I’m not defending Rhee’s rude to the point of self-defeating behavior, like refusing to meet with the City Council for the first part of her tenure, but I’ve learned that for women being a real bitch is often the only way you can effect enormous change — or any change at all. High hopes take high chutzpah.
You have to go out there and get it done. All your energy has to be focused on your goal. You have to be the kind of person who has a thick skin and shrugs off all the shit that gets dumped on you. You can’t sit around and hold hands and explain yourself and sympathize. It takes too much time and energy. Nuance be damned. Get on with it. She isn’t dealing with people who care a whole lot about nuance anyway.
Yes, she needs a better press agent and a better second in command to balance some of her grossly impetuous decisions, but without her ability to say and do the unthinkable, another generation of kids and teachers would go without — not for one year but for the rest of their lives as the early deficits compound.
Look at how she got the kids in Baltimore to work harder. She showed them the test scores putting them in the bottom percentile and said, “Do you know what people think when they see this? They think you’re dumb. Are you dumb?” That’s a radical thing to do in a classroom of young kids — second grade? I’ve forgotten which grade, but young. When you do something like that, you have to show results faster than it takes for the parents to get you fired.
I used to think that part of her job was to educate the political system by explaining her actions more fully to the Council and other officials who could then support her and make her job a bit easier, but then she would be an explainer and not a doer. She isn’t there to educate. She isn’t there to ask permission. She’s there to get a system in place that expects achievement and is designed to produce it.
She will raise holy hell by completely overhauling the system, establishing what appear to be impossible standards, and getting a workable structure in place to achieve them, and then leave. Once things are almost but not quite humming along, she will move on to another educational system that is corroding a city like acid rain. Then someone will come into DC who is a politician, in the best sense of the word, and make everyone happy.
(A note: This was written before Mayor Fenty was fired as Mayor and Rhee resigned as Chancellor of Education. Despite her claims, I don’t think he lost the election because of her. I think he worked very hard to get himself fired.)