Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home


A Policy with Punch

Posted: 2008-10-03

Marion Brady offers a challenge to school board members that we all need to heed, pointing out that people don’t abuse or abandon social institutions that help them meet a need. This article is from The American School Board Journal, October 2008.

Imagine a school

bus with a dozen

steering wheels

and a dozen drivers,

each with a different

mental map of

the day’s route. The

bus, of course, would

go nowhere, or at least

nowhere in particular.

It’s a ridiculous

image. But in a very

real and important

sense, almost every

school in America is

like that bus. It has

multiple “steering

wheels” and “drivers,”

and most of the drivers

have different

“mental maps” of what the school is supposed to do. The

engine may be running, but the school isn’t going anywhere

in particular.

Harsh words, those. But common sense says that members

who don’t agree about an organization’s purpose are

ill-equipped to function, much less accomplish anything of

real consequence.

Americans don’t know what they want their schools to

do. Ask, and you’ll learn that they should teach “core” subjects.

Prepare students for democratic citizenship. Instill a

love of learning. Transmit societal values. Teach the

“basics.” Prepare students for useful work. Achieve worldclass

standards. Build self-esteem. Promote love of country.

Encourage creativity. Raise standardized test scores.

Keep America economically competitive. Teach problemsolving

skills. Explore the “eternal questions.” Help students

become culturally literate. Explore key concepts.

Respond to student needs. Develop character. Instill


Sound familiar?

Most of those are legitimate purposes, and some are

absolutely essential. But no two are the same. Each requires

its own standards, instructional materials, teaching methods,

and tests, and none are interchangeable. In fact, getting

really serious about a particular aim has implications for

those attracted to the profession, what kinds of professional

training they would need, the types of in-service activities

that would be most helpful, even what equipment and physical

facilities are most appropriate.

It’s no more possible for a school to have multiple overarching

aims than for a bus to reach two destinations simultaneously,

and the practical consequence of trying is having

no aim at all. . .

Read the rest of this fine article here.

And here are other fine articles by Marion Brady.

More Commentaries

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.