Sunday, December 21, 2008

Law and Justice

It's no secret that America's public schools, health care system, and lawsuit industry -- among other institutions -- are broken. After decades of alarming reports and reform efforts, they still cost far more, and with worse results, than those of almost all other developed countries. And President-elect Obama's hope of changing things dramatically for the better faces an uphill battle.

I don't know that we're getting "worse results" from our health care system, but I'll concede the point regarding schools.

A big part of the reason, New York City lawyer-author-civic leader Philip Howard writes in a forthcoming book, Life Without Lawyers: Liberating Americans From Too Much Law, is that our institutions and their leaders are paralyzed by tangles of legal rules and diverted "from doing what we think is right" by fear of being unfairly hauled into court.

It's an interesting read.


KauaiMark said...

"...paralyzed by tangles of legal rules and diverted "from doing what we think is right" by fear of being unfairly hauled into court."

Latest example:

Darren said...


neko said...

And how does he know Obama wants to change things for the better? He just promised Change. As I have always pointed out, that doesn't necessarily mean progress.

mazenko said...

I don't think we're getting "worse results" from our schools. Granted, as we've noted many times, there is much to improve in our education system. But no country has ever educated such a vast and diverse population to such levels creating a nearly unrivaled workforce and economy. I'm currently reading Gene Glass' "Fertilizers, Pills, and Magnetic Strips: The Fate of Public Education in America" about the myths of the "education crisis." It is compelling and worth reading along with Ravitch's "Left Back" and Berliner's "The Manufactured Crisis."

allen (in Michigan) said...

Looks like the "a man with a hammer" effect.

The author's a lawyer so the law and the legal system loom large (accidental alliteration alert!) in his world but we're a nation of laws so an expansion of the legal system's to be expected.

Still, even a good idea can be taken too far and the author manages that with his prescription for the legal system to be expanded to oversee every aspect of life.

Poor schmoe that he is, the author doesn't understand that the legal system creates a commons. That's the underlying reason for the surge in specious law suits and that increasing the scope and reach of the legal system expands the commons although the result won't change.

Mike, looking at your reading list I think you might enjoy Micheal Bellisiles "Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture".

It's similar in nature to the books you list - scholarly cover for rank partisanship - the one difference being that Bellisiles got caught manufacturing his data. The worst that could be said of Berliner - I haven't read the other two - is that he either misrepresents credible research or presents the sort of garbage research so beloved by ed schools as if it has any validity.

mazenko said...


Thanks for recommendation, though I'd be more inclined to listen if you had actually read the two books you call "garbage" and accuses of "misrepresenting credible research." Being an effective reader and commentator requires the ability to discern the quality of writing and research. This is the skill I emphasize most to my students in AP Language as they write arguments, and I require that they clearly evaluate both sides of every issue. Thus, in my own research, I read a great deal on both sides of the issues, and then I can evaluate the validity of claims.

One issue which I have regularly argued to friends and colleagues is the misrepresentation of data concerning American students compared to other countries on international tests, as well as the use of that misrepresented data to argue for a "crisis" in American education. Having lived and taught in Asia for five years, I feel qualified to comment on this discrepancy, or at least more qualified than most Americans who have no experience with the education systems of other countries and only limited personal experience with American education.

While I don't endorse either book I mentioned as scripture, I simply argued that each book makes credible arguments which should be considered when discussing the "crisis" in American education. When you have specific examples of how Glass and Berliner have "misrepresented credible research" (and who determines that the research is credible but the criticism isn't?), I would love to continue this discussion.

By the way, in terms of discussion, you might enjoy a piece I wrote for the Denver Post called the "Mis-education of Sean Hannity" about his comment that the government has "ruined" the education system. You can find it by searching the title or checking out my blog.

Ellen K said...

The reason we are getting less for more is that only a part of the price we pay goes for actual education. Much of what we pay goes for special programs and most of those special programs serve only small parts of the entire student population. In my high school, we have fifteen kids who are severely disabled. Three of these will never ever read, talk, write or live on their own. But instead of addressing the need for facilities, programs and services for these disabled students, the schools have become the provider. And on top of that they have to fund all programs or risk lawsuits. It's one thing to educate a child, it is quite another to provide daycare and act as a parent. If we used all of the money provided for just education of the average kid, we would see marked improvement overall. But as long as we are saddled with federally mandated programs that chew up budgets and supply a few students with quality care at the expense of the majority of students, we will never see positive change.