Saturday, December 15, 2007

No Child Left Behind & Educational Reform

Words of wisdom from the past. With respect to both the national obsession with standard test scores due to Bush's educational policies, and the New York City grading of schools, I thought these words from Bertrand Russell in 1917 to be apropos:

“The first thing to observe is that, in any very large organization, and above all in a great state, officials and legislators are usually very remote from those whom they govern, and not imaginatively acquainted with the conditions of life to which their decisions will be applied. This makes them ignorant of much that they ought to know, even when they are industrious and willing to learn whatever can be taught by statistics and blue-books.

“The one thing they understand intimately is the office routine and the administrative rules. The result is an undue anxiety to secure a uniform system. I have heard of a French minister of education taking out his watch, and remarking, ‘At this moment all the children of such and such an age in France are learning so and so.’

“This is the ideal of the administrator, an idea utterly fatal to free growth, initiative, experiment, or any far reaching innovation.

“The energetic official inevitably dislikes anything that he does not control. His official sanction must be obtained before anything can be done.

“Whatever he finds in existence he wishes to alter in some way, so as to have the satisfaction of feeling his power and making it felt.

“If he is conscientious, he will think out some perfectly uniform and rigid scheme which he believes to be the best possible, and he will then impose this scheme ruthlessly, whatever promising growths he may have to lop down for the sake of symmetry.

“The result inevitably has something of the deadly dullness of a new rectangular town, as compared with the beauty and richness of an ancient city which has lived and grown with the separate lives and individualities of many generations.

What has grown is always more living than what has been decreed; but the energetic official will always prefer the tidiness of what he has decreed to the apparent disorder of spontaneous growth.”

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