AEIdeas

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  1. R Richard Schweitzer

    The extensive scholarship of Dr. McShane makes any critique of his analyses a serious challenge. Still, this analysis of modifications to the systems within the institutionalization of elementary and secondary education seems to be based upon acceptance, as irreversible fait accompli, of a series of fundamental departures in our social relationships.

    He begins: “Preserving elementary and secondary education as **a state and local responsibility** has been a bedrock conservative principle since our nation’s founding.” [emphasis added]

    That “responsibility” in our society was, initially, and for a considerable period of time throughout the 19th century was familial. The **performance** of that responsibility varied by capacities and motivations. Where sufficient commonalities of interest in provisions for **performance** occurred, communal cooperation in, and communal acceptance of, the related burdens developed. Initially that cooperation was not institutionalized although patterns of effective performance evolved. Nonetheless, the underlying “responsibility” was parental and familial, not governmental in nature.

    This is not to deny that transfers of some portions (and in some cases the entirety) of that responsibility have occurred, and continue to occur. Scholars regularly comment upon the importance of the “involvement” of parents in the performance of that responsibility; decry the effects of total parenteral abdication of that responsibility. No form (governmental or otherwise) of institutionalization has been cited as fully capable of adequate performance of that responsibility without parental or proxy participation.

    Then, this analysis is concerned with the proper *governmental* assignment of modifications to that institutionalization and the systems within it, rather than recognition that the institutionalization and the systematization, however they have risen, and from whatever departures in relationships or transfers of responsibilities, must be replaced. A brief, simplified, example of historical development may support the reasons for this conclusion.

    In the early 1800s in the rural Midwest the families understood a common need to provide for those levels of education for their offspring. Earlier forms of inadequate performance were carried out within the family circles. They came together, as families, with commonly recognized responsibilities and objectives for their performance that led them voluntarily to contribute land, materials and labor to construct one room schoolhouses, to reach out and hire “schoolmarms” who were taken into the families, often ultimately marrying into the community, and ordained with specific respect required of the children. Since it was their responsibility, those families were directly engaged in the actions for its performance.

    In the passage of time, the methods of cooperation and required contributions for the material needs of performance of the responsibility led to the use of the mechanisms of county governments for revenues and other requirements, but the oversight and direct engagement of the parents in that performance remained. From those beginnings of governmental involvement, the smaller schoolhouses and County high schools proceeded through consolidations that gave rise to systems to accommodate the changes in population flows.

    Slowly but steadily the operations of the systems became institutionalized and a further departure of transfer of control over the determination of the objectives and means of those operations passed to the “managers” who previously had been responsive to parental concerns, and became responsive to political concerns related to revenues and incomes – as well as to the means for carrying out operational responsibilities. Operational responsibilities rose to the same level of priority as educational responsibilities; hierarchies evolved for those needs and the process of institutionalization was well underway and is with us today.

    There is no reason not to continue with attempts to modify the systems that make up the institutionalized responses to the transferred responsibilities for elementary and secondary education. There is every reason to continue with the emerging concepts of restoring the locus of those responsibilities, probably piecemeal initially, by stages, to the communities, families and individuals who have lost their connections with those responsibilities.

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