Taking One For The Team

There is serious drama surrounding a local district’s attempt to adopt a diversity policy.

(See ongoing coverage at The Gazette here, here, and here.)

One ongoing theme that I find troubling in public education debates (not just this one) is the notion that some children should be forced to take one for the team, so that public schools can be better for all the children in the district.  (See for example, the Diane Ravitch post of a reader’s proposal to end school choice discussed previously here.)

I find this troubling, in part, because it seems to disregard the notion that the sum total of individual sacrifices or downsides required for any particular policy choice might outweigh any real benefit to the district as a whole.  For Exhibit A, see the closure of Polk Elementary School in Cedar Rapids last year.

But I also think it seems to get things backward.

Children do not exist to serve the purposes of the public schools.  The public schools exist to meet the educational needs of children in accordance with the values and priorities of the community.

Due to a failure of political accountability, it is possible for school boards to operate without regard to community values and priorities (or even in direct conflict with them).  But when they choose this course of action they may undermine the very public support–the sense of being on the same page, the same side, the same team–required for these types of controversies to be resolved in a satisfactory manner.  In other words, it is one thing to accept being on the losing end of a democratic process–to be willing to take one for the team, as it were–if it seems the decision-making process was fair and open and there is broad community support for the winning policy and quite another if it seems that the result is one that no one really wanted.