Beyond Ideology

Following a link the other day on Twitter from John Hagel, I was inspired by an article by Andrew Romano on The Daily Beast about a unique collaboration on the issue of criminal justice between unlikely compatriots. Aptly entitled Liberal Academic, Tea Party Leader Rethinking Crime Policy, the article tells how common ground between liberal and conservative perspectives was found, centered on pragmatic outcomes versus ideological debates.

At the center of this story is the “liberal academic,” David Kennedy, a criminologist who has researched a method of crime reduction that moves beyond the ineffective and expensive–not to mention dehumanizing–criminalization wrought by the War on Drugs, and a “Tea Party leader,” Mark Meckler, who Romano paints as ready to move on from the shallow political debates engendered by the Tea Party.

When he had discovered Kennedy’s methods, “Meckler was energized. This was exactly the sort of second act he had in mind—a proven, nonideological way to remove ‘the heavy hand of the state,’ he tells Newsweek, ‘and give these communities the freedom to govern themselves.'” . . . 

On the right, we always talk about self-governance,” Meckler explains. “So I thought, why haven’t we been applying those ideas to the criminal-justice system?” . . .

Kennedy’s program didn’t hew to liberal orthodoxy, placing the blame on society rather than the criminals themselves. Nor did it reflect conservative dogma. It just worked.” [Bold added]

There seems to be two points of convergence between liberal and conservative perspectives presented here:*

  1. The idea of minimizing top down control with a goal towards community self-governance, and a restoration of human dignity
  2. A focus on a methodology demonstrated to be effective

I believe these two points have great bearing on the “ed reform” debate, as all too often ideology seems to cloud our better judgement and prevent meaningful collaboration from occurring.

Here’s how I’d like to incorporate these two potential bridges between liberal and conservative on Schools as Ecosystems:

My goal in developing the perspective of the school as an ecosystem is to promote sustainable and resilient learning communities. This goal can serve as a potential bridge for those interested in the goal of self-governing communities, whether left or right.

My goal in further developing the framework of a school as an ecosystem is to create a methodology that can lead to the design of healthier, more effective school environments that promote student well-being and meaningful learning. In other words, I’m less interested in debating vouchers or LIFO, and more interested in developing metrics for evaluating and designing positive school cultures. In short: I want something that works.

Ultimately, I conceive of ideology as a form of intellectual laziness. Cheap points for pundits and politicians. And I expect my readers to help keep me honest and let me know when I slip.

*. [Yes, I know I’m way over simplifying the political continuum, so feel free to correct me in the comments]

4 thoughts on “Beyond Ideology

  1. This is an interesting way of looking at things. I actually don't view ideology as a problem, but there are particular ideologies that I think are very bad for public education. Arne Duncan's stance that competition– between schools, districts, and states– is good for children flows from his extreme capitalist ideology. I think this has had awful consequences for public schools. John Dewey's ideology, on the other hand, which was both egalitarian and democratic (my reading of him is that he believed granting people, including children, more power and freedom would lead to good things) leads to very good things for public schools. I don't think ideology is necessarily lazy or a bad thing– but I think that lazy, anti-democratic, profit-centered ideologies like Duncan's are very bad for public schools.


  2. Another thought: right now, it seems like both liberals and conservatives actually want to INCREASE top-down control, rather than minimize it. The push for mayoral control, the Common Core, No Child Left Behind: all of these are examples of bipartisan attempts to impose educational reforms upon communities. I think what we're dealing with may be a gap between the rhetoric these reformers use and the policies they promote. This post really got me thinking, so I'm going to click the “thought provoking” button!


  3. Ideology in and of itself — “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy” (OED) is not necessarily a problem. For example, here on our blog we're crafting an ideology that I hope will lead to a cohesive framework that will result in improved policy measures, greater teacher retention, and improved student outcomes.

    My caution is that when an ideology has either been wholly formed or adopted, there is a tendency to allow one's ideals to calcify and prevent one from adapting to new information that might challenge original conceptions. It also prevents pragmatic compromise, a necessity in any action undertaken, especially when it comes to governance and decision-making. This seems to me to result in what I termed “intellectual laziness,” a reactivity to change, an inflexible perspective that resists and shrinks from intellectual challenge and engagement with dissent, which inevitably leads to bitterness and blame, and little proactive movement forward.

    That said, I agree with you that one can adopt ideologies–as in Dewey's–founded on principles of flexibility and democracy. I'm reading Carol Dweck's “Mindset” right now, and she delineates two mindsets, one “fixed”, the other “growth” oriented. The former crumbles in the face of challenge, the latter embraces it. My concern is that the assignation of one's own or other's ideas into a fixed box in the form of an ideology can prevent effective collaboration and implementation of change.

    For example, I don't perceive Arne Duncan's stance on certain policies as stemming from an “extreme capitalist ideology.” Such a firm statement on his perceived ideology ignores the social and political context in which Duncan operates. What I assume you are referring to is Race to the Top. This funding approach can and should be critiqued, as the NAACP and the National Urban League have done. Such a form of engagement results in democratic dialogue and creates opportunity for compromise and adaptation.

    But I believe we must be careful not to fix Duncan and other leaders as effigies to be burned. Why? Because the dangers I just outlined are all too readily prevalent — resulting in a rigid mindset unwilling to adapt or engage.

    In the article I originally referred to, individuals who under most circumstances would have been entrenched in their disparate ideological camps got together and collaborated to engage in transforming approaches to criminal justice. A Tea Party cofounder and a liberal academic? Who wouldda thunk? The jury's still out on what change that collaboration will ultimately result in, but I think it's clear that this kind of collaborative effort, founded on pragmatism and democratic engagement, is more desirable than entrenched ideological groups alternatively ignoring and yelling at each other from a distance, which unfortunately is the prevalent form of engagement in our nation.


  4. Glad it's proven thought provoking! Your comments are also making me think.

    I'm not certain where I stand on the issue of decision-making, so I'm going to think this out a little bit here. Ultimately, there has to be a structure of power. Decisions must be made and at some point, someone somewhere will perceive this as an imposition. The question is whether those decisions best benefit the interests of the commonweal over the long-term, or if they benefit selected interests that will ultimately harm the greater good.

    In terms of governance, in other words, at some point a decision must be made, and power must be exerted in order for that decision to be made. So is it necessarily an imposition that decisions are made, if those decisions are made in the effort to improve community outcomes?

    The question for me then may be not so much the issue of imposition, as it is in the quality of decisions being made. I believe that higher quality decisions are made when they are made within the context of a diverse, democratic process of engagement, dialogue, and information gathering. So that when those decisions finally are made, they incorporate diverse sources of information and will be of the most benefit to the public good and to the commons. Such decisions are made with long-term, sustainable outcomes in mind.

    The question is, then, what structures of decision-making and power are the most conducive to the formation of such decisions? I would love to hear your thoughts on this, as I find myself getting hazy on this point.


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