Politics on an education blogsite?

Why do I blog about politics here?  It’s because those who work in public schools know that education is directed and controlled by elected officials. As explained in TSVOTEP, however, that does not mean teachers and principals should wait for policy makers to steer public education in a positive direction. Whenever my graduate students say their superiors should read TSVOTEP, I remind them that, if we wait for central office administrators or politicians to define the educated person in six-virtue terms, we will wait forever.

Richard Elmore argues a similar point from a different angle.

In chapter 5 of I used to think . . . And now I think (2011), he wrote, “I used to think that policy was the solution. And now I think that policy is the problem” (p. 34). His diagnosis for this condition is that we have weak professional cultures in American schools, unlike those in Canadian and Australian schools. He says American politicians “do not have to respect the expertise of educators, because there are no political consequences attached to that lack of respect” (p. 35). Like my graduate school professors at the University of Wisconsin in the 1970s and 80s, Elmore points to insufficient professionalism as his primary concern.

Wait — now I see!  More than thirty years later, and a lack of professionalism is still the problem?  Maybe those conducting the social science experiment should consider the possibility that a lack of professionalism is not the problem. Maybe the problem is assuming that schools can be improved by applying social science research findings.  Maybe the problem is trying to improve effectiveness, instead of appreciation. Maybe the problem is failing to see that education is art, not social science.

While I agree with Elmore that policy (and politics in general) is the problem, my diagnosis is different from his. I start with our core belief.  Americans revere democracy because we are taught that it is the most desirable form of government.  It is blasphemy to say public education should not be governed democratically.

In an essay in which he argues that “policy is the problem,” Elmore offers no alternative to our politically-governed system of public education. He probably wishes democratic governance of education was more like the ideal we were taught to revere in school. Is that ideal possible, though, if “policy is the problem” in public education?

Elmore is describing a “Catch-22?”  Public education must be governed politically, but policy is the problem. As with all “Catch-22s,” nothing changes until we see that our beliefs create a situation that is impossible to resolve. Only then can we resolve the “Catch-22” — by changing our beliefs.

My recommendation is simple:

Let’s change our belief in the desirability of democratic governance.  Instead, we could believe that it is desirable only to the extent that it models the six virtues of the educated person.



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