More Devil Dogs!

Lots of fun reaction to today’s TIME column on what lessons the Marines might offer the public schools.  But also a few worth looking at more.

Marines go through a brutal 6-wk training resembling brainwashing. This is what makes the other things you mention possible.  Well, the initial training is 13 weeks and it’s not really brainwashing.  It is an intense and deliberate training period though, but there is value in that for what they do.  The takeaway is merely that clarity on what essential pre-service and in-service training is helps with effectiveness whether your mission is fighting a war or teaching kids.

 It’s an all volunteer force, how can you possibly compare it? While I think there are some lessons from Marine training about values and character education that are transferable when we think about students, the all-volunteer nature of the Marines (and entire military today) is important context and in some ways limiting, of course. But, our teaching force is all-volunteer and the ideas about organization, training, etc…can travel easier.

One goal of edreform is to militarize teaching.  To be clear for the literal amongst us, it’s not the specifics of what the Marines do that matter for education, it’s the elements and ideas we can learn from, as the former Marine Major discusses in the column.  Communicating in a decentralized organization operating in a fluent environment, for instance.  And I’d suggest we’d have happier – and more effective – teachers if education leaders were as good as the Marines are at coupling a fair amount of empowerment with meaningful training, accountability, and structure.

There is obviously a visceral dislike of many things military in the education world – it’s one symptom of the troubling divide between those who protect us and the rest of American society.  But an irony that jumps out at me is that when you talk to Marine officers and seasoned NCOs, including some pretty battle-hardened guys, some are better at articulating how all the soft skills matter, teamwork, leadership, even feelings etc…than many people in our allegedly hopelessly touchy-feely field are.

(1) As a Marine, I’m a bit flattered. Though, respectfully, this comparison is off the mark. The values equate, the missions do not.  (2) …the last thing our school system needs is to adopt the Marine ethos. A Marine has to be what he is because it is a matter of life and death. The training, the discipline, are [sic] the instant execution of an order are the differences between life and death in combat situations.  Absolutely.  But again, the issue is not adopting the specifics, many of which are totally unrelated to the work of schools.  The point is to look at elements and ideas that make one institution effective in its mission and think about how they can be applied to another. How the Marines emphasize markmanship is not relevant, why they do it offers some ideas.  And when you talk to Marines in leadership positions about what they worry about they are focused on mission and being ready to deploy immediately.  That focus on mission transcends particular missions or purposes . A similar urgency and immediacy around the critical aspects of education – which you do see in schools that are succeeding in challenging situations – would be valuable, no?

5 Responses to “More Devil Dogs!”

  1. Jeff Brennan Says:

    First, thank you for including my comment (values equate, missions do not)—and your response to it is absolutely valid. However, I need to clarify my position:

    The Corps’s training is remarkably effective for preparing young Marines to endure and succeed in heavy combat, and Fallujah is a perfect example of this. But look at the problems with implementing COIN, or counterinsurgency, a far more complex strategy—also far more analogous to teaching in its complexity—than “close with and destroy the enemy.”

    The Marines have not fared as well in this area specifically because disciplined combat training is insufficient for a mission that requires deep understanding of and respect for a foreign culture and gaining trust and cooperation with a disenfranchised community.

    So, I still think saying the field of education could become more effective by adopting even thematic elements of the Corps’s values and training is to ignore the complexity of what is required for good teaching, as well as the challenges our educators face in the classroom.

  2. Bill Jones Says:

    My nephew is right now in Helmund province. He is a SAW gunner. He was a disrespectful, rowdy, physically gifted high school athlete and now he is a young, responsible, purpose driven Marine.

    So how did he get there? In his own words, “They break em’ and remake em’” He admits that he had an attitude and that his DI’s beat him mentally to the ground and did not let him up until he changed his ways.

    He even now admits he was a complete IDIOT to his English teacher. She was a woman and he admits he picked on her and tormented her. Now, as a Marine, he has told me HE REGRETS HE EVER DID THAT. The marines asked him, and he did, write her a letter of apology WITH his boot camp graduation photo.

    So, my nephew DID not want his high school experience to be the corps, and I can give you several hundred marines who do NOT want their DOD schools to be the Marine corps.

    I am a retired Navy commander with nuke navy qualifications. I now teach at university. I held command. I predicted you would write something like this.

    Let me tell you about MY benefits in the Navy: I was paid very well. I go sea pay, and pro-pay for my nuke qualifications. It was a whole lot of extra money. Enough to pay for two kids through the UC system.

    I had FREE legal help if I were accused of any on the job misconduct. My family had great FREE health care. I lived on based, and my front door (main gate) was guarded by a team of Marine military police with full automatic weapons. I shopped tax free. My neighborhood was entirely quiet, entirely upscale in terms of IQ and culture, and entirely homogenous.

    The perks of my job were unbelievably good. In fact, with my retired pay and my teaching stint at university I am doing pretty well. So, when you say that military folks do not care about the pay or the benefits, you simply do not know what you are talking about.

    Holding command, I heard more pay complaints day in and day out from my sailors AND marines than I have heard in 15 years of the education world.

    There is simply no way to incorporate the military culture into the education system. If I pulled my coveralls out of my closet and wore them to work and started pushing my students around, it would not go over to well.

    But if you want the military model, then go for it.

    I would not mind even MORE pay than I am already making.

  3. Bill Jones Says:

    There is one constant in education: The leaders have been, in perpetuity, awful at their occupations.

    The few that are good do extraordinary things, but for the most part, our education leaders, including Spellings and Duncan, are weak. Frankly, almost laughable.

    It is not the unions are too strong. It is that education leadership is so weak.

    BTW, the Marines do NOT have the kind of VAM system that you love so much. Neither did the Navy. But we certainly kept the best, trained the well, and rewarded them.

    The schools could learn something from that.

    Think about this: What if this country invest billions in teacher eval. systems and nothing improves.

    Whose head rolls? There is the problem. No one’s will.

  4. Sean Says:

    Thanks for writing the post and article. I wonder if you (or any of your commenters) can suggest any links for non-Marines like myself to learn the nitty-gritty of how the training works?

  5. arotherham Says:

    Hi Sean -

    My article was based on interviews I’m doing but for an overview of the early training Thomas Ricks’ book is a good look (with the caveat that it’s dated and things have changed over the last decade):

    http://www.amazon.com/Making-Corps-Anniversary-Afterword-Author/dp/141654450X/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

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