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A Policy with Punch

Publication Date: 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
virtue.

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.


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