Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Real Problem with No Child Left Behind

NCLB isn't a failure as much as it reflects and sustains failure...failure of trust and civility. It's no coincidence that as the fabric of social relations began to unravel lawyering rose. Robert Putnam points out in his essential book, Bowling Alone, that social capital (networks of richly varied relational connections among people, especially in groups) correlates with trust. High social capital, high trust, and society 'works' better.

He also points out that the per capita number of lawyers in the US was constant from 1900 to 1970. When social capital really began to drop--in the mid-1960s--lawyering took off. Lawyers create synthetic trust, he explains. Low social capital, low trust, and society doesn't 'work' as well. And, by the way, tends to rely on more legal authority than trust relationships.

So, 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.

[A friend asked me to clarify the role that lawyers play in this story. The problem I mean to describe is that as trust and social capital have declined people have turned to lawyers more and more in order to get that trust replacement. Lawyering rose as a response to the trust crisis. Lawyering did not cause it. People entering the law profession are only responding to the increased incentive for lawyering.]

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?

All the nearly inscrutable laws and regulations governing so much of what we do makes relational trust not only more difficult to maintain, but almost an anachronism. The 'cover your backside' mentality can't help but grow stout in such an environment.

Try to imagine this by wondering about the implications of something like an NCLB law. I guess we need such a law because without it schools and teachers would leave children behind. And apparently, the best way to make sure they don't is to craft extensive regulations and dispense mandates that require it. And the opportunity for people (parents, students, teachers, administrators) to actually work together corrodes a bit more.

3 comments:

AaronBarlow said...

Wow. This speaks along lines I was pursuing today on my own blog, where I was discussing measurement of writing, concluding that what we don't need is more measures, but better training of teachers and trust in their judgment: http://audsandens.blogspot.com/2011/04/so-how-do-you-measure-writing.html. I will add you to my blogroll.

stlgretchen said...

Added you to my blogroll as well. Here's my take on the recent waivers from Duncan:

http://www.missourieducationwatchdog.com/2011/08/syllogistic-dishonesty-of-arne-duncan.html

Andrew Milton said...

A friend asked me to clarify the role that lawyers play in this story. The problem I mean to describe is that as trust and social capital have declined people have turned to lawyers more and more in order to get that trust replacement. Lawyering rose as a response to the trust crisis. Lawyering did not cause it. People entering the law profession are only responding to the increased incentive for lawyering.