Thursday, December 15, 2005

bureaucracy and education

If you take efficiency as a key value in education, you at once subject the enterprise to eventual bureaucratic administration. This is because, as Max Weber argues, bureaucracies are 1. the most efficient form of administration, and 2. inevitable in the modern world.

Bureaucracy usually has a negative connotation, but I'm not trying to capitalize on the bad taste the word leaves in our mouths. I buy Weber's argument. He is not pro-bureaucracy, but he gives a good account of its characteristics and advantages. My favorite summary of his is this: "The decisive reason for the advance of bureaucratic organization has always been its purely technical superiority over any other form of organization. [and the clencher:] The fully developed bureacratic mechanism compares with other organizations exactly as does the machine with the non-mechanical modes of production." (Essays in Sociology, 214, my italics).

The strength of bureaucracy is also its problem: it transforms the people carrying out the associated work into functionaries; in the case of education, this includes teachers.

A few responses:
1. But teachers are critical precisely when they escape a functionary role!
2. Central to the work of teaching is a little thing called 'judgment'. A functionary is characteristically, and patently non-judging. To be a functionary is, in some sense, to not be a teacher.
3. A bad teacher is a bureacratically convinced teacher, i.e. one that approaches his work as so many rules to follow, or reduces students to instantiations of prescribed profiles for which, in any given situation, his work is to heed a list of straight-forward rules.

To which we can respond:
4. Get over it teachers, you're instruments!
5. Can a teacher realistically, and regularly do otherwise than the portrait of a bad teacher in #3?

To which we can respond:
6. If no for #4, can there be a tradition of "great teaching?" or is there hope to attract great teachers to teaching?

If Weber is right, what is a good relation between teachers and (in general) increasingly bureaucratic schools?

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