The Invisible Political Forces At Work

[In response to the zealots out there, anxious to blame the system but unwilling to look in the mirror.]

I was stunned this morning while reading John C. Dvorak's latest column in PC Magazine. In a piece entitled "Microsoft vs. the iPhone" (not yet available online), Mr. Dvorak explains perfectly one of the ills that plagues public education by shedding light on the workings of Microsoft.

In most instances at Microsoft, there is no dictator. There is a committee of individuals, all of whom have to like each other (because of the odd empoloyee grading system for promotions) and tend to use a hodgepodge of ideas to make what amounts to an agreeable soulless product.
Replace Microsoft with [insert your district here] and you've got a pretty decent explanation of why so many things go wrong in public education.

You see, the truth is that sometimes bad things happen to good people in good schools - and there's nothing we can do about it. I mean, think about it. Did not we, or well-intentioned people just like us, create the policies and bureaucracies that currently regulate how things are handled within our schools? Are not we the ones that built the system, played the games, and engaged in the politics that have made schools what they are today?

Nonetheless, there are times – a great many times – when the system fails us, when we come up short, when we must ask “why?” and yet we’re stuck, trapped in the system we’ve ultimately helped to create. I think that Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal (2003) have successfully summarized the dilemma that besets so many of us today, as we struggle to reform (fix, if you will) what we now call “school”.
If we tried to get better people, where would we find them? Even if found, how could we ensure that they too would not become ensnared by the political forces at work?

…The political frame does not blame politics on such individual characteristics as selfishness, myopia, or incompetence. Instead, it asserts that interdependence, divergent interests, scarcity, and power relations inevitably spawn political activity. It matters not who the individual players are. It is na├»ve and romantic to hope organizational politics can ever be eliminated in organizations. (pp. 185-186)
Something to think about as we continue to chew on this idea of school reform.

  • Bolman, L. G. and Deal, T. E. (2003). Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Dvorak, J. C. (2008, November). Microsoft vs. the iPhone. PC Magazine, 27 (12), 52.
Image source: Flickr user fliegender.

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