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Bruno: Less Ideology, Please

39817884_6989d161a2_nWhat do education policy and marijuana policy have in common? They both have a way of making for strange political bedfellows. Regarding marijuana legalization, Stanford psychiatry professor Keith Humphreys puts his finger on a phenomenon he calls "political schizophrenia" whereby both liberals and conservatives often play against type in advocating - or opposing - the liberalization of drug laws.

You definitely see similar schizophrenic tendencies in education debates. Progressives, for example, frequently bemoan the loss of "local control" in education when faced with state or federal mandates. This is in spite of the fact that local control has historically been neither a cornerstone of liberal ideology nor consistently associated with progressive outcomes in education.

On the conservative side, it is similarly striking that federally-mandated test-based school accountability was ushered in by a Republican president and was supported by the most recent GOP presidential nominee. 

Prof. Humphreys finds such apparent ideological inconsistencies puzzling, but they don't surprise me. The reality is that most people do not, ultimately, have or care about consistent philosophical principles. Having such principles is considered admirable (and they make our positions seem less arbitrary) so people often claim to have them, but in fact our policy preferences are mostly held for other, non-ideological reasons. We're therefore mostly happy to jettison our principles if that's required to avoid taking positions we find objectionable.

Frankly, most progressives probably do not really think that the problem with NCLB or Race to the Top is a loss of local control in education so much as they think those policies are bad on the merits. And NCLB is one of many federal programs illustrating that most conservatives care more about whether they approve of a policy's substance than they do about whether it's administered at the local, state, or federal level.

Nobody's being dishonest, here, but by maintaining their ideological pretenses people are being awfully confusing. So consider this my call for a more practical, less ideological discourse around education. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

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I object to both NCLB and RTT because they are essentially undemocratic for both the children and families affected and the staff working with the children. No input from these populations was sought and in fact attempted input has been demonized as connected with greedy unions or ignorance. Parents are now becoming aware that they also have little or no input into this system and the demonizing of the PTO has begun in connection with the trigger laws. It is all Top Down from the We know Best elites who send thier children to private schools where the nightmare created by over-testing is not experienced. Leaving those in the system with no recourse or voice. That is why local control is a common theme for all of us voiceless folk down here whether we are progressive or conservative by nature.

That still sounds to me like local control is not really the issue for you; it is of merely instrumental value because you do not like the policies being imposed from above. That's fair, but it only highlights that local control is a bit of a red herring OR that some case needs to be made much more clearly that local control is somehow inextricably linked to the policy problem.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.