The Next Accountability

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Today the Friedman Foundation carries the introduction to my forthcoming series, The Next Accountability. In this series I will make the case that the education reform movement is being pulled apart by differing visions of “accountability”:

Our forefathers built the education reform movement on a foundation that all reformers shared: We need to hold schools accountable, so they’ll give kids the education we want them to get. Now we’re discovering cracks in the foundation. It turns out we don’t agree on what we want, or on how we get schools to deliver it.

These differing visions of accountablity are really differing visions of what education is for – which are in turn differing visions of what constitutes a good human life:

A few of us, however, think that all this technocracy is precisely what we have been fighting against all along. It is essentially an extension of the old regime’s philosophy: We’re the education experts, and we know best! It’s just as impersonal and unresponsive to the real needs of real people as the blob. It’s as if we defeated the Soviet Union, and then celebrated our victory by imposing communism on Western Europe and North America.

For this reason, supporters of choice are going to have to get beyond talking points and canned rhetoric about “markets” and “competition”:

America needs to rethink what we really want from schools. Whether of the old or new variety, technocratic systems fail not only because they can be manipulated by greedy and incompetent people or because they lack sufficient information about client preferences (although these things are also worth remembering)—technocracy fails more importantly because it is based on a wrong understanding of what education is for.

Knowing what we want requires us to reawaken to who we are. All the great thinkers who have cast big visions for education, from Plato and Aristotle to Aquinas and Locke to Rousseau and Dewey, agreed that knowing something about what it means to educate children ultimately requires us to know something about what it means to be human. If opponents of technocracy can’t say something about that, all our rhetoric about markets and competition is chaff in the wind.

In the forthcoming articles in this series, I will lay out a vision of what we want from schools, and how we can create new approaches to accountability that will help us get what we want, without falling into the technocratic trap.

Follow the link and read the introduction to get a sneak preview of what that will entail.

Championing a different vision of accountability may increase the current conflicts in the education reform movement rather than decrease them. Technocracy is rooted in a vision of what education is for – of what is good for human beings – that many people in the education reform movement really believe in. We shouldn’t expect them to give it up without a fight.

But, as I will argue, a fresh vision can attract new allies. In many cases they will be more powerful allies than our current technocratic coalition partners, who are increasingly dismissive of us and our concerns anyway. And if we’re not willing to fight technocracy, even when it comes from our friends (in many cases former friends, who turned on us as soon as they thought they could) what was the fight against the blob all about in the first place?

It is only through that kind of conflict that really historic progress gets made. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not interested in renegotiating the terms of segregation. He came not to reform it but to exterminate it. We too must fight not for a renegotiation of terms with the technocratic beast, but for its end.

The remainder of this series will launch shortly after Friedman Legacy Day on July 29, when the Friedman Foundation will be making big announcements about its future. One thing I can promise you: we will never leave behind the mission to fight for justice and freedom that has always animated the foundation, which is Milton’s greatest legacy to us.

In the meantime, I welcome your feedback and look forward to the next stage of the fight!

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