TT #20 – The Bureaucratic Mind and Education

If Public Education is not the largest bureaucracy in the nation, it has to be in the top ten.  Of course, its real size is camouflaged by the fact that there is one Federal Department of Education, each of the states has a Department of Education (even though it may be called by another name), and there are 13,515 public school districts across the nation.[1]

So even though there are thousands of different entities, the philosophies of all of them are so similar that they effectively operate as a huge bureaucracy with thousands of branch offices.  Yes, one does occasionally hear about a state – often Texas – that is bucking some trend.  However the mere fact that such an arcane subject as a dispute over educational philosophy gets into the news at all is a sign of how rare these disputes actually are.

However, Traditionalist Teacher is not here to throw around big numbers.  The goal of this article is to focus on the hundreds of thousands of individuals who work in the administrations of those systems.  Each of those school systems have administrative staffs whose members seldom, if ever, actually see a student in an instructional capacity.  The smallest system that TT has ever seen has six – a superintendent, an assistant superintendent, and a director of transportation with each having an administrative assistant (what we used to call a secretary).  The largest systems – New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami – have literally hundreds.

For just a moment, imagine the professional lives of those people.  Many – but not all – started out as teachers, but for a variety of reasons left the classroom.  Despite occasional, or even frequent, visits to classrooms, most are gradually losing their sense of the demands placed on a classroom teacher.  Each was moved into administration to provide a specific function, and that function becomes the primary focus of their working lives.  As their knowledge and expertise in that function increases, their understanding of the actual tasks of teaching decreases.

They begin to adopt the bureaucratic mind.

And this is one of the primary reasons that our schools do not work.

At this point, Traditionalist Teacher would like to acknowledge Anthony Esolen.  In an article on a totally different topic, he wrote “[T]he bureaucratic mind is fearful of conflict, fearful of standing up for truth against falsehood.  The result, if you will pardon the frankness, is to be stiff where you should be limber, and limber where you should be stiff.”[2]

You see. Our “typical” bureaucrat is in the certification, transportation, professional development, secondary education, Mathematics curriculum, student services, nutrition, purchasing, facilities maintenance, technology, or one of dozens of other offices and departments.  He/she believes that he/she is an educator.  In that illusion there is great danger, because he/she often sees him/herself as an expert teacher as well.  In fact, his/her ability to actually teach is decreasing, due to the lack of regular practice.  In this way teaching is rather like playing a musical instrument or speaking a different language – it you don’t use it, you lose it.

This is the reason that Traditionalist Teacher has long advocated a system in which EVERY administrator who needs a teaching certificate to hold their position still continue to teach at least one class each year.

This is, however, not the biggest danger of the bureaucratic mind in education.  The biggest danger comes when the bureaucrat is also a careerist.  The careerist’s primary, perhaps only, goal is the advancement of his/her own career.  He/she will pull all of the strings to make sure that his/her program is not cut or reduced in next year’s wave of ‘reform’.  The program must APPEAR to be a success.  The importance of not losing face in the eyes of someone who is higher on the food chain gradually becomes paramount.  The teachers themselves come to be seen as obstacles whose lack of ability imperil his/her career.  All too often, the bureaucratic careerist is exactly the kind of person who becomes the superintendent.

Most teachers do not possess bureaucratic minds.

Teachers need to keep too many balls in the air to focus on any one project.  Teachers must implement the curriculum, plan lessons, grade papers, honor parent requests, engage in ‘professional development’, participate in fire drills, keep attendance records, supervise the cafeteria and bus ramp, take students to pep rallies, coach, duplicate papers, gather materials, and – oh yes – actually teach.  Different individuals will gravitate to different tasks, but none of us can totally ignore these tasks.  We don’t EVER have the time to totally focus on any one task.

The unfortunate result is that the bureaucrats and careerists create ‘reforms’ in an administrative bubble.  Those ‘reforms’ have to be implemented by people who are already very busy doing a myriad of other tasks.  Even if the idea behind the new action is a good one, this fact severely limits its effectiveness.

And then, there is the fact that many of the ideas are not good.

Once again, to refer to the ‘bureaucratic mind’.  As Esolen pointed out, the bureaucrat is uncomfortable with the concept of truth and the difficulties that come along with any objective truth.  This meshes very nicely with the disdain for objective truth as seen in the philosophy of John Dewey.  The result is an educational bureaucracy that is afraid to teach facts.  It is much more comfortable with ‘discovery learning’ and ‘students finding their own truth’ where knowledge is secondary to the sort of intellectual manipulation that has students forming and expressing opinions based on very little information.

For those of us who are traditional in our ideas about education, TRUTH is the core of the whole endeavor.  Education, Traditionalist Teacher insists, without truth produces cleverness without wisdom.  Its products are a generation of people who are adept at manipulating information without establishing any kind of moral basis. They flip and flop according to the spirit of the times and their own emotions. Informing them of their errors produces neither contrition nor intelligent argument, but only the feckless mantra, “You can’t judge me!”

The bureaucratic mind has another unfortunate outcome.  By taking the power to discipline away from the teacher and investing it in bureaucrats overseen by other bureaucrats, the standards of conduct conduct deteriorate because enforcing rules involves the sort of absolutes that are so abhorrent to the bureaucratic mind.  Maintaining standards is difficult and may be controversial.  Giving in to the demands of the disobedient student and the unreasonable parent is easy – especially if you do not have to face that student in class tomorrow morning.

Intellectual, moral, and behavioral chaos – these are the products of placing education in the hands of the bureaucratic mind.

The cure is a concept called subsidiarity, which will be discussed in the next article.




Posted in Uncategorized
2 comments on “TT #20 – The Bureaucratic Mind and Education
  1. James says:

    Good post. The “bureaucratic mind” is really just a version of the “socialist mind.” They love the idea of central planning, uniformity, and the dominance of an all-powerful, all-knowing State.

    • Ed says:

      Thank you. I really do believe that public education became the vanguard of Socialism in the United States. Fortunately for us, the bureaucratic and socialist minds usually fail because they are ultimately unable to do what they promise to do. It is easy to produce a solution that sounds good, and gifted socialists are sometimes able to sell their ideas to the public. However, their “solutions” seldom work. Unfortunately, those of us who are more traditional have yet to develop a workable strategy to turn the public’s discontent with these failures into support for more traditional solutions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *