Lessons from our Founding Fathers: Vigilance Against Tyranny is the Bedrock of Civil Society

Throughout the nation School Boards hire a superintendent and set policy for schools. The School Boards are usually elected in nonpartisan elections. In New York City the central School Board, prior to Bloomberg, was appointed for a specific term of office by the five Borough Presidents and the Mayor.

The Board members were usually high profile business, academic and community activists. While selected by elected officials they were independent and their deliberations were public.

In the early days elected local Community Schools Boards selected superintendents and principals. The system was rife with corruption and protected by legislators who created and benefited from the system. Finally, in the mid nineties the teacher’s union and the Board of Education Inspector General supported legislation that stripped the local Boards of all hiring authority. The local Superintendents selected, with input from parents and teachers, all supervisory staff. The local Superintendents were selected by the Chancellor, who, in turn, was selected by the appointed Central Board.

The system worked well. The Chancellor’s District, a collection of the lowest achieving schools, was removed from the local Districts and managed directly by the Chancellor. External reviews gave high praise to the initiative.

Mayor Bloomberg ran on a platform of removing  control of the school system from an independent Board to the direct control of the Mayor – moving the school system fully into the arena of politics.

The factions that influenced decisions by the former Board of Education included elected officials, unions, parents, advocacy groups and the public at large. The rich mosaic that we call the public will influenced the process in a public forum, however, the final decisions rested with the Board members.

The current initiative is solely run by the Mayor.

There is no public forum, there is no exchange of ideas, there is no role for parents, teachers, their union, or, the public at large. All decisions are made by the Mayor and his appointed Chancellor.

The Mayor chose the political arena. It is ironic that he cries foul when folks with other points of view use the tools of politics to influence policy.

Whether it is Charter School legislation in Albany or “whistleblower” legislation before the City Council the stakeholders: unions, parents, advocates and the public have the right, perhaps the obligation, to engage in the public political process.

The NYSun  rails against a bill before the City Council that would protect whistleblowers in the Department of Education from retribution.

It is the Mayor who has selected the forum.

As James Madison wrote in The Federalist No. 10

  Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may by intrigue, by corruption or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests of the people.

The current experiment in Mayoral control sunsets on 6/30/09: Bloomberg/Klein are frantically attempting to dismantle every vestige of the past. Closely following the model established Sir Michael Barber,  Tony Blair’s former Minister of Education, Klein is importing British reforms to New York City.

Sadly Bloomberg/Klein have ignored the public and the public school stakeholders. They have alienated the very consitutency that they are pledged to serve. It is highly unlikely that the “reforms” will survive.

The public school community is beginning to discuss what education should look like after the “sunset.”

To once again quote Madison

In a free government, the security for civil rights must be the same as for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other, in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects … Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been, and ever will be pursued, until it is obtained, or until liberty is lost in the pursuit.


One response to “Lessons from our Founding Fathers: Vigilance Against Tyranny is the Bedrock of Civil Society

  1. some more applicable quotes from fiunding fathers:

    James Madison
    “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

    “The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.”

    -Professor Irwin Corey
    “If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re going.”

     Groucho Marx
    “There is one way to find out if a man is honest; ask him! If he says yes you know he’s crooked.”


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