Friday, April 22, 2011

Democracy and Schools

Markets and choice and democracy are words that are getting thrown around a lot in the discussion of school reform. Unfortunately, the words are left rather abstract, and so their use is a bit slippery.

Take 'democracy,' for instance.

Democracy has two meanings. One is the process by which we all access and participate in the machinery by which we make decisions about how we live together. To a political scientist this means the instruments that are available to express and aggregate our opinion, then deliver it to the political leadership, and participate in selecting who that leadership is. Note that voting is a relatively small aspect of the available instruments.

The second is about the fairness and justice of the outputs of that machinery. Do we have equity, equality, human rights and needs met reasonably?

The first is about equality of access, the second is about equality of outcome...and these are different.

We can have a functioning democracy that generates very inequitable outcomes. In fact, we do.

In fact, the variable levels of 'social entrepreneurialism' (I stole that euphemism) in people means that a participatory system will generate differential outcomes for people.

Market forces, then, are not solutions before they are simply a variation in the participatory arrangements.

So, while I am a righty who likes markets, I am also aware that whatever market elements we embrace, in 5 years we'll be arguing over their deficiencies and skewed outcomes.

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