...Which Is Wrong

For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.
— H.L. Mencken

Over at The Atlantic, Philip Howard is trying to convince us that America's education problem has a simple cause and a simple solution:

America's schools are being crushed under decades of legislative and union mandates. They can never succeed until we cast off the bureaucracy and unleash individual inspiration and willpower... Successful teaching and good school cultures don't have a formula, but they have a necessary condition: teachers and principals must feel free to act on their best instincts.

Mm. Jim Keegstra was acting on his best instincts—does Mr. Howard think he should have been free to continue doing so? Or what about teachers who ignore bullying: should they be free of bureaucratic "interference"? How about teachers who are themselves the victims of bullying or worse by school administrators: shouldn't they have somewhere to turn? Yes, a lot of bureaucracy is pure empire-building, but a lot of it has been created after someone was badly hurt in order to prevent a recurrence.

I complained a lot about the pettifogging backside-covering red tape at U of T when I was there—in fact, it's one of the main reasons I left. I used to complain about having to wear safety goggles in the chem lab, too, until I met a guy who lost an eye when a beaker blew up. I agree that 90% of the time, 90% of the regulations are unnecessary. The problem is, we don't know in advance which 90%. If Mr. Howard can convince me that he does, and that clearing away all that bureaucracy won't make life easier for slackers, predators, bigots, and bullies, I will personally operate the shredder on his behalf.