By November 10, 2016 Uncategorized No Comments

Today, on the 241st birthday of the Marine Corps, I’d like to share a story about the most famous and highly decorated Marine of all time: General Louis “Chesty” Puller.

Puller, who died in 1971, may be little-known outside of the Marine Corps. But his name lives on among the men and women who served. At any Marine base around the world, the close of day is often greeted with the cry, “Goodnight, Chesty Puller, wherever you are.”

Puller was in his early 50s when the Korean War began and already a legend in the Corps. He was old-style, the kind of warrior who insisted on leading his men from the front. In November 1950, Chesty, then a colonel with the 1st Marine Division, was dispatched to a remote area in North Korea known as the Chosin Reservoir.

The Communist Chinese threw 270,000 troops into the war and quickly overran several U.N. divisions. Eight Chinese divisions engaged the 1st Marine Division.

As related in Jon T. Hoffman’s “Chesty,” the Marines barely had time to set up base camp when the Chinese Army attacked their position. The embedded journalists immediately confronted Chesty, demanding to know his plan. Calmly he replied: “We’ve been looking for the enemy for several days now. We’ve finally found them. We’re surrounded. That simplifies our problem of finding these people and killing them.”

In the face of a brutal winter with sub-zero temperatures and overwhelming numerical superiority, the division quickly rescued and evacuated surviving remnants of adjacent Army units, and commenced one of the greatest marches of American history, from Chosin Reservoir to the sea.

When asked if his division was retreating, General Oliver Smith, the First Division Commanding General, echoed Puller’s indomitable spirit by exclaiming:

Retreat, hell!

We’re attacking in a different direction!

Sixteen days later, having brought down its dead, saved its equipment, and rescued three Army battalions, the 1st Marine Division reached the sea with high morale and in fighting order. The division had shattered the Chinese Communist Forces 9th Army Group, killed at least 25,000 Chinese, and wounded more than 12,500.

Sometimes, it takes a desperate situation to bring out our very best.

I would not presume to compare the dire crisis confronting the Marines in Korea in 1950 with the current situation in Oklahoma education politics.

I simply use this story to illustrate that there is always hope, even in the bleakest of times.

After my initial shock and disappointment from this week’s elections, I understand the voice of helplessness and desperation coming from educators across our state.

There is very little positive spin anyone can offer about the outcome of many House and Senate races, not to mention the demoralizing defeat of State Question 779 which would have provided teachers with a much-needed permanent $5,000 annual raise.

So, yes, I’m angry, too.

But, as I said in my previous post, I refuse to become disillusioned.

In the spirit of Chesty Puller, General Smith, and the courageous warriors of the First Marine Division (the division in which I served for six years, to include the Persian Gulf War), I’m here to tell you that I’m not going any damn where.

Despite our recent setbacks, I refuse to retreat from my advocacy efforts on behalf of Oklahoma’s teachers and children.

It may not seem like it at this moment, but the reality is that we have been winning many of the education battles over the past few years.

Since 2013, our coalition of administrators, teachers, and parents have:

  • Worked together to remove a toxic, hostile-to-education leader from the state department of education.
  • Worked with legislators like Rep. Katie Henke to implement district reading committees that prevented the needless retention of thousands of third graders based on one test score.
  • Successfull eliminated high stakes high school end-of-instruction tests and non federally mandated tests in grades 3-8.
  • Prevented the full implementation of inaccurate and highly punitive quantitative measures and value-added models for teacher evaluation.
  • Prevented legislators from capping flexible benefits (medical insurance) and disguising it as a teacher raise last session.
  • Prevented the unreasonable intrusion of legislators in the development and approval of new academic standards.
  • Fought back the passage of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and vouchers in Oklahoma, despite significant out-of-state lobbying and strong support from the Governor and key legislative leaders.

Yes, I acknowledge we have work left to do, particularly when it comes to adequate funding of education in Oklahoma. But this is precisely why we must continue to fight.

Long after many of our state leaders have moved on to crap in greener pastures, we will still be here fighting for our schools and the kids we serve.

Let me be absolutely clear— I am serious about the work of improving education in our state. This is not a stepping stone or a resume builder for me. I am in it for however many more years I can muster.

I’m in education to work for kids, to make a difference in their lives. I am here to work with other education professionals to help children prepare for the challenges of this rapidly changing world. I am here to help our children become knowledgable and responsible citizens, armed with strong character, positive values, and respect for others.

So, let’s all take some time to lick our wounds, re-energize, and regroup. If our state leaders are really willing to listen, let’s talk. If they refuse to listen, we go back on the offensive.

It is not the time to retreat from our mission.

We must continue to work individually and collectively to improve our schools for kids.

We must continue to tell our positive stories to counter the false narrative of failing schools and lazy teachers.

We must continue to fight for local control of schools so that people closest to the problems are the ones solving them.

We must continue to fight for higher pay for teachers so we can recruit and retain high quality educators for every classroom.

We must continue to fight against poorly conceived reforms which hamper our ability to take care of kids and prepare them for life.

We must continue to fight the inevitable attempts to divert public funds to private schools, vouchers, or corporate charters.

We must continue to fight for respect and trust.

Think of it this way, if we retreat, who will stand strong for education and hold our lawmakers feet to the fire?  Who will fight for our kids, if not us?

Retreat, hell! I’m ready to attack in another direction. I hope you’re with me.

P.S.  Goodnight Chesty, wherever you are!

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