilage in the shark's flanks until the rib cage fractures. They then watch the shark sink as it hemorrhages internally. The dolphins' role in taking out the shark is very active and strategic. Stephen suggests a similar level of activity to bring about educational reform:

While I agree with most of this, I don't agree that things will "change naturally" as "systems and premises of capitalism change." ... Nothing about a transition into a new order is inevitable. And if it occurs at all, it will occur, not naturally, but as the result of very deliberate rebellion and reform against this established order.

I suspect that the industrialized, corporate opposition to educational reform is not like sharks. We are not faced with predator instincts and insatiable appetites. Rather we are facing obsolete institutions that are already acting like their own worst enemies. All we need to do is to make it easy for them to follow their own inclinations and "fall on their own sword".

When a business drives itself out of business, it solves the wrong problems. It labels its best people as traitors and saboteurs. It shoots the loyal messengers who forewarn of the pending demise. It insulates itself from reality with an entourage of clueless, suck-ups who reassure the leadership with their unfounded optimism. The business dwells on external threats and denies the dissension within its ranks. It weakens morale, drains motivation and kills creativity throughout the organization by tightening controls, enforcing conformity and demanding a show of enthusiasm. The talent quits and deadwood fills in the gaps. The enterprise can no longer make effective decisions, follow through on commitments or reconfigure itself to respond to changes in its customers. The doors are closed once the market realizes how the previous value is no longer offered or needed.

None of this requires a deliberate rebellion by those of us seeking changes. These enterprises fall by the wayside as if they are making way for much better replacements. The changes occur naturally, like my compost theory of learning.

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  1. I've felt that once 51% of families opt out of public education then there will be no choice but to change. Opting out, as we are with homeschooling, is a form of passive resistance. I don't believe that home schooling is our best option for public education, but the state-owned monopoly gives us few choices. Later we can build better learner-centred structures.

  2. I'm thinking the change induced by home schooling might play out differently. "Homeschooling" is somewhat of a misnomer. There are so many online resources for homeschoolers, it's as much an online, networked, free ranging thing -- as a "stay out of the classroom" thing. As the parents and kids develop the network of like-minded families, there will be coalitions to attract public resources to support what's already up and running. So homeschooling is one of the things to do next - to answer your question on the post: "Educational reform".

    With homeschoolers accustomed to being connected to other learners and parents, the transition to similar connections with physically-nearby neighbors will come easily. Then the use of neighborhood school facilities for some collaborative schooling by several parents could take shape easily. Legislatures will find it politically expedient to fund and support the change because it's been in the implementation phase for years, unlike the conceptualizing about School 2.0 that appears risky and too abstract.