Hurrah for Subsidiarity

I love and learn from all Larry Cuban’s blogs. Thanks, Larry, for introducing me to the idea of “subsidiarity”

It’s at the heart of policy-making at Centrl Park East and Mission Hill and I’d argue, of democracy. I know that it makes change harder and slower–or so “change-agents” would have us believe. But we also know that “see! the data says x, therefore you must do y” is neither science nor art. First of all, the data rarely says just x, and what follows is rarely a simple y. We’re stuck with critiquing how the data was collected (which requires insight from those who know ‘the data’ from the ground), arguing over its interpretation, and then, most of the time, to persuading and influencing. The faster route of skipping all those steps often proves the slowest, especially in labor intensive fields (which may account for why “the reformers” want to get rid of experienced teachers, and eventually maybe to human teachers altogether. You don’t have to persuade a machine.)

So here it is in the words of California’ governor Jerry Brown, in his January speech to the legislature.

We seem to think that education is a thing—like a vaccine—that can be designed from afar and simply injected into our children. But as the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.”This year, as you consider new education laws, I ask you to consider the principle of Subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is the idea that a central authority should only perform those tasks which cannot be performed at a more immediate or local level. In other words, higher or more remote levels of government, like the state, should render assistance to local school districts, but always respect their primary jurisdiction and the dignity and freedom of teachers and students.

Subsidiarity is offended when distant authorities prescribe in minute detail what is taught, how it is taught and how it is to be measured. I would prefer to trust our teachers who are in the classroom each day, doing the real work – lighting fires in young minds.

12 Responses

  1. Those are great words.

    I just wish I thought Jerry Brown believed them in his heart–for all domains of government.

    Alas, he’s just saying this to placate a very rich and powerful special interest group.

  2. Thanks for the tip Deb, I look forward to reading Larry Cuban’s blog. And in the meantime, here’s another good Yeates quote that all teacher preparation courses should urge new educators to keep in mind:
    “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth, We are happy when we are growing.”

  3. Who are these rich special interests, Ed?
    And does it matter what we’re growing into, Emily?

    • Good question, Deb!!

      [In 2009]

      from NEA and its state affiliates…almost $12.8 million is being spent in California.

      ” the CTA candidate PAC …directed $1.5 million to one independent expenditure committee and $5 million to the other. The first committee sent all of its funding to the state superintendent of public instruction campaign of Tom Torlakson. The second committee has so far spent $1.5 million on Torlakson, $1 million on Jerry Brown for governor, and $250,000 to the Alliance for a Better California, a coalition of public employee unions that has given the bulk of its money to Jerry Brown and the Yes on 24 and 25 campaigns.

      This brings us, at last, to the issues PAC, which in addition to the ballot initiative spending noted above, also gave $2 million to the California Democratic Party.”

      The CTA Issues pac gave
      – $304,240 to No on 22

      – $200,000 to No on 23

      – $6,449,894 to Yes on 24

      – $1,204,240 to Yes on 25

      – $254,240 to No on 26

      and…a whopping $2 million straight to the California democratic party for whatever it wanted.

      • This is a drop in the bucket compared to corporate lobbying, PACS and other money spent by billionaires to influence those same elections–at least it gives working people some voice. And I do not see working people as a special interest, as they represent a much larger public and public good than do the above mentioned groups who really are special interests–interested in only their own personal or corporate profits.

      • Nicolas, can you back that up with some figures?

        Because (as I’ve patiently presented over at BD), in Ohio, when similar issues came up, Union Pacs outspent everyone else by a substantial margin.

      • I have not seen figures of Ohio, but I know in Wisconsin, unions were outspent at least 10 to 1.

  4. Also, Nicolas, think you not that it’s a bit disingenuous to call K-Street and NEA spending as “working people”?

    I’d agree 100% with you about the working people’s voice…. if it were true. But the NEA largely extracts its cash from workers with brute force.

    Teachers aren’t 100% Democrat are they?

    • In California anyway, teachers have the choice on whether their union dues are used for lobbying and other political purposes, so, no their is no brute force involved. Corporations on the on the hand do not let each stockholder decide if their profits can be used for lobbying or other political purposes, and not all stockholders are Republicans. Whether they are democrats is not the point,the point is which party supports the issues that affect public teachers and schools. If Republicans want NEA or AFT support then they should support public schools and teachers, which they do not.

      Also unions are democratic organizations, and like my taxes, I do not get to decide if I agree on every use of my tax dollars–those I elect do. Same with unions, the elected union representatives make those decision. If union members do not like those decision they can work to change them. If every member just does their own thing–then there is no union, and no collective poser.

      However, clearly our disagreement is not about facts, but that I see unions as the counter force –almost the only counter force — to the enormous power of large corporations and the very wealthy and you do not. I doubt any facts will change either of our minds on that.

      • Hi, Nicholas, happy mardis gras!

        “I doubt any facts will change either of our minds on that.” That’s a pretty sad indictment of yourself. I wish you’d not include me in it too!

        I do try hard to place facts above parties and personal loyalty. Granted, the sides we line up with affect which facts arrive at us and how. But my long-term commitment to dialog with Deb I think puts me somewhat into the ‘open’ community.

        I believe counter-forces are tremendously important! (And I’m certainly not part of, nor beholden to, any large corporations. Its perfectly likely that you derive more monetary benefit from corporations than I!)

        Many answers to what you’ve wrote here, but one big one:

        Other professional organizations (nurses, engineers, designers, accountants,…) do not buy off political parties by the 10’s and hundreds of millions of dollars.

        If teachers complain that they are not seen as professional, the NEA’s massive partisanship might be a thing to look at.

      • Sometimes it’s more productive to argue about those issueswhere we’re more likely to influence each other. Sometimes weabsurd? If NY teachers were so powerful how come they don’t even have “the right” to strike? etc etc

        But I enjoy reading your reactions, even when I decide not to take some of your thoughts on! > > New comment on your post “Hurrah for Subsidiarity” > Author : Ed (IP: , > E-mail : > URL : > Whois :

  5. I read that quote from Gov. Brown and thought back to his earlier days in politics, and how wacked a lot of people thought his ideas were. Not being a Californian, I don’t know if this is/was representative of his ideas then and/or now, but I do know it sounds remarkably like common SENSE to me, and not in the least bit moon-beamy.

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