How to remake the Education Department (or, it’s time to give teachers a chance)

Peter Smagorinsky:

“If your goal is innovation and competitive ability, you don’t want either excessive unity or excessive fragmentation. Instead, you want your country, industry, industrial belt, or company to be broken up into groups that compete with one another while maintaining relatively free communication–like the U.S. federal government system, with its built-in competition [among] our 50 states.” — Jared Diamond

Jared Diamond reaches this conclusion in the 2003 Afterword to his magisterial analysis of the evolution of human societies, “Guns, Germs, and Steel.” Diamond argues that a primary reason that Europe and China proceeded along different developmental lines followed from their relative degree of central organization. China, due to a friendly geographic layout, was able to become consolidated as a political entity under unified rule. Europe, in contrast, was broken up by its terrain to create smaller, more competitive states.
To Diamond, the political fragmentation of Europe produced greater innovation as states competed for goods and power, even as transportation routes opened up avenues of exchange and communication. China, in contrast, operated according to a chain-of-command that suppressed innovation in service of conformity to a broad, centrally administered national culture. These two political orientations led to very different degrees of technological advance and its consequences, with the more competitive social arrangement producing the circumstances most conducive to invention and advantage.

Our K-12 system has been overly centralized for some time. I asked the three 2008 Madison Superintendent candidates if they planned to continue on this path, or simply focus on hiring the best teachers and let them teach….
Of course, teachers must have content knowledge.