Trust, Education, and the Irony of the Tea Party

Andrew Milton, of the blog Speaking of Education, writes:

law, contracts, lawyers and all have come to be the mechanism by which problems get solved. One result is that we more and more rely on external authorities (the state paramount among them) to decide on best outcomes and mandate their pursuit.

It’s an inexorable process. The authority of the state and laws is comprehensive and definitive, transcending any trust-built choices coming out of actual relationships among people. Why bother working things out, since the state just mandates anyway?

Most of the solutions proposed for our “problem” of education today center on legalistic and bureaucratic policies requiring more government oversight, not less.  “Accountability” requires someone to be accountable to and, because we lack trust (or faith) in anyone, its recording has to be on some sort of numeric scale (as if numbers are any more trustworthy than people).

People, particularly people on the right (personalized today by the Tea Party), do not trust teachers or the unions that represent them.  So they want their politicians to oversee the schools.  Problem is, they don’t trust politicians either, and want to limit their power by decreasing the money the politicians manage.  Without the money, the politicians have less leverage over the schools.  Without money, they can’t mandate the measurements.

The real route towards improving our schools lies through improved teacher-training, something that has happened over the past several decades.  When I returned to teaching full-time some seven years ago, I was surprised to see how much better our education departments are today than they were a generation ago.

Unfortunately, better training isn’t enough.  Success must be built on trust in the trained teachers, to classrooms where these teachers can act as individual agents, drawing on their own abilities, training, and backgrounds.  Again: for success, the road must be paved with trust.

That trust is deserved, even if not given.  Just look at the record.  The American educational system has taught more students well over the past century than any other in the world–and continues to do so, bested only by systems that do not face the strains of ethnic and economic diversity that bedevil us here.

We can do better, yes.  And we have the trained teachers who can do that.  But they are leaving teaching, staying a few years, at best.


Because they aren’t trusted.

Because they aren’t trusted, they aren’t able to utilize the skills they have developed.  Instead, they must slavishly follow patterns developed by bureaucrats far from the students, patterns mandated by politicians pandering to a voting public acting on fear and mistrust, not on knowledge.

The Tea Party cannot decide what it wants, smaller government or stronger government.  No… let me rephrase that: The Tea Party wants both smaller government and stronger government.  But it cannot have both.  Certainly not without trust.

And the Tea Party is not willing to trust anyone.