School boards: God bless ’em. If they didn’t exist, we’d have to make them up. Without school boards, the education system would be left solely in the hands of professional educators. And if you think that would be an untrammeled treat, you haven’t sat in on enough superintendent cabinet meetings or heard the kind of breathtaking flapdoodle routinely bruited about in faculty lounges.
Without the leavening influence of duly elected community representatives, our schools would gradually drift toward a gassy ether of academic supposition and internecine warfare, eventually relegating practical concerns regarding anything but pay and perks to a remote place on the academic agenda.
So, in the larger scheme of things, it probably is just as well that school boards were invented and that they usually keep professional educators firmly tethered to the hoi polloi. In other words, the chronic chaffing of the checks and balances might actually be good for us.
Now in theory, the board is supposed to govern, and the administration is supposed to manage. But anybody who’s been around the block in education knows demarking the difference between governance and management is exactly where the trouble starts. Which is which? When does one hamstring the other? No two pairs of eyes ever see the boundary between governance and management in exactly the same way.
If you’re a hammer, every problem looks remarkably like a nail. And if you’re a board member, every issue seems to call for a healthy dose of good, old governance.
This seems to be what’s going on with those school boards identified in our Front Page story. Misguided school governors are on their way to–or, indeed, have already arrived at–decisions banning the use of certain technologies by students.
Elusive and shadowy though it often is, here for once, we have a broad, bright line dividing governance from management. And here the school boards in question find themselves thrashing about on the wrong side of the line.
On this one, school boards simply should butt out.
They should leave decisions about when, how, and whether students may use which technologies in school to the principals and teachers working in proximity with the students. When a student is disrupting class by beaming sophomoric chitchat via his hand-held device, the teacher ought to tell the kid to knock it off.
That ought to be that.
Defiance of the teacher’s authority, if it comes to that, should be dealt with in the same manner as it would be if the defiance involved anything else.
If need be, the principal, in consultation with the faculty, should establish guidelines for all students in a given school. If that leads to disparities between one school and another, so be it. We’re talking about iPaqs and pagers here, not the Bill of Rights.
The technologies involved here are neutral vessels. Sometimes they’re good; sometimes bad. It depends on how and when they’re being used. Distinguishing between the good and bad is not well done with the blunt instrument of school board policy. It’s most effectively identified by direct observation and appropriate reaction to unique circumstances.
Adult supervision, that’s the ticket. Let’s have classroom management by the teachers and campus management by the principals.