Is There As Much To Learn From Fallujah As Finland? 5 Lessons The U.S. Marines Offer Schools

A few years ago I became interested in the question of how the Marine Corps takes average young people and turns them into really competent and effective Marines in a relatively short period of time. There are lessons there, but what I came to realize is that the broader  question for education is what lessons we can draw from how the Marines have learned to create a decentralized organization (with a lot of empowerment for those on the front line, so to speak) that is nonetheless completely organized around a core mission. We haven’t figured that out yet in education.  So as part of all that this week’s TIME column takes a look at 5 lessons the Marines offer schools:

Fallujah probably isn’t the first place you’d go for ideas about how to improve our schools. It was the scene of some of the toughest fighting during the Iraqi War. But the city’s successful recapture by the United States highlighted why the Marines Corps is such a respected fighting force. In that battle, as in others, 19- and 20-year-old Marines were trusted to make extraordinary split-second decisions in an environment more dangerous and confusing than most of us can imagine. Yet back home in American schools, we still haven’t figured out how to give our teaching force – whose members are college graduates, more than half of whom have advanced degrees – autonomy and accountability in a far less dynamic workplace. In school districts and state capitals, we veer between giving teachers insufficient training and oversight and giving them almost no autonomy at all.

Semper Fidelis?  In education our motto could be ‘Semper Semotus’ given how insular the field remains.  Not feeling insular?  Then you can read the entire column at TIME free via this link.

6 Replies to “Is There As Much To Learn From Fallujah As Finland? 5 Lessons The U.S. Marines Offer Schools”

  1. As a teacher of history in a public school in Illinois and as a Marine in the Second Division who served in Lebanon and Central America, I can state that 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 the instant execution of an order are the differences between life and death in combat situations. Too many of our schools, even suburban ones are more like prisons with discipline and militaristic fetishes than the schools I attended in the 1960s and 70s.

    I am all for empowerment for front line workers, but I think our schools would be better served by adopting the tenets of W.E. Deming’s philosophy and funding our school system like defense system.

    btw thanks for the subtle teacher bashing in the article.

  2. It is true that common goals, values, and standards are intrinsic to the success of the U.S. Marines.

    It could be argued that the goals, values, and standards of U.S. public schools were also more homogeneous before the court cases and societal changes of the past 50 or so years. Schools have both been required to and chosen to become more diverse.

    It is also true that those who belong to the USMC choose to be there, and not all who wish to be there are accepted. There’s a reason the Corps can use the slogan. “The Few – The Proud – The Marines.”

    Contrast this to U.S. public schools where compulsory attendance forces the presence of some students who do not wish to attend, and where schools are required to accept all who show up.

    I don’t necessarily disagree with the 5 bolded statements in the article, but I think the core assumptions are faulty.

  3. Been there done that, and from experience there is NO place for the military ethos in the public schools. Parents simply will NOT accept it. Tongue in cheek here, Mr. Rotherham, IF you KNOW what is best for PARENTS AND THEIR CHILDREN, then use your bully pulpit to tell them to STAND DOWN and make way for your leadership.

    Here are a few of my recommendations from a 20 years Naval career in which I held command of war fighting vessel:

    1. We now pay our education leadership like we do our generals and our commanding officers. Yet we have NONE of the accountability measures that the military does for its leadership. Last year, ALONE, the Navy RELIEVED FOR CAUSE, a record number of commanding officers. How did they do this? The ENLISTED expressed a lack of faith in COMMAND LEADERSHIP.

    2. My nephew is a Marine in Sangin, Helmund. It works even more swiftly there. Leaders who lack command skills are RELIEVED IMMEDIATELY. That is NOT happening in the edu-leadership or in the think tanks that have now become the de facto leaders of education. They are guaranteed life time employment. Take one look at Andrew Coulson at the Cato Institute. These rear echelon types, in their own minds, are fighting THE culture war. They are earning their combat action. No they are not. When the balloon went up, they put their head DOWN IN A BOOK.

    3. Using a little military thinking: Just exactly what has been achieved in the past thirteen years of edu-reform and leadership with gigantic salaries that has IMMEDIATELY BENEFITED STUDENTS AND THEIR PARENTS. NOTHING. In a RESULTS DRIVEN ORGANIZATION many leaders need to BE RELIEVED FOR CAUSE.

    4. As far as free market reforms go. I am all for them. But not a single free market reform addresses the real stakeholders: Parents and students. Right now parents are intelligent enough to thumb through yards of data about their teacher’s performance, but it has NO direction relation to their student’s performance: We are talking about averages ALL OF THE TIME.

    5. Parents, though, are NOT smart enough for VOUCHERS or choosing their child’s curriculum. Nope. That decision belongs to the edu-leadership. Parents, even by the reformers, are told to KEEP THEIR HANDS OFF.

    6. Parents have no choice whether their child will be tested. Nope. Another decision firmly in the hands of the economists at the think tanks. They need that data for THEIR JOBS. And then they claim it helps the nation’s students. Notice it is NOT THE INDIVIDUAL STUDENTS. Again we talk at the macro level. Do parents care about that?

    7. Internet users right now complain about their data being taken for FREE. Parents will wake up. Their child’s data should NOT be collected and if it is then a PRICE needs to be set on the FREE MARKET FOR THAT DATA. Imagine that. A little bit of free market discipline being introduced to the edu-industry, think tanks, and the FDEO. Parents should DEMAND TO BE PAID FOR THEIR CHILD’S DATA.

    8. Now what would Mr. Hanushek say about that. Well, as a confirmed free market, small govt dude, he would give you the indirect, snotty little answer that made his career in the Air Force short and sweet.

    8.. Finally Mr. R, your little ditty about Marine Corps ethos in the public education system is laughed at by the Marines I know. THey do not want their ethos, and their ferocious image which garners a tactical advantage watered down by some lame idea from a rear echelon type. Your ideas were not though provoking: THEY WERE BANKRUPT.

    9. Next time, talk about how teachers should be torpedo man.

    10. Now hit the delete button so smart people cannot read this.


    Bill Jones,
    CDR, USN-R

  4. Many thanks Bill for taking the time to provide an outstanding rejoinder to the proffered nonsense.

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